My guest for this week is Erik Ohlsen, owner of Permaculture Artisans an ecological design and installation firm, as well as licensed contractor, in California. He is also a permaculture teacher and began teaching in 2001.
He was suggested as a guest on the facebook page for the show, facebook.com/thepermaculturepodcast. If you’d like to suggest a guest, that’s a great place to do so. You can find requests there from time to time for who I should reach out to for an interview. If there’s anyone you’d like to hear, let me know there.
After reading Mr. Olhsen’s biography on his company website, the suggestion to interview him was a natural fit, because of the work he’s doing to make permaculture a viable career. As one of my desires as an instructor is to provide a meaningful way forward for students so we can show how permaculture works to a broader world, being able to have a permaculture job, whatever your niche, is vital. Erik is someone who is making that happen, and he’s sharing it with others through his Permaculture Skill Center.
That center forms the framework for our discussion. In this episode, beyond the normal introduction to Erik and his work, we also talk about professional permaculture, the need for a strong work ethic, including our word as our bond, and developing working economic models to show how permaculture can be a viable career path.
Some points that stand out from this conversation was the role of mentors, experience, and the ongoing search for knowledge.
Those people we connect with provide voices that shape the direction we go with our personal practice. I can’t speak for Erik, his own words do that well enough, but I’m deeply thankful for Ben Weiss and Dillon Cruz for guiding me through the formal training of a PDC. As one of their first PDC students, as I watch my own understanding grow, it’s interesting to go back and sit in on a class with Ben and see how his style and methods have changed since those early days.
From there came the teacher training with Jude Hobbs, Andrew Millison, and Rico Zook. Each one of them I’ve been in touch with each of them since. Though our relationships change from the teacher-student paradigm, it becomes more and more one of permaculture colleague. The confidence that instills, that my former instructors welcome me as an equal yet still offer their encouragement on my own work, is invaluable.
But those are people in the industry. As Erik noted in the interview, there are other places to find mentoring. I have several family members who continue to teach me about home repair and maintenance. There’s my friend John, who is a craftsman and maker who will, with a warm spirit, answer my questions about energy, electronics, and engineering, even when we’re tired from hours of martial arts practice, or sitting down over a pint and supposed to be socializing. I get in turn get a better understanding of these and can use my role as a teacher to relay these ideas, more plainly, to others. Taking the time to reflect, or you might say observing and interacting, on our life experiences provide many many places where we can gain knowledge and skills applicable to permaculture practice. In particular, I think this is important so we can find our personal niche in all of this and become a “Jack of all trades, and master of one”.
Which is where I liked Erik’s personal story because it shows an example built on experience, not on schooling. Though I have a personal bias towards academia, because of the credentials it provides and the shortcut it can be towards societal acceptance, plus I’ll admit I was one of those kids who really liked school, I recognize that schooling isn’t a path for everyone. More time in school is useless unless you’ve found a calling that allows you to devote yourself to the work; to turn the school experience into a true education. As I’m discovering on my second and third pass through college, now at the graduate level, I’m ultimately the one responsible for an education, whether it’s inside or outside of the classroom.
Choosing an experiential route is just as worthwhile, if you’re ready to put in the equally hard work to make a name for yourself. Going out on your own, even when supported by like minded individuals, isn’t the easiest road to follow. You’ll be doing a lot of bushwhacking and brush clearing to find the paths that intersect and run parallel to your own, but you can do it. Erik and others like him in the world can help show you the way.
Even if you choose the schooling route, and the pieces of paper that come with them, you’ll still need the experience to back it up by being out there and doing the work so you can show people what you’re capable of.
Regardless of which path you choose, I’ll be here, with you, throughout your journey.