Finding a free Permaculture Internship to get some practical experience after a PDC in not always easy. Many Permaculture education centers charge students for internships and the cost can be up to $5000 for 8 weeks. Most of your time will be spend weeding, digging and mowing because this is the reality of farming!
My understanding of an internship is an exchange of labour for practical education and in some cases a small allowance is given to the Intern (in most cases in Permaculture, your allowance is food and shelter). I also come from France, a country where education is free so for me paying $5000 for 8 weeks of teaching where at least half of it is spent doing repetitive farm work is unacceptable. This is a great article discussing the legal and ethical aspects of paying for Permaculture Internships when you are already providing free labour. Read the comments as many Permaculture hosts and farmers have left remarks.
There are many great Permaculture internships available across Australia and I am sure that some paid internships are great learning opportunities when the amount of work required versus the teaching hours is fair. It will also depend on what you want to learn, what are your objectives. If you want to start your own farm then you can find many free Permaculture internships in organic farms. Though if your objective is to become a Permaculture designer then you’ll probably benefit from doing one of those paid internship. Finally Permaculture is a very wide concept, most people would then specialize in design or eco building or in food forest. I can’t help to think that it would be cheaper and more efficient to do short specialized course after your PDC to add specific knowledge in your area of interest.
I also understand the farm’s point of view that unqualified labour is sometimes more of a waste of time and not worth the effort. This is why most free Permaculture internships require you to have at least a Permaculture Design Certificate. Additionally, you will usually need to apply so they can assess your skills and expectations and decide if this will be a win/win situation. The agreement will be different for every Permaculture farm so you need to make sure that the requirements fit your objectives and your expectations as well. They are often a minimum of 3 months, usually following the seasons.
Free Permaculture Internship at Caroola Farm
My first objective was to gain farming experience in a farm designed and operated using Permaculture principals so that I could then start my own. So, I researched, contacted different farms and apply for their Permaculture Internship programs. I am now at Caroola Farm in New South Wales and I am extremely happy with this experience and I hope my hosts are too :). I cannot talk about all the free Permaculture Internship agreements but I can give you my personal experience as an intern at Caroola Farm. I have only started a few weeks ago and I have already learned more than I had hoped. Penny and Paul, the owners, are incredibly generous people. We work around 4 to 5 hours a day in exchange for a great house, organic food, education and anything in between that they can share. In addition to learning on the spot as we work, we sit down with Penny at least once per week, and go through different areas of the farm from managing animals to marketing or any questions we may have. They are humble and extremely transparent, they share with us their successes and mistakes so we can all benefit from their experience. In addition, they bring us along for any opportunity to learn outside the farm. We visit other farms, meet Permaculture teachers in the area, and participate in all kind of events.
Here is the program that I will cover over the 3 months of my internship:
- Poultry: chickens, ducks, turkeys
- Large Animals: pigs, sheep and cattle
- Vegetables: Plan, plant, propagate, water, mulch, harvest…
- Forest Garden: Principles, tree species, mushroom, herbs…
- Farm trees: windbreak, animal food, plant, feed, prune…
- Infrastructures: buildings, poly-tunnel, bridges, natural swimming pool, fences
- Maintenance: paddocks, fences, irrigation, compost, firewood, yeoman plough
- Dams and Aquaculture
- Admin: marketing, finances, education…
Here is more information about doing a Permaculture internship at Caroola farm
Other free Permaculture Internships in Australia
There are other farms offering great Permaculture internships, below are some of the one I found:
Transition Farm is a productive farm in Victoria specialized in vegetable boxes which is based on a community supported agriculture model. They have what it seems to be a very well organized and transparent internship program, read more about it here. I know that they are taking applications right now for both the summer (Jan, Feb, Mar) and autumn 2016 Internships (Apr, May, Jun).
Northey Street City Farm is located in the city of Brisbane and it is where I did my Permaculture Design Certificate. Unfortunately the internship program has been suspended until February 2016 due to some problems with soil contamination. They have a great program especially if you live in Brisbane and you work part or full time because they are extremely flexible.
Purple Pear is another farm in New South Wales, which offer great internship based on the same model than Transition Farm.
Don’t hesitate to add to the discussion in the comment below. Share you experience, add to the list of Permaculture Internship programs available or if you disagree, please share your thought, as I just might be wrong.