Permaculture Design Process with Penny Livingston-Stark

In this episode I get to inquire into permaculture design process with Penny Livingston-Stark. Penny has been teaching internationally and working professionally in the land management, regenerative design, and permaculture development field for 25 years and has extensive experience in all phases of ecologically sound design and construction as well as the use of natural non-toxic building materials. She specializes in site planning and the design of resource-rich landscapes integrating, rainwater collection, edible and medicinal planting, spring development, pond and water systems, habitat development and watershed restoration for homes, co-housing communities, businesses, and diverse yield perennial farms. She as taught Herbal Medicine Making, Natural Building and Permaculture around the US as well as Bali, Indonesia, Peru, Germany, Mexico, France, Turkey, Portugal, Australia, Belize, Brazil, England and Costa Rica.

Check out Penny’s website here and the ecoversity course she mentions here.

Check out the offerings I mention on Holistic Decision Making here and Living Design Process here.

Oh and please tell me what you think of the new soundtrack too with mega-gratitude to Pip Heath for creating it!


  1. It’s great to hear Penny again. She’s been such a bright light in the America’s for so long. What Penny had to say about permaculture’s originating impulse was particularly interesting. She said Mollison’s rage about the state of human behavior toward the planet played a big part. I think this is true AND that we’re better off transforming rage. I hold deep amounts of anger about the state of the world too (with a lot of reasons and experiences acting from it), but anger isn’t a very effective strategy beyond creating an initiating spark in my experience. I like how Penny said it “was” a force for her, which had a distinct flavor of her having seen through it as well. Anger serves a purpose to motivate action, but has very low potential to motivate lasting action. Here’s another sector in the invisible structures of permaculture work that we should develop awareness of.

    1. Something else I’d love to explore with you Jason is the distinction between unconscious and conscious rage (not to mention sadness, fear and joy). As well as providing an initiating spark I’m realising conscious anger can be then used more subtly in changing direction or pace and also in pruning away what doesn’t belong or serve and knowing when it is time to stop or jump ship.

  2. Lovely conversation! Somewhere around the point of talking about the oranges and mandarins, Penny noted that this is a common “pattern” she see when working with people. Looking at the “patterns” that emerge in working with people as a designer is something that I am not sure is being addressed fully, it certainly is not a component of the classic Mollison designers manual. I am curious as to what other patterns exist within our relationships as “designers” and “clients?

    1. I agree, Laura. This work (and being functional in general) requires a lot of awareness of human archetypes and characteristics. That goes for ourselves and others. When I used to teach permaculture with Joel Glanzberg (ep.20) of the Regenesis Group, he always made a point to discuss being aware of the quality of our being as a designer and to be aware of the quality of being of our clients simultaneously. Examples could be anything from having a negative interaction that impacts ones mood right before a meeting or not being aware of a bias we hold that impacts how we show up. What we’re not addressing fully in permaculture is that we need to develop our capacities for awareness and intuition. I think we often talk about intuition and awareness as if they are mysterious forces that one is either born with or not rather than something that we develop through practice. I am working with a few others on a new permaculture curriculum that contributes to this.

      1. Hi Jason, Are you talking about mythological archetypes, Jungian ones? Penny mentions patterns and Bill’s curriculum on patterns being something she has steered away from in her own courses (if I am understanding her correctly). Certainly it could be easy to get stuck in spirals and waves in our designs without really understanding patterns, especially patterns over time. Since patterns actually are woven over time, it seems that a deeper study of time would help. Then you have human patterns which are pretty much unexamined a lot of the time. I am sure a long term designer or collective of long term permaculture designers could have an interesting conversation about the human patterns they have been able to see through their work. What are the fairly predictable short cycles of a pattern, what does it look like in terms of the overarching longer cycles, what are the archetypes of so called “clients”, “students” (or folks who attend courses), what are the patterns of what people are searching for in being attracted to permaculture design?

        1. Hi Laura, you name great questions to engage with. Dan and I have discussed some of the patterns we’ve noticed in people showing up to permaculture. I’ve certainly noticed trajectory patterns of permaculture practitioners too. Dr. Roslynn Brain McCann of Utah State University has conducted and published social research touching on this.

          I use the word archetype in a non-static way, as we tend to flow in and out of different ways of being. I’m generally interested in human patterns that have been identified through all kinds of lens, though have less exposure to the western mythological and psychological perspectives. Most of my experience is with buddhist psychology and the land-based cultures that influenced it.

      2. Right on Jason and yes Laura mapping recurring people-patterns in design work would be a worthwhile exercise. On intuition and awareness Jason I’m excited to be recently experimenting with an educational resourcing format where I give people realtime coaching on them practicing immersing in the world of a client. A big part of this is staying present and using both energetic and emotional cues to shift focus as you go. Sounds like a theme for our next conversation to me!

  3. I’m really excited to have found this podcast! I am currently taking the permaculture class she mentioned right now. I love it!

    Global redesign is definitely what needs to happen and it starts with us.

    Thank you so much Dan for sharing.

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