We facilitate capacity building and learning experiences for individuals and communities to grow their resilience.



We design programs for individual communities based on their unique assets and needs. Asset-based methodology for sustainable community development focuses on using a community’s assets as a means of building local solutions to challenges. In this process, community members are actors with agency. Local residents including individuals, groups and associations, and institutions bring knowledge, skills, and passions as strengths to the process to influence their physical space, foster exchanges, and foreground culture, history, and community vision. 

Our programming supports communities in developing a People’s Plan for their place. The process generally follows the steps of collecting a people’s history of the lived experience of a place, a community generated vision for what would be ideal, a map or collection of assets or “what is working”, a list of current needs and priorities and a set of community generated principles for why certain things work well in community and in life in general. We then introduce mapping and co-identify assets, problems and solutions. We often add to the existing literacy and capacity of the community of certain resilience strategies that meet their priority needs and also address climate adaptation objectives often help by incorporated cities, counties and states. Communities then prioritize strategies that are most actionable and most align with pressing needs.

More on People’s Planning

Principle-Based Approach

Because it is an asset-based approach a People’s Planning process will possibly look different (likely similar in most regions) from place to place. Our research and experience has yielded some repeating themes or patterns that can be distilled as principles or guidelines of an effective process.

● We seek an invitation - A planning process is most likely to be successful if you are invited in by the community. Seek first not to solve problems, but seek how to get invited to any existing projects related to the area you are wishing to make an impact in.

● We build trust - A successful process must be grounded in trust. Explicit disclosure of intent and vision are critical to developing trust. Acting in ways that assume and acknowledge the existing skills, experience, and knowledge of the community helps build trust.

● We embrace diversity and inclusion - A diverse team to facilitate a planning process is more likely to be successful in engaging with a diverse community. Include all voices and elevate those most often marginalized. If possible attempt to mimic the type of representation to the community you are partnering with.

● We transfer skills - Relinquish power and build skills. Use the most accessible language as possible.

● We forge mutually beneficial relationships - Utilizing a whole systems perspective, emphasize strategies and approaches to “stack benefits.”

● We constantly seek feedback - Build regular and varied feedback mechanisms into the process to develop adaptations.

● We are adaptive - Prepare to adjust timelines, language, and focus according to the emergent needs of the community.


 Our Approach to Permaculture Training

UPISF is one of only a few places in Northern California where one can participate in a permaculture certificate training.  This region is blessed with world class training centers including the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas and Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Sonoma County as well as UPISF in the heart of San Francisco.  We design our training to meet the needs of people that live in dense urban settlements that want to learn more about permaculture with emphasis on applying permaculture design to cities.  While the theme of our training is urban in nature, the design skills learned are applicable anywhere in the world.

Wait - what is Permaculture again?

We find that most of the nearly 1,200 people that have participated in UPISF permaculture training classes, when they first arrive at the training, are interested in “permaculture” and have heard something of the term, but are not quite exactly clear on what it is and what it is not.  Many think of it as a way of growing food or a gardening philosophy. Others are aware it is more than that, but not sure if it is something that you do or just a collection of ideas.

One of our goals is to share the breadth of possible applications of permaculture design principles, ethics and methods to many aspects of our lives, our homes, our communities, our vocations and our landscapes.  Participants are often surprised to learn in a permaculture training that we explore everything from rocket stoves to compost toilets, from community currencies to home hospice design, from polycultural freshwater aquaculture to passive solar retrofits for urban buildings, from using mulch to protect and foster the soil food web to community supported agriculture models, from perennial nitrogen fixers to holistic management of rangelands, from potato columns to greywater systems, from bioswales to collective decision-making and so much more.  An incredible scope of techniques and strategies for sustainable living in partnership with all life on earth connected by design methodology, principles and patterns of nature and ethical boundaries for action. It seems safe to say that we use permaculture design for much more that gardening! See a syllabus outline of the variety of topics we cover in a permaculture certificate training here.

Our Approach

We attempt to craft a safe and interesting container where we can collaboratively share and learn about how to meet our human needs while enhancing conditions conducive to all life.  We place emphasis on our classes being learning experiences where we try to enthusiastically share possibilities - images and stories of examples of living, growing solutions to the seemingly intractable problems in our world (climate change, species extinction, etc.) and encourage participants to formulate their own questions and thinking that we can collectively explore through group discussion and small group design exercises.  In this way each of our classes is different based on the specific interests, passions and questions of the participants. We intend to facilitate an experience that addresses all the core topics of a Permaculture Design Certificate training while enabling us to explore the “materials of the moment.”

Weekday evening classes tend to be a combination of presented images, full group discussion, small group design exercises, small group discussion and sometimes small demonstration.  Weekday evening sessions are held in a comfortable classroom-like setting. Participants bring snacks and beverage. We have hot water and tea available.

Weekend days are a mixed balance of observation on field trips, morning presentation of images (sometimes short ~ 5min film clips), small group exercises, full group discussion and hands-on work (e.g., natural building work, sometimes planting trees or other vegetation, assessing and flagging contour, mapping, composting biomass, etc.).  Lunch is provided by the group for the group in a shared, potluck style where a few people bring food for everyone in rotation so we both feed each other and no one needs bring food every time. Most weekend sessions are field trips,

We see our service at UPISF to craft inspiring, empowering and connective permaculture learning experiences where we can all experience  a fundamental shift (or reaffirmation) in how we perceive and interact with the world by emphasizing permaculture design ethics and principles and how to apply them to both our own lives and how to apply them in our landscapes and places.  

Who enrolls in permaculture training and why?

People  seem to take permaculture training for different reasons, some want to learn more about urban agriculture solutions, natural building, rainwater harvesting, etc;  some want a framework to organize their thoughts and ideas about how they sense the world could work for everyone; some want inspiration for a new career path or hope for a better world; and, most would like to intimately connect with other people who are on the same journey of discovery to match their behaviors and habits to their values and live in abundance while enhancing conditions for all life.  

Of the nearly 1,200 participants we’ve had the pleasure of learning with individuals from age 13 to retirement age.  We’ve had teachers, lawyers, architects, students, PHDs, urban planners, retirees, green business leaders, primitive skills enthusiasts, wildlife and biodiversity enthusiasts, landscape designers, landscapers, engineers, trades workers -- almost all of whom had an interest in more sustainable, abundant living.

Some specific recurring patterns we’ve encountered include the following:

- childhood educators that want to enhance what I have to offer with a greater understanding ecosystems, how they function and how we interact with it

- activists and progressive thinkers who know there is more that they don't yet know about food, forestry and renewable energy and sense permaculture could bring a more whole understanding / or  activists that perceive that the world seems to be going in a dark direction and they want to be prepared for what to do in case the systems our culture rely on fall apart at the seams

- people that want to start or join an intentional community or ecovillage, now or in the future, and think having the ecoliteracy that comes with permaculture design principles and methods will be helpful

- professional and progressive designers or planners that know that new strategies and design methods can be helpful for their offering/service to the world and could enhance their career with new skills and understanding

- courageous people interested in international aid who would like a foundation in techniques and strategies that are of service to all life in the way they meet human needs

- people interested in good food and urban agriculture  that want to learn more about how that fits into a vision for a society and culture that works for all life - as well as what is the best fig tree to plant in their garden....

There are dozens of other reasons people take a PDC.  From course feedback, participants of a PDC training often reflect that the value of the experience include the following:

- inspiration - solutions that they had no idea existed.  Now that they know about them they can support them and share that knowledge with others

- empowerment - there are techniques and strategies that they learned about that they can apply to their life and/or their vocation and for their plans for where  they want to live and what they want to do (everything from starting a worm bin, to starting a landscaping company; from traveling around the world doing aid work, to  hosting a block party with a neighborhood resilience theme)

- sense of belonging and connection - finding that tribe of people that share your values and aspirations

- sense of completeness - they “knew most of that stuff”, and the PDC gave them a complete language for it that they can use to communicate to themselves and others about it all

It is not at all uncommon for someone to say that the experience of a PDC fundamentally changed their life and how they see the world in a way that truly benefits them and their family

We continuously use feedback from participants to adjust the content and approach of the training to enhance the learning experiences.  We’ve recently added more hands-on training on specific applications of permaculture principles in the techniques and strategies for urban gardening and composting and working with water conservation. 

One of our values is to make our training accessible to all that are interested in learning and applying permaculture design to their life and in their place and community.  We host the training on weekday evenings (after work hours) and on weekend days. We arrived at this schedule from feedback to accommodate participants (workers, students, etc.) with 9-5 weekday hours or busy schedules.  

70% of our participants in the past have made payment plan arrangements, some form of work trade or scholarship as part of a tuition exchange.   Our preference, in order for us to secure classroom space and other logistics for the training, is to receive half of the course tuition in any combination of work trade or cash before the first day of training.  Payment plans and work trade arrangements can be crafted to arrive an equitable exchange for the balance over time. Work trade can make up to half of total tuition. We have not yet turned anyone away for lack of funds so, if the arrangements described here exclude you from the training and you are interested, please contact us directly to chat.