Permaculture Design Certificate Course

The Fundamentals of Ecological Design

Permaculture is a conscious, integrated design system based on ecological principles. It provides a framework for creating landscapes that mimic the patterns found in nature, which delivers diversity, stability, and resilience. Permaculture creates abundance of shelter, water, energy and food, to address local needs in an efficient, cost-effective and productive human environments; while reducing our 'footprints' on Earth. 


Course Description

Finca Tierra offers the international standard curriculum of 72-hour permaculture certificate course. The course covers the fundamentals of ecological design with a special emphasis on perennial woody polyculture food systems or food forests. This course goes beyond the theoretical and focuses of real world situations in this food forest and has a strong emphasis on hands on application and practical skills. It offers the experience of learning in an immersive setting from mature systems with which students have daily interactions. The methods and techniques will transfer directly to any climate.  The accommodation is in natural buildings and the food is from our farm and other local organic farmers. With completion of the course, a Permaculture Design Certificate will be issued by Finca Tierra.  While the information serves as general education in permaculture this course offers an in depth examination of the function of the homestead and farm and is designed to inform students who will gain the skills and design thinking to implement and manage a system. This is a very hands-on course, mornings are usually devoted to practical applications and afternoons are dedicated to course lectures. 


Enrollment open -  Summer B: Sunday, July 29 – Sunday, August 12, 2018

Enrollment open - Fall: Sunday, October 28 – Sunday, November 11, 2018

Enrollment open - Winter: Sunday, January 6 – Sunday, January 20, 2019* (This course is followed by an optional internship)

Enrollment open - Spring: Sunday, March 10 – Sunday, March 24, 2019* (This course is followed by an optional internship)

Enrollment open -Summer A: Sunday, June 2 – Sunday, June 16, 2019

* Check-in is on Sunday at 2 pm, followed by a brief orientation and dinner.  The course starts on Monday at 8 am.  All course work ends on the second Saturday.  Check-out is on Sunday at 11 am,  following breakfast.


Course Topics

  • Principles and ethics of permaculture design
  • Site analysis and design, from the tropics to temperate regions
  • Landscape master planning and microclimate design
  • Reading the landscape and pattern recognition
  • Design for climate change
  • Regenerative land management and stewardship
  • Water catchment, storage, filtration, and distribution
  • Biologically based treatment of greywater and blackwater
  • Using greywater in the landscape
  • Natural building techniques and vernacular architecture
  • Plant propagation and grafting
  • Organic horticulture
  • Medicinal plant propagation, usage and preparations
  • Biointensive gardening and seed saving
  • Soil rehabilitation and fertility approaches
  • Orchard design and maintenance
  • Renewable energies
  • Local and regenerative economics
  • Urban and suburban permaculture tactics
  • Ecovillage design and community building procedures
  • Strategies for creating an alternative nation

Hands-on Application

Mornings are dedicated to hands on application and useful skills

  • Blade and knife sharpening
  • Land clearing with scythe or machete
  • Plant identification
  • Food forest fundamentals     
  • Clearing and planting new disturbance in agroforestry systems
  • Techniques in small scale vegetable gardening
  • Tree planting fundamentals, support species and broad scale fertility management
  • Plant propagation fundamentals, including propagation and planting of seeds, rhizomes, cuttings as well as various forms of grafting.
  • The construction of thermal compost and its use in hot water heating
  • Nursery management including making in house potting soil
  • Soil pH testing and techniques to balance pH
  • Leveling for application of swales, hedge rows and techniques for finding keypoints and keylines
  • Food processing skills including lactoferments of vegetables, nut milks, milk kefier and mead.

Off Site Visits

The second week includes an off site trip to visit local highlights. First visit, to Don Joni that will teach us about Cabecar indigenous cosmovision, traditional land use management and how he interacts with the land to produce his building material, food and medicine. Also, prepare for a good swim at the river! The second visit, will be to Seed Ecovillage, to learn about community scale design and animal management.

*Because of weather conditions and other factors we can't guarantee the off site trips. However, nothing has stopped us yet, so be ready for it!

About your Instructors

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A forest gardener, visual artist and social entrepreneur. Ian is a native of Ohio in the United States.  He holds a BFA Magna Cum Laude in visual art from Wright State University, and is experienced in geographic information systems (GIS), urban planning, sustainable community design and natural structures.  Growing up, Ian spent the summers visiting Native American archeological sites in the United States.  He's also traveled in Asia and Europe.

Ian enjoys exposing students from around the world to Finca Tierra's permaculture design science approach, which integrates biological systems with human structure.  He's a consultant for ecological design, tropical food, organic farms and home gardens,  and is active in the local community promoting practical and sustainable garden design solutions.  Ian received his formal permaculture education from Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Ian has taught dozens of PDCs and certified more than one hundred students from North and South America as well as Europe, Africa and Asia.

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Ana is a lawyer of Costa Rican and Spanish heritage.  She studied Sociology, holds a degree in Law and a Notary Masters.  Ana has worked with the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, and served as legal advisor for policy making in Costa Rican Congress. She is a certified trainer of Nonviolent communication 8 hour course by the UN Peace University and a certified Permaculture teacher. She is a co founder of Informate Caribe magazine and co creator Informative festivals in the Talamanca region, as a way of informing people through celebrations. She has also worked as community organizer of public assemblies and cultural events in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Wildly raveled, Ana has also lived and worked in Spain, China and the United States. As both an activist and attorney she was specialized in indigenous rights and has long been a community organizer in local development projects focusing on excluded communities, local autonomous development, business alphabetization and social self organizing methodologies.  Ana is passionate about Finca Tierra’s ability to contribute to the food security of the local community by supporting traditional uses of plants as food and medicine in the region as well as a center for sustainable development activism. She believes Talamanca region is a green face of Costa Rica, and is raw enough to develop in a sustainable way being the example for the rest of the country and the world. She is actively involved with the development planning of it.

About the Location

Finca Tierra is a 9-acre permaculture homestead and a food forest located in the lush jungle of the Costa Rican Caribbean Coast. Finca Tierra has become an important demonstration center for permaculture education and sustainable development activism. Our infrastructure includes: natural buildings constructed from local materials (bamboo, leaf thatch and onsite timber), renewable energy systems, biological flush toilets, rainwater catchment, organic vegetable gardens, a plant nursery, a seed bank, medicinal plants, food forest, bamboo woodlots and native trees.

What began as an off grid homestead on degraded cattle pasture, has been developed in the past decade into a productive agroforestry system consisting of hundreds of varieties of fruit trees, staple crops and integrated animal systems. Due to the local and global interest Finca Tierra started offering education courses and internships for ecological design, the good food movement and sustainable living. 

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Four bamboo cabinas were build in a mix of indigenous and local afro caribbean style. The materials were harvested from our farm and surrounding forest, then cured and constructed with hand tools. They offer orthopedic queen beds. The walls and floors are bamboo, and we supply large mosquito nets.

Also, a bunkhouse built with the same construction techniques and up in the air on stilts. It hold 8 single beds and great views, it's like camping under a roof above the forest.

The bathrooms are located near the accommodations and have biological flush toilets. The showers are supplied with warm rain water by a biothermal heating system.

We supply sheets, pillows, towels and biodegradable organic shampoo and body wash. 

* Accommodations are provided on a first come, first serve bases. The first students to pay the totality of the payment are accommodated in the cabinas, then bunkhouse beds.

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Bamboo cabin on tropical permaculture farm interior.jpeg
Bamboo bunkhouse of tropical permaculture farm


We love to cook! Food abundance is what we want everyone to experience at our farm kitchen. We promote the good food movement, and therefore most of our fruits, veggies, greens, roots and spices are fresh from our permaculture farm. We process many of our foods like plantain and yuca flours, coconut and cashew milk, coconut oil, banana vinegar, fermented foods, mead, kefir and more. We have a plant- based diet but we also have free range chicken eggs and the aquaculture system provides fish and river prawns. Some other products, as oils, raw honey, cheeses, yogurts and other fruits we buy at the local organic market. 

All farm meals during the course are catered. 

Plates are typically vegetarian, we can also cater to vegan and gluten free diets, please let us know when you register. 

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Course Includes

  • 72-hour Permaculture Design Course (PDC)
  • Certificate as a Permaculture Designer
  • Lodging: Private bamboo cabins or a shared bamboo bunkhouse 
  • Sheets, pillows, blankets
  • Biodegradable soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent 
  • Solar lamps
  • Three organic meals daily
  • Field trips
  • Internet access (see the below section INTERNET AND ELECTRONIC DEVICES  for more info)

Why do your PDC at Finca Tierra

We live what we teach

Permaculture is Ian and Ana's life. Finca Tierra started as an off grid homestead and due to local and international interest they created the Finca Tierra permaculture education center, to be able to share with you the knowledge of a resilient, peaceful and sustainable future that integrates human life with Earth.  

The farm

Finca Tierra is a vibrant permaculture farm where you will gain hands-on practical experience, directly from mature onsite systems and immerse in a completely off the grid self-sufficient space and productive small farm. Eating delicious organic farm-to-table meals. Surrounded by food forest and jungle, close to amazing beaches and rivers. Half of all class time is outside in systems on the farm looking at the function of mature systems to understand the strengths and weakness of systems and how they have evolved as well as seeing the strategies and techniques used in production. We are not just studying concept, we are looking at observations and interaction over the past decade.

Passion to action

We seek students that are inspired to learn about practical application of permaculture. The course is designed to provide you with the confidence to apply permaculture from the homestead to a profitable farm scale. 

University Credit

Many university students have received full or partial grants and academic credits have often been available from their university. Meet with your academic advisor or professor about receiving internship or independent study credits. 4 semester credit or equivalent. (see the below section UNIVERSITY CREDIT for more info)

Words From Past Students

Learned more in those 6 weeks than I did in my entire degree. Hands down one of the best places to learn about Permaculture.
— PDC Student & Intern, Angus from New Zealand
Wow. I’m not even sure where to begin. My time at Finca Tierra taking the January PDC training was absolutely life changing. Ian and Anna were both a joy to learn from, were incredibly accommodating, open to feedback, and both of them really know their stuff (not only theory, but also in application). I came to the course already knowing the fundamental principles and ethics of Permaculture (the “Why” and the “What”) but did not know HOW to apply those principles and ethics to actually implement a design on a property. Now, after taking the course, I feel confident that I would have the fundamental level of understanding needed to design a site anywhere in the world. The two week course will not teach you every little last detail of what you need to know about Permaculture to be a professional Permaculture designer, however, it provides a base map that will show you how to get started and where to find whatever information you still need. The PDC lays the foundation that will teach you how to teach yourself, and what techniques actually work. Once again, I had an amazing time and I highly recommend Finca Tierra to anyone looking to invest in an education/ certification in Permaculture.
— — PDC Student & Intern, Josh, USA
Doing the PDC (Permaculture Design Course) at Finca Tierra was an experience of a lifetime! Ian’s breadth and depth of theoretical and practical knowledge, together with his passion and enthusiasm for permaculture leaves you inspired, and with a strong foundation for knowing how to live in harmony with Mother Earth. The biodiversity of flora and fauna on the farm was incredible! It was also really cool to be able to walk around the food forest and just pick something off of a tree or plant and snack on tropical and exotic fruits and veggies. On top of that, being able to experience applications of permaculture outside of the farm, at SEED (Society for Ecological Education and Development) and Finca Inti, was also really cool.

The warm, rustic hospitality is definitely something to note as well. Ana, Ruth (Ana’s sister), Ian, Linton (the farm manager) and Bruce (Ian and Ana’s dog) made our stay very homey, and we felt at ease as soon as we arrived. The food was something out of this world! Ruth and Ana’s ingenuity in the kitchen was exceptional, and with fresh ingredients from the farm; every meal was amazing! Three times a day we would plunge into a wholesome culinary journey over some really stimulating conversations.

Thank you for everything… you guys are awesome hosts! Pura vida!
— PDC Student, Bemnet from Ethiopia
Possibly the most incredible experience of my life. I couldn’t recommend it more to anyone and everyone.
— PDC Student & Intern, Liam from Florida, USA
This place has changed the way I see the world and the way we choose to live with the land. What I have learned at Finca Tierra I can basically apply anywhere. I’m really excited to be coming back here soon. Ian and Ana are amazing, inspiring, engaging, and really passionate about sharing what they have learned through their experience of rebuilding the land and basically learning to be fully sustainable. You should come here if you want to be blown away! So beautiful.
— PDC Student & Intern, Gabriel from Louisana, USA
Ian and Ana are both incredible educators and gracious hosts and their permaculture farm at Finca Tierra is beautiful! After completing the 8-week permaculture design course and internship at Finca Tierra, I am very excited to design my own home site and edible landscape and feel confident that I could do so effectively in any climate zone. Ian and Ana are very knowledgeable, passionate, and inspiring, and made us all feel at home on their farm. I would highly recommend this program to anyone looking to develop a thorough understanding of permaculture design principles and gain practical hands-on experience applying those principles. As an added bonus, the food is amazing and the farm is only a half-hour walk from beautiful Caribbean beaches.
— PDC Student & Intern, JJ from Philadelphia, PA, USA
I could listen to permaculture lecture all day but Ian adds enough practical hands on stuff to keep everyone engaged, great mix of lecture and practical. The course instructor was very knowledgeable and engaging not to mention passionate. Always made time for the students and answered any questions we had. The location of the farm is just far enough from town to get peace and quiet but it’s close to some of the better beaches.
— PDC Student, Mario from Mexico
The best food we ate on our year trip. We have had such great memories from the Finca Tierra course and will be back once we get our farm and need a refresh.
— PDC Student, Andy from Australia

More testimonials can be found here

Course Information, Fee & Enrollment


Tuition $1,650

Early Bird Tuition $1,500  ($150 discount when you complete your full payment 30 days before course start date.)

Deposit $400 - Reserve a place now with a $400 deposit & pay the balance of $1,100 30 days prior to course start date. We will email you an invoice for the remainder showing the due date.

Please register early, as the course can fill quickly and space is limited, only 12 seats available.   Tuition does not include airfare or travel to/from Finca Tierra.  The $400 USD deposit required to reserve your space is non-refundable.  Final payments are due 2 weeks before course commencement.  Tuition is refundable until 30 days before the course start date.  The program is taught in English.

* Private cabins are appointed to the first four students to make full payment. There is no additional fee.



If you have questions about this design course please contact us at




The most common way to travel to Costa Rica is through San Jose, Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).  More info about how to get to Finca Tierra go to our Contact page


Check-in is on Sunday after 2 pm, followed by a brief orientation and dinner.  The course starts on Monday at 8 am.  All course work ends on the second Saturday.  Check-out is on Sunday at 11 am, following breakfast. More info about how to get to Finca Tierra go to our Contact page.


  • Travel insurance are not included and is recommended.
  • Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your date of entry.

A visa is not required for North American or European students. If you travel from Asia or Africa you might need a visa to go through USA or Europe. To check if you need a visa to enter Costa Rica go to  if your country is listed under "grupo ingreso con visa consular o restringida" you need to get a visa from the embassy before entering.

Travel Insurance is recommended. Please purchase ASAP so that you can be refunded in the event that you must cancel. 



  • This is a tropical humid forest, where it can rain at any time. 
  • Temperatures range from a nighttime low of 24°C (75°F) to a daytime high of 32°C(90°F) 
  • Be prepared for these conditions: hot, humid, rainy and muddy.
  • Umbrellas are essential.  Rain jackets in tropical weather can become hot and humid and are not recommend for on-farm use.
  • During times of extreme rain/humidity things can grow mold, especially leather but potentially anything, so avoid bringing items with fabrics/surfaces that can't be easily cleaned.



  • Rubber Boots ( or let us know your size, minimum 3 weeks before the course starts. The price is $20)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Tall socks (half calf or above, like football/soccer socks)
  • Lightweight working pants and shirts
  • Sandals
  • Bathing suit
  • Umbrella
  • Notebook and pen
  • Gardening work gloves
  • Personal medical supplies
  • Flashlight or headlamp, for off-farm use (solar lamps are provided for on-farm use)
  • Beach towel (you'll be supplied with towels for showering on the farm only)
  • A device to read PDF files (we have a large digital library)


  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • portable speakers
  • Laptop
  • Musical instrument(s)
  • Raincoat (for travel)
  • Snorkel mask and fins
  • Water bottle(s)



The wireless internet is available in the common area. You must bring your own device to access the internet. Please note that internet access in Costa Rica and especially in the jungle can be very slow or sporadic during peak times of day and peak weeks or weekends.

Finca Tierra's electricity comes from an off grid solar system. This means that as the sun shines we have plenty of power and outside of daylight hours we try to limit our power usage as much as possible. So while it is possible to recharge your electrical items, please keep in mind that if it is overcast, or night-time, there will be no power available to recharge. Laptops, mobile devices, cameras and backup batteries may be charged during the hours of 9am to 3pm. They must be unplugged before and after theses hours. 



A typical hand washing station and large solar dryer are available for washing and drying clothes. The farm provides fresh towels sheets. Local wash and dry services are available on the weekend in the local town.

The farm is located about a mile and a half from the beach and public transport. Taxis cost about $12 to Puerto Viejo center. Typically students prefer to walk to the beach and share a taxi to town.



 For more info of how to get to Costa Rica, our village of Puerto Viejo and Finca Tierra please click on our Contact page.



Final payments are due 2 weeks before course commencement.  Tuition is refundable until 30 days before the course start date.

Sometimes circumstances change and you may be unable to attend a course you have paid for. If so, there are a few options available;

If you notify us at least 30 days prior to the course commencement, Finca Tierra will refund your course without reservation deposit but will deduct an administration fee of 10% OR you can apply the full amount as credit towards a future course.

If you notify us less than 30 days prior to the course commencement Finca Tierra cannot provide a refund OR you can send someone else in your place OR you can join one of the next four courses within one year of your first course registration. In this case you will need to place a deposit to reserve a space in the new course you wish to attend. All final payment will be transferred.

The $400 USD deposit required to reserve your space is non-refundable.

If Finca Tierra is forced to cancel an event due to unforeseen circumstances you will immediately receive a full refund. All other refunds can take between 7-30 days to process.

Please note, that travel to and from Finca Tierra is the attendee’s responsibility. Finca Tierra is not responsible for any loss or travel reimbursement, should the course be canceled or other circumstance. Travel Insurance is recommended. Please purchase ASAP so that you can be refunded in the event that you must cancel. 



We have had quite a few students who received grants from the US universities. We have had a lot of students apply for a grants which cover our course fees but not airfare. This is a great deal. You should meet with a professor, academic advisor, study abroad office or the department chair and explain what you what to do and see what for what grants you can apply. Typically students need to write a proposal to apply and then write a shout paper upon return. Past student have said it was a simple process it just takes some planning ahead and a couple meetings.

Here is some info a past student wrote about here grant experience to share with future students. 

"I received a grant to do a PDC through applying to one of the many grants that my university offers to undergraduates for experiential learning opportunities. I searched through my university's website, chose the grant that fit my project the best, and applied in the spring semester hoping to do the course in the summer. In the application I wrote a proposal of what I intended to use the money for and needed a letter of recommendation from a professor supporting my proposal. An essential part of my application was emphasizing how the PDC applies to my educational and professional goals, and how I could bring back what I learned to the greater student and local community. "

Academic credit depends on you school and program. we have had participants receive 4 credit hours, this could be internship credit, independent study credit or study abroad credit.  To start, meet with a professor or academic advisor to see what options are available to you in your field of study.  We are happy to provide a program syllabus to present or answer any questions.