What’s wrong with permaculture design courses? Brazilian lessons for agroecological movement-building in Canada

  • Marie-Josée MassicotteEmail author
  • Christopher Kelly-Bisson
Symposium/Special Issue


This paper focuses on the centrality of permaculture design courses (PDCs) as the principal sociopolitical strategy of the permaculture community in Canada to transform local food production practices. Building on the work of Antonio Gramsci and political agroecology as a framework of analysis, we argue that permaculture instruction remains deeply embedded within market and colonial relations, which orients the pedagogy of permaculture trainings in such a way as to reproduce the basic elements of the colonial capitalist economy among its practitioners. In the specific case of eastern Ontario, this embeddedness had the effect of diluting the transformative capacity of permaculture practitioners who were unable to create its own social movement organization. The paper then highlights key elements of the agroecological pedagogy used by the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and the Escola Latinoamericana de Agroecología (Latin American School of Agroecology, or ELAA) in Paraná, Brazil. The objective is to draw lessons from these inspiring experiences, in a rather unique context of struggles that can help to critically assess the pedagogical practices and principles presently informing permaculture communities in Canada and in advanced industrialized countries more generally. We then conclude by reiterating the key arguments and lessons drawn from the Brazilian pedagogical experiences, pointing out the importance of engagement and coalition-building with established rural and urban movements, as well as progressive farmer, Indigenous, and rural associations to foster a just and sustainable transformation of agri-food systems, starting at the local and regional levels. It also emphasizes the need for the most marginalized sectors to lead the way towards an agroecological transition.


Permaculture MST Agroecology Emancipatory pedagogy Peasant movements Gramsci 



Comissão Pastoral da Terra (Pastoral Land Commission)


Community Urban Food Forest


Escola Latinoamericana de Agroecología (Latin American School of Agroecology)


Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Workers Movement)


National Capital Commission


Ontario Public Interest Research Group


Permaculture Design Course


Permaculture Institute of Eastern Ontario


Permaculture Ottawa


Permaculture Research Institute



Our gratitude goes out to all interviewees and activists, especially those from the Ottawa permaculture community, the ELAA and the Brazilian MST for sharing their knowledge and expertise informing this research. Your love for your community and dream for a sustainable world is inspiring. Thanks to Patricia Ballamingie and Jill Wigle for supervising the eastern Ontario fieldwork that went into the writing of this paper, and to reviewers for providing insightful feedback to improve this article. A special thanks to Tiaraju P. D’Andrea for research assistantship, as well as Stephen Brown, Peter Andrée, Alicia Martin, and Michael J. Wigginton for offering their feedback and editing. This paper was produced with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and The Douglas Fullerton Award in Urban Studies.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Political StudiesInstitute for Feminist and Gender StudiesOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Political Science, School of Political StudiesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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