In this module you’ll learn how to articulate your context and design goals.

This is an incredibly important first step, one that’s going to help you speed up the whole design process. It’s going to give you clarity on what you want to achieve and guidance for the next steps of the design.

At the end of this step, you’ll have a list of clearly defined resources, a vision for the project, and a set of design goals.

Watch the video below to get started.

Video Lesson Summary:

The very first step in designing your permaculture farm or homestead is to get some clarity on the context and your goals.

In order to contextualize you need to first get clear on exactly what resources you have at your disposal: physical resources, financial ones, time and energy, human resources.

Then you need to get clear on your Why of the project, the purpose behind it, the driving force behind the project and the vision of how the project will look one day once its fully established.

From there, from that vision, you derive your goals by breaking up the aspirational sentiments of our vision into the specific design goals.

Action Steps:

STEP 1. Download or make a copy of the workbook for this lesson. In there you’ll find the step-by-step instructions on everything you need to do. (5 min.)

STEP 2. Fill out the worksheet and get clear on your resources, your Why, your vision, and your design goals. Reach out to me if you need help in this process. (1 h)

STEP 3. Share and discuss your design goals with others in the comment section below. It will help you refine them before you proceed with your design. (5 min.)

STEP 4. Proceed to the next module: Site Assessment.

Peer Support Discussions:


  1. Trista Martin

    Hi! I’m new to the course and excited to learn all I can. Here are my design goals for our property of 2.5 hectares:
    -interconnected water systems
    -perennial food production area
    -commercial zone 3 gardens and orchards
    -permaculture nursery area

    • papprentice

      Sounds good! Any plans for annual gardens?

  2. Tamara Kraal

    I really enjoyed the visioning part of this module, and how each step of the process helped to refine my thinking. The design goals I ended up with are:
    – Water: interconnected water systems
    – Energy: off-grid energy production, passive heating
    – Food: year-round food production
    – Waste: systems to manage all waste on-site
    – Soil: systems that build soil health
    – Pleasure: peace, beauty, privacy
    – Animal husbandry projects that support all the other goals
    – Side hustles: products, accommodation, education, consultancy/design, videos

    • papprentice

      Hey Tamara. I would love to see how you’ll incorporate these into your design. Keep me in the loop.

      I think the waste and soil systems are going to be more like overarching goals of how to connect everything in the detailed design phase.

  3. James Ruth

    I am very excited to have your course as a resource, and am looking forward to getting some practice. I do wish there was the option to change the speed of the videos.

    • papprentice

      Hey James, I’ll see what I can do in regards to the video speed.

    • papprentice

      Ok, so all the videos now have a speed control option. Click the settings icon in the lower right corner to choose the speed of the video.

  4. John LeClare

    Hello :
    Why was tough for us. Fourth years together and I don’t think we have ever talked this much. Our goals
    Produce as much “clean” nutrient dense food as possible to eat and share.
    Do as little harm as possible
    Much narrowed down list
    Layout beds , paths and rotation of goats and chickens ,4ft beds with 2ft living pathways for mulch
    Design and fabricate water collection and distribution system
    Design and build chicken tractors to move over beds must have attached electric fencing (fox issues)
    Install permanent corner post for internal portable electric fencing(grazing ,groundhog and rabbit issues)
    Install permanent permiter electric fence with appropriate gates and cut outs(approximately 2 acres , about 1 hectare.
    Repair , refurbish greenhouse , goat barn and seed starting areas.
    Chickens and internal fencing must be first due to recent wildlife incrochment. They are beautiful but I would like them to eat elsewhere!
    We are surrounded by relatively new housing on three sides with a small “forever forest ” on the fourth side.

    • papprentice

      Hey John, this is a good start.

      So the overarching design goals would be:

      #1 Produce as much “clean” nutrient dense food as possible to eat and share.
      #2 Do as little harm as possible

      This is good.

      I think the narrowed-down list needs a bit of adaptation.

      Here’s what I suggest:

      Design and fabricate water collection and distribution system –> This is good, so a DESIGN GOAL is: water collection and distribution system.

      Layout beds , paths and rotation of goats and chickens ,4ft beds with 2ft living pathways for mulch –> DESIGN GOALS: Permaculture garden + pastures for goats and chickens.

      Chickens and internal fencing must be first due to recent wildlife incrochment. They are beautiful but I would like them to eat elsewhere!
      Install permanent corner post for internal portable electric fencing(grazing ,groundhog and rabbit issues)
      Install permanent permiter electric fence with appropriate gates and cut outs(approximately 2 acres , about 1 hectare.

      All three of these are one DESIGN GOAL: Permineter fence + internal fencing.

      Repair , refurbish greenhouse , goat barn and seed starting areas. –> If these are already in place, this is a specific implementation goal.

      Design and build chicken tractors to move over beds must have attached electric fencing (fox issues) –> This is irrelevant for now as it’s a specific goal for the implementation phase once you know where the pastures will be.

  5. Sallie Tupper

    This was a really helpful process that also ended up being very inspiring! I loved imagining our ideal life/operation here. The goals we came up with are:

    Multiple dwelling spaces (legally!)
    Forest garden with annual & perennial food production
    Wild areas for foraging and seasonal harvests
    Interconnected water & soil systems
    Permaculture nursery area
    Commercial perennial food growing areas
    Education/Spiritual Gathering area

    • papprentice

      Very good and tangible design goals, Sallie.

  6. Joi Fedance

    Thank you William for designing this course. I have been asking myself the WHY question a lot lately. I lost my beloved husband of 31 years in June 2021 to COVID-19. All of a sudden the joy of farming our beautiful 40 acres was gone. Many things have changed. I have had to take an off farm job. But the WHY stays the same although I had never really articulated it. Just carried in my heart all these years. To grow nutrient dense food for my family and others. And to teach others to do the same.

    My design goal are:
    Multiple generations living and working together on farm

    Space for play and education

    Mixed species of animals

    Perennial food systems

    Annual food systems

    Interconnected water systems

    Income generation

    Abundance to bless others generously

    • papprentice

      Hey Joi, sorry to hear about your loss. I can imagine what you’re going through.

      In regards to your design goals, I would eliminate “Multiple generations living and working together on farm” and “Abundance to bless others generously” as these are not tangible things (as others on your list) that you can put on design as elements.

      Also, “Mixed species of animals” would probably translate to something more like pastures and animal living areas, silvopasture, or animals integrated into perennial food systems.

      Otherwise, all good.

  7. Kristopher Shumway

    These are my goals for my property. I liked the process of writing them out and then refining them a bit more.

    Off-Grid Energy Production
    Outdoor space for play and perennial food production area
    Perennial Food production area (to north west of house?)
    4 Season Market Garden (to supplement income)
    Garage to house all canned goods and to store possible CSA veggies and fruits
    Nursery area to start seedlings along with other plants
    Pond to be put at bottom of slope SSE part of property
    Irrigation System at top of slope to collect rain water from garage roof (when installed)

    • papprentice

      This is good Kristopher! The only bit of feedback is that, at this point, you should not have preconceived ideas (design solutions) about where you’re going to put elements. Re – “Pond to be put at the bottom of slope SSE part of the property” and “Irrigation System at the top of the slope to collect rainwater from garage roof” .

      Although I understand that these might be the only viable positions, and you are just pointing them out. Anyhow, the site assessment will help you determine if these positions are a good idea.

  8. Janine Westerweel

    Wow, I’m loving the daydreaming!
    So, pending input from the rest of the family, these are my (mostly) refined design goals:

    * Energy-efficient homes (one with extended kitchen for herbal and organic food production) with garaging and workshops

    * Interconnected water systems

    * Off-grid energy production

    * Outdoor play area + Relaxation/tour hosting area

    * Food forest

    * Annual & medicinal gardens

    * Animal pens/paddocks

    * Composting & permaculture nursery area

    • papprentice

      Very good, Janine! I’ll review the info you sent me via email as well, but these are very tangible design goals.

  9. Marc DiPaolo

    I very much like this strategy-to-task process and the step-by-step approach. And I have appreciated reading the design goals that others have developed. In case others find it equally helpful, here is what we came up with:

    • Dwellings situated with privacy and seclusion; a reasonably large main house with one or two guest houses
    • Fenced pasture land (external and internal)
    • Water distribution
    • Equipment storage area
    • Outdoor kitchen garden area and indoor/protected space for germination
    • Reliable off-grid energy and water sources

    • papprentice

      Thanks for sharing, Marc. I think it helps immensely to read design goals that others have come up with.

      The dwellings and equipment storage area, in the context of a concept design, will be situated roughly in the same area. But we can discuss that when you come to the infrastructure design layer.

  10. ndambuki kilonzo

    i am finding it challenging to filter the goals, here is my list
    Water harvesting/soil conservation
    Demo farm
    Natural trees
    Off season Fruit production area
    Irrigation for crops and pasture
    Mixed Animals
    Automation of services and functions


    Great exercise! It’s a very busy time, but this is what I’ve managed to tease out so far. I don’t have a great sense of how orchards and/or food forests will be differentiated on the land or if it needs to be one or the other.
    Here are the main design goals I’ve identified for our land this far

    -Interconnected water systems including collection system
    -Outdoor space for play surrounded by or integrated with food forest
    -permaculture orchard (fruit and nut)
    -4 season gardens to support our family and roadside market stand (hoop house, annual veg and perennial herbs)
    -small permaculture nursery area
    -Smallish barn (cold season shelter for animals, hay storage)
    -establish fencing for intensive rotational grazing
    -enhance grazing field with shade and wind protection (planted, silvopasture?)
    – plant small sugar maple stand

    • papprentice

      Hey Sally, make a distinction based on the type of layout – food forest: a layout that involves swales, orchard: a simpler layout for ease of management or agroforestry alley cropping, or silvopasture type of system: keyline or orchard type of layout. We can discuss further if you need help with deciding.


        yes that would be great. i am having trouble deciding.
        Ive always been drawn to food forests as i love the high diversity and opportunity to try growing a bit of everything. there is so much diversity out there and with the changing climate and weather, the site is new to me, it’s hard to know what will thrive. so i know i want to establish and work on food forest.

        I guess what Im stuck on and having trouble deciding, is how to integrate the animals. to incorporate their grazing with the food forest or to establish something separate, beyond the initial/main food forest. Maybe this is where we do some agroforestry alley cropping or silvopasture.

        For everything, I have about 10 acres to work with. And im not particularly interested in commercial production. more self sufficiency (with some surplus for family, friends, or a small roadside stand). I feel like this gives me the flexibility to be more creative and flexible with the layout of the space. which is why im stuck on deciding 😉

  12. Terri

    William. Thank you for this course. I am slow to begin but here is my first step in my design goals
    – animal shelters, processing facilities and paddocks for rotational grazing and soil regeneration
    – food forest, orchard with perennial and annual food production
    – outdoor recreation and relaxation area
    -composting and small nursery

    • papprentice

      Nevermind the slow start!

      Your design goals sound very tangible. Let’s place them on “paper.”

  13. Ali St John

    I’m open to splitting off a 3rd commercial zone and moving the Orchard, Nursery, and Market Garden into that area.
    I plan to create a vermicomposting to help feed fish and plants. The plants are in priority order since it takes longer to grow the trees / shrubs than market garden. Please let me know your thoughts!!

    Off-Grid Energy Production
    Interconnected Water Systems
    Living Space
    Recreational Space
    Commercial Zone 1: Workshop
    Commercial Zone 2: Vermicomposting, Fishery, Orchard, Nursery, Market Garden
    Small Livestock Paddocks

    • papprentice

      If you think about your activity and engagement levels with these systems, and their size, then the orchard would be a zone 3 system. A market garden and a nursery would probably be more like Zone 2 – smaller in size, closer to the house, need more attention, and you’ll be in there every day doing stuff.

  14. Gabrielle Chadowitz

    Unfortunately, other than our land and lumber on the land, we don’t have a lot of resources. At this juncture, we are basically working with a blank slate. We do own a cannabis farm near by, so we can utilize some of the equipment on that farm but not permanently.

    I will work on this further with my partner this weekend. This what I came up with so far..

    Thank you, Great exercise..

    Our vision summary:

    Home + 2 dwellings for visitors and interns
    Space for overnight campers + patio area
    Food forest/educational meeting area
    Water catchment systems throughout + Pond
    Alternative energy
    Guilds, intercropping to create Food forest
    Logged area for annual cultivation area and dwelling sites
    Annual Hugelkultur garden
    Animal area + egg/dairy processing area
    Food cart
    Farm stand at driveway entrance

    • papprentice

      Sounds good Gabriele. Logged area for the annual cultivation area and dwelling site sounds more like an implementation goal. I assume your Annual Hugelkultur garden and Home + 2 dwellings for visitors and interns will be going into that logged area?

  15. L

    Hi, my design goals…
    Fruit trees
    All year Kitchen garden
    Chicken coop and chickens
    Sheep pen and sheep
    Seating areas for leisure and views
    Nursery area

    • papprentice

      Hey Lat, here are a few suggestions on how to improve this so it sounds more permaculture design goals orinented:

      I would switch fruit trees to a food forest or a permaculture orchard.
      Chicken coop and chickens for chickens area
      Sheep pen and sheep for pastures + sheep pen area
      Pond for reliable water storage

  16. jason Anderson

    Hello William and group,
    I am glad to go through these worksheets because it forces me to focus on what is important to me about setting up a permaculture site. I have been researching permaculture for a long time, and I kind of got lost in the weeds about all the possibilities out there. While I still want all of them, I realized that this is a retirement plan more than anything for me. I want to work steadily towards a self-sufficient design while working, but want to reap the benefits while in retirement. So, one of my goals is to have the site mostly manage itself with my role being management and foraging.
    My goals are simple but hard to achieve:
    – Provide for my physical needs
    – Provide for my financial needs
    – The system manages itself. Animals do the “work” in an agroforestry system and water moves in sustainable integrated systems.
    – Return of Surplus – Excess is sold for traded for money

    I outline the how in my worksheet. A CSA to sell produce, a homestead focused on perennial plants, free range animals, and integrated sustainable water systems. I can be a forager in the system. I want an agroforestry system of hedges to be planted throughout with all the perennial plants needed for food, medicine, fodder, fuel, construction materials, survival materials and herbs. Animals can be rotated along the hedges through the growing season to weed and fertilize. Ponds and other water systems can passively supply water throughout for people, animals, plants and ponds.

    • papprentice

      I like your vision, Jason.

      Basically a Mark Shepard’s style agroforestry farm.

  17. Margarida Fonseca

    I found very interesting to evaluate our resources and constraints. It really helped to define our objectives on a time scale.

    Short term (up to 1 year) – due to our time constrains to work on our land
    – Perennial food production area
    – Interconnected water systems (with water retention to take advantage of the winter water excess and used it in dry weather)
    – Bio pool (for water retention, fire prevention, house cooling and lodging activity) – I may be moving forward to a solution
    – Outdoor space for play and relax

    From 1 to 5 years
    – Aromatic and medicinal garden
    – Flower garden
    – Bees
    – Increase financial independence

    Long term (in 5 years)
    – Educational area
    – Commercial zone
    – Four season Market garden
    – Create other lodging facilities

    • papprentice

      Hey Margarida, this is good. All, except ‘Increase financial independence’ are tangible design goals you can plan on paper.

  18. Lindsay Warne

    Hello! Very excited to finally get started on planning out our new farm. Generally i think this is the dreams we have and the order in which we are prioritizing them.

    No dig market garden with farmstand on property.
    – Rainwater capture
    – medicinal flowers & herbs
    – as much perennial foods as possible in zone 3

    perennial food trees and shrubs for privacy, production and long term resilience.

    Pasture raised chickens, cows and pigs for our own food and to sell for income.

    Passive solar greenhouse
    – starter plants for the garden and starter plants for sale.

    Useful wood lot
    – Greywater integration.
    – animal integration

    An adventure sanctuary
    – River access for swimming
    – Trails for walking and quad.

    Firewood operation area

    Educational tours & apprentices to help with the permaculture farm and for income.

    • papprentice

      Hey Lindsay, this is good. All are actionable design goals that you can map on ‘paper’ except the last one: Educational tours & apprentices to help with the permaculture farm and for income.” This is more of an implementation plan after the design is done.


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