Permaculture Design: Goals Articulation

In working on the permaculture plan for our property I used the design methods detailed in Dave Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2. I have never studied design, nor any aspect of design planning, so it was with great interest that I read about the need for “goals articulation” prior to proceeding with site planning. While I’ve jumped the gun and already posted my first draft for our site plan, I thought I’d go back a step and share with you the process of goals articulation.

Sometimes we can think we have a clear idea of what we want, until such time as we go to lay it out on paper, and then perhaps we realize that we haven’t thought about it at a level of detail sufficient for creating specific designs. Jacke starts out the design process with a goals articulation exercise, which he guides the reader through step by step. First, he listed several dozen questions and asked the reader to grab a notebook or notepaper and simply write down the answers that spring to mind with each question. We were encouraged to write what immediately came to our mind and include all notes, corrections, and scribblings that spontaneously flowed from us during this process.

Some questions were broad and involved feelings, values, and other abstract concepts. For example:

Why do you want a forest garden? What are you yearning for that you believe a forest garden will give you? What value does it offer you, or what values does it embody?

Imagine that someone who has never before been to your place arrives and spends about twenty minures wandering around your landscape when you have it well under way, speaking to you about topics other than the landscape. As your guest leaves your place, a third party stops him or her and asks for five words that express the qualities of the landscape the visitor just wandered through and unconsciously imbibed. What words would you want your visitor to say? What qualities do you want you landscape to express?

Other questions were more practical and concrete:

Approximately how much fruit do you eat in a year? How many nuts? Would you eat more of these if you were growing them and had them available?

What specific crops do you want to grow?

Going through the long lists of questions really helped me to think about issues I hadn’t thought of before and go to a level deeper than I had (such as trying to estimate how many apples we eat in a year!). When I was done I had about 3 written pages of answers.

In the next step, Jacke suggests you look over your answers and see what pops out at you. This was a real delight for me, like discovering some hidden treasure. Because as I went over my notes I realized that, indeed, he was totally correct and certain phrases and concepts had shown themselves up again and again in my answers. Before doing this exercise I probably couldn’t have told you they were there, but now they jumped out at me. These particular ideas formed the basis of my Values in the next stage of the process (see below).

The next step was to arrange each idea or concept according to a hierarchy of Values, Goals, and Criteria. Jacke suggested using index cards and moving them around, or using a computer spreadsheet program, to create “trees” where multiple Criteria define a single Goal, and multiple Goals define a single Value (I used Excel). He gave examples, which were really helpful, and I was able to sort my ideas into this hierarchy without much difficulty.

Jacke also encouraged the use of specific language that gave “oomph” to the ideas. For example, instead of writing “Goal: to create a forest garden that will provide all the fruits and nuts my family will eat.” he instead suggests it be rewritten to read “Goal: my forest garden provides all the fruits and nuts my family eats”. At first I thought this was a bit silly but when I went through the process I could see that using the language he suggested made the list of ideas seem more powerful and compelling. Also, by phrasing it in the present tense (as in “it is” instead of “I wish it were” or “it would be nice if”) it also allows one to more fully examine whether an idea is consistent with one’s own desires.

This was all a very enjoyable process for me and when I was done I could clearly see the value in these exercises. As Jacke writes:

Many arguments about design ideas really concern unspoken values, goals or criteria conflicts. Vague, implicit, or internally inconsistent intentions can destroy or obstruct the process. Clear, explicit, coherent intentions generate a powerful creative force.

One aspect of the usefulness of having completed the goals articulation process is that the Criteria basically provide a checklist of all the elements that need to be incorporated into the design. Because they were organized under Goals and Values each criterion was important, there was no redundancy, and overall this list would prevent one from going off on tangents. I could see how easily that could be done. Any new criterion to be considered could be checked against the goals and values to see if it was really necessary, already accounted for, or would contribute to achieving the overall Values desired for the landscape. This was useful during the site mapping/zone planning phase.

When I had completed the goals articulation process my spreadsheet had four Values. It’s too long to reproduce here so I’ll share with you one of the Values and a few of the underlying Goals and Criteria that go with it.

Value: Our property is an abundant homestead.

Goal: We have an abundant supply of water.


  1. Seasonal water flow onto property is collected and stored in a system of swales and ponds for year round use.
  2. Rainwater harvested from house roof supplies irrigation for zone 1 food gardens.
  3. Greywater harvested from house irrigates non-food plants/gardens.
  4. Rainwater harvested from house roof is used in place of well water for clothes washing (front-loader) and flushing toilets.

Goal: We supply most of our property’s input needs from the property (minimize external inputs).


  1. Compost is generated on site from chicken manure, kitchen waste, and garden trimmings.
  2. Mulch generating plants are grown; “chop and drop” method of mulching.
  3. Fodder is grown for pigs and chickens.
  4. Sawdust and garden trimmings are used for mulch.

Goal: We give back to the land by providing habitat for wildlife (birds, insects, etc).


  1. Our property contains nesting boxes for owls, birds, and mason bees (near garden).
  2. Ponds provide wetland habitat for local flora and fauna.
  3. There are grazing areas for elk herd (Zone 5).
  4. We have some systems that are “ecosystem to plants” in design, retaining local flora and fauna as much as possible in these areas.
  5. We have some systems that are “plants to ecosystems” in design, creating an ecosystem compatible with our soil and climate but different from the existing overgrowth, and retaining existing aspects that are compatible with the overall plan.

Having gone through this process I can attest that it greatly helped when it came time to sit down and work out a site plan. When I’d lay out a potential plan (mapping zones, etc) I could easily go down my list of criteria to make sure that I had included all these elements and ideas into the plan. I now feel like I have a much clearer vision of what we’re trying to accomplish here, and am a big step closer to seeing it become reality.


One response to this post.

  1. […] Permaculture Top: Goals Enunciation « Rural Aspirations […]


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