Optical Surveying for Earthworks & Water

Advanced Permaculture Course


Sorry; seem to have lost the reviews from the 2019 course.

Reviews from 2017 Optical Surveying

4*s Lots of people in permaculture are talking about Swales and Ponds among other earthworks but I’ve never found anything like this course that empowers the designer through analog tools to make the active observations and documentation to understand what’s appropriate for their land.

4.5*s This course goes well beyond the basics of using affordable low-tech surveying tools and mapping methods. It is a substantial meta-view of the nature of geographic boundaries, understanding air, water and soil movement as it applies to design, and earthworks design principles in the context of one’s land and the greater bio-region. The only reason why I don’t give it a 5 is because I feel the course could be longer in order to practice more what we learned.

5*s The huge toolkit on offer here is indispensable to anyone wanting to move their dreams and schemes into functional fruition.

4.5*s This course gave me a thorough understanding of the tools, methods and time required to implement many of the earthworks referenced in permaculture We applied optical surveying to many real-life situations including trails, water systems, ponds, swales and construction. Our time together was fun, informative, active and well-rounded.

4*s Siskiyou Permaculture really gets your hands in the dirt with this essential course. So much of permaculture looks like theory, but Optical Surveying fits you with the necessary tools and insights to discover where theory meets the real world.

Reviews from 2015 Optical Surveying

5*s My experience at Optical Surveying was awesome. I received a very extensive/hands-on education that I will be able to implement and build on for multiple projects. Hazel, Karen & Melanie are great teachers and the entire course was full of very practical knowledge.  All methods covered during the course make sese as well and I feel confident that I can begin using both tools and methods in the field to complete projects.

4.5*s This course had a consistently advanced level of high-quality information. Tom’s teachings were insightful and professional. Participants are treated as colleagues. This is an essential course for anyone who wants to do permaculture design at a high level.

4.5*s A wealth of knowledge from Hazel and all instructors. Great course. Come ready to learn and expand your view of permaculture by learning to survey. It’s really nice to learn with traditional analog technology and not smart phones. Alternative builders could really benefit from this class.

5*s The best course in the northwest, hands-down.

5*s I got all I expected, which was overview and confidence in beginning to implement (and understand) keylines, topography, soils and how to read and map them into a plan. Thank you! I have a lot more to learn, but I am very satisfied with the course!

4.5*s Need to cover a little more to be perfect.

5*s I learned so many useful ways to assess a landscape Without surveying up to now, I’ve been shooting in the dark.

5*s If you are a homesteader, this course will give you the tools to map and plan what goes where on your property, especially with placement to maximize efficiency and care for the earth.

4.5 *s The course was packed with information and activities to put practice to the information. I am going away from here with a whole new level of understanding of surveying and earthworks.

Reviews from 2014 Optical Surveying

5*s This course is rare and wonderful. My work as a landscape designer/permaculturist will be informed in so many ways. They surveying skills are fundamental tools, but the context about when surveying is important and the ecological world view conveyed are life changing.

5*s This course has provided me with a solid skill-set for improving my layout and design on both large and small projects. It is an excellent blend of theory and practice. Highly recommended. The three instructors work really well together and have a very complimentary dynamic that makes the class both informative and fun. Thanks!

4.5*s This was an excellent course for an introduction to basic surveying and mappling skills. But more than this, the course offered me opportunities to deepen my understanding of my surroundings and my connection to nature.

4.5*s Great course to learn and practice basic surveying skills for earthworks, waterways and trail systems. I loved the hands-on practice, way above what I’ve experienced in other permaculture workshops. Tom is very visionary in how these concepts can be applied and has a wide view of the applications of surveying.

5*s Excellent content, clear instruction, with adequate time devoted to repetition of concepts for full understanding.

5*s This course gave me the practical, analog skills for design, survey and layout so that I can de Permaculture design and development without being dependent on expensive technology. Now I can survey with or without electricity or digital tools. I feel blessed and honored to have teachers, mentors and elders of this quality.

The course provides real world training and gave me confidence in my own abilities as well as third party map accuracy and usability.

Reviews from 2013 Optical Surveying

5*s This has been THE best educational experience that I have ever had! This is a practical application of survey techniques. The wealth of information that Tom has to offer goes light years beyond the scope of this course. I wish I had more time to spend with them completely and overwhelmingly engaging. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You all are so nice and so helpful; I loved it that questions were encouraged.

5*s Clearly this was a 5 star course and experience. I have looked near and far for a course covering these analog surveying skills and I am impressed with the spread and depth of the curriculum and the steepness of the learning curve. This course is ideal for every serious permaculturalist who is eager to implement his/her own earthworks. Tom is among the best and most experienced permaculture teachers I have encountered so far.

5*s This course provided the opportunity to learn the beginning surveying skills needed to take the leap from theory into actual design. The wealth of both permaculture wisdom and surveying skills imparted was priceless. Teaching staff were excellent, attentive to individual needs and knowledgable.

5*s for such a broad spectrum of surveying. We covered a lot of information in such a short amount of time. If I had more time in my present life I would love to go in depth into each aspect of surveying covered, but I appreciated that this class is offered so it can fit into my life & schedule. We stumbled through the math in some of the activities, but we have the formulas to practice with.

5*s Tom, Melanie and Karen are a great team. They combine a huge amount of knowledge with great practical skills working in the field. Tom’s zany stories are a welcome addition and break amidst the teaching of some complicated materials. This course is a must for anyone who wants to truly learn how to design a property with loops all closed.

5*s Optical surveying with Siskiyou Permaculture is a rare treasure chest of in depth practical knowledge to start the observation process in the most accurate way we have available. The knowledge I gained during this course is not available anywhere else with this level of accessability. I feel very much empowered to start practicing surveying on any land.

5*s Wow. That’s a lot of information!

Reviews from 2011 Optical Surveying

5*s Optical Surveying with Tom Ward give the nuts and bolts hands on experience with surveying and earth/water works, including a grounded foundation in math needed to confidently initiate permaculture design. I think the course should be mandatory.

4*s It was frustrating to not have a full understanding about what we were doing and why–even after reading the handouts and briefing; better clearer handouts with cartoon schematics would help, especially when it’s hella hot and uncomfortable.

5*s The course was chock full of basic surveying principles to give us strategies for earthworks layout, design and implementation. This course should be a mandatory part of all PDC curriculi. thank you for being such great hosts/esses!

? Tom is a master teacher, storyteller and ecologist. He interweaves stories of the land, indigenous people and the topic at hand in ways that make for a very rich learning experience. The course is both challenging and fun. I learned a lot about basic surveying tools and methods that gave me a good foundation to continue learning and applying to my own projects. This course and what you have to offer is so valuable.

5 *s If one is looking to explore the fundamentals of surveying, thru the lens of permaculture, keyline & whole systems design and dimension, perspective & a foothold in the most relative activities.

4*s This course gave me the confidence and experience to build earthworks. It offers hands on technical experience on how to evaluate sites for swales, ponds, trails, roads & keyline ripping patterns. I’m grateful for all the work everyone put into this class; I learned so much.

5*s For the grand scheme; 3.5-4 for the end result (for me), and I know that has a lot to do with me. A great intro, but for me I would like more time in the course for the absolute basics. If you already have a good basic grasp of the tools & methods, this could be perfect.

Reviews from 2010 Optical Surveying

5*s Coming into this with an engineering background and forestry skills, I learned so much more than I thought I knew. There really is no cookie cutter best practice. You must survey! I had a blast!

4*s The course provides a good overview of optical surveying for permaculture in a a real-life setting where some of these concepts can be understood and internalized. It comes close to an immersion program.

5*s I feel this course was a very unique opportunity for me to get more professional with landscape design, and it gave me a lot of ideas, inspirations and practical methods to apply the ideas.

5*s Tom weaves wisdom, technical and local historic knowledge into a course that expands the basic practices of optical surveying for earthworks into a truly integrated survey skill set for permaculture and whole systems design. Thank you gratefully for being you, and being so damn inspiring, and such an artful teacher.

5*s Tom Ward’s Optic Surveying Course is a mind filling educational experience.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge, stories, experience and expertise.

5*s Great skills building and deepening of how to use hand tools. Great referencing of permaculture principles and projects. Great weaving of energy descent future and practical ways to prepare for it.  Bravo!! I’ll be back.

5*s Great course. Just what every new permie needs to know in order to get out and break some ground. I would have liked a third and fourth weekend with some hard labor.  I think this is critical knowledge for PDC grads.

5*s Thanks to Tom for giving me direction. I felt a bit lost and stagnant with my own permaculture practice. This course challenged me in more ways than I ever thought possible and that’s good! I also want to thank Tom for making the course affordable and making himself and his experiential knowledge available.

5*s At the end of the first weekend, my mind was swimming with information and tools I didn’t quite understand. By the end of the second weekend, I felt confident to go out and survey keylines, trails, water drops and more. Everything was tied to practical permaculture usage and filled out with fascinating stories.

4*s Great hands-on experience with an energetic and qualified instructor! Please do more advanced permaculture courses.

4*s I came to the class because I have a small property where I want to improve the spring fed irrigation system and lay out trails in a forest. I have used some of the surveying equipment 10 years ago while doing habitat surveys, but was not at all confident about how to tackle my project. This class has helped refresh my old skills and expanded my understanding of surveying theory and practice. I feel confident that I have the surveying skills I need now.

4*s Beautiful location! and basic but very functional camping facilities. Really enjoyed the communal meals and the group of people. Very good instruction.  You guys did a great job of adjusting and being sensitive to different people.

4*s Provides a great foundation to familiarize students with optical instruments so they in turn can develop expertise for their own surveying needs.


Book Signing Takelma
Sunday, May 28, 4 – 7 pm
9044 Takilma Rd.

Village Building Convergence
Live in Portland with Hazel on Zoom
June 12, time and links TBA

Course Dates available HERE.