PRI began as the permaculture collaborative

The Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate (PRI) hatched in 2003 as the Permaculture Collaborative, a community of “learners and doers” committed to getting permaculture on the ground in the Upper Midwest. Cofounders Paula Westmoreland and Guy Trombley (pictured above with prairie grass roots) launched the collaborative after attending a permaculture workshop at Garden Farme in Ramsey, MN.  Led by Toby Hemenwayand Mark Shepard, the workshop drew participants from a wide swath of the Upper Midwest, from North Dakota to Illinois.

For the next five years, our diverse group focused on building permaculture skills and catalyzing a regional movement. We were urban and rural; farmers, designers and landscapers; teachers, artists, computer programmers and health care professionals. We hosted film festivals, work-and-learn weekends and annual gatherings throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.  We brought in international permaculture experts, including Geoff Lawton, Dave Jacke, Penny Livingston-Stark and Toby Hemenway, to lead workshops and teacher trainings.

By the end of 2008, the collaborative counted 30 active organizing members, an overall membership of nearly 300 and a contact list of 2,500.  Several members had started permaculture businesses.


In 2009 we became PRI, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization intended to grow an urban agriculture movement and a generation of permaculture farmers in the Twin Cities and beyond. That year, with a part-time director three staff members, we began Backyard Harvest, which trained urban farmers and contracted with homeowners to grow vegetables at home. Two years later, with the knowledge gained from Backyard Harvest, PRI launched the Urban Farming Certification Program, integrating classroom work, hands-on farming and mentoring. In 2012, we added an Apprenticeship program, where students worked with the growing number of permaculture businesses and farms, and, in 2014, we started the advanced series in Whole Systems Design to take alumni deeper into permaculture applications.

Between 2011 and 2015, PRI taught 230 classes and certified 100 new urban farmers. This resulted in 17 new permaculture businesses and more than 100 transformed landscapes. We provided apprentices and others more than 4,200 hours of hands-on experience. 

During these years we continued to host permaculture workshops and skillshares; initiated a biennial design competition; and launched Nature’s Edge Designs, which designed and installed permaculture features at House of Hope Community Garden, St. Paul, and Tiny Diner Farm and Restaurant, Minneapolis.  

expanded leadership 

Having accomplished early goals, PRI started a planning process in 2015 to evaluate programs and seek ways to deepen our work in the years ahead. Our Board of Directors grew from 4 members to 11, with a part-time administrator to manage the Permaculture Apprenticeship Program and the new Ripple Ecology initiative. During the winter of 2016-17, we released our third Perennial CSA, a seasonal box of permaculture-related products.


In 2017, PRI felt the squeeze of a changing funding climate and was unable to continue planned programming. We retain our 501(c)3 status, and are exploring possibilities for collaboration with like-minded organizations. Following this retrenchment, PRI is likely to return to its original name, the Permaculture Collaborative, which better reflects our efforts going forward.