For the past year I have been chairing the steering group reviewing the future of the farm and land use on the 1,300 acre Dartington estate, within which Schumacher College is located.
It’s been a fascinating journey and a wonderful group of colleagues to work with, including Rob Hopkins from Transition Towns, Phil Stocker from the Soil Association, Richard Soffe from Duchy Rural Business School and several more. We’ve visited estates in other parts of the country, taken evidence on such themes as zero carbon land use and GM and from local activists such as Incredible Edible Todmorden. We’ve run seminars on land partnerships and on agro forestry, held community consultation meetings and a highly successful Open Space session. All of which has generated an enormous range of exciting ideas. We have now begun to distil all we have seen and heard and are close to finalising the report to be presented to Dartington Trustees later this autumn.
The simple messages from the Steering Group are that:
• The Dartington farm and estate should once again be used primarily for supporting education, experimentation and enterprise;
• The current predominance of a single traditional dairy farm should be replaced by mixed farming and a diversity of enterprises interacting synergistically;
• The use of the land should be informed by the mitigating and adaptation challenges presented by Climate Change, increasing energy costs and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the need to protect and enhance biodiversity.
We are in effect seeking to answer the question – Is it possible to use Dartington’s land in more innovative ways in order to produce a new model for valuing land, which extends opportunities for education, experimentation and enterprise?
What we are proposing is simple in concept. It makes use of ideas that were widely practised at Dartington but in a modern context. We seek nothing less than to restore the Dartington farm and estate to its place as a national and international centre of education, experimentation and enterprise, attracting visitors and students from across the UK and internationally. Where Dartington could once again truly become a centre of excellence for training and research in the area of sustainable farming and land use. We believe that this will also enable Dartington to model localisation as a vehicle for a new economics in transition, for rural regeneration, social entrepreneurship and job creation.
In recommending that a mixed approach to low carbon farming and land use should be adopted, the Steering Group are also calling for a much closer engagement by Schumacher College and its programmes in leading much more education and research trialling across the estate. This has been a key driver behind the College’s decision to design a Masters Degree in Sustainable Horticulture and Food Production, which we will be marketing this autumn, alongside the Certificates in Sustainable Horticulture which we have been running since 2009. This will also extend greatly the fieldwork opportunities for our Holistic Science students and enable us to become an example of a transition rural estate, a practical example for our new MA in Economics for Transition.
Charlie McConnell, Director – Schumacher College