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Living Soil: An holistic perspective

1 – 5 July 2013

With Bethan Stagg, Stephan Harding, Patrick Whitefield, and Charles Dowding – plus conversation with Satish Kumar on the art of food and cooking

This course is open for bookings

Soil is the foundation for all terrestrial life and, as any good gardener knows, a healthy soil is the key to sustainable food production. This course is for anyone wishing to understand the alchemy of soil and the pivotal role the soil ecosystem plays in the balance of nature.

There will be practical and experiential soil sampling and composting, as well as discussion about soil and spirituality, soil ecology and managing soils for a ‘low carbon’ future.

The course will be held by College faculty lecturers Bethan Stagg and Stephan Harding, alongside visiting teachers Patrick Whitefield and Charles Dowding.

What you can expect to learn

Who is this course for?

The course is suitable for anyone wishing to better understand soils: gardeners, growers, ecologists, teachers and students.


Bethan Stagg co-ordinates the garden operations and lectures in horticulture and agroecology for vocational and postgraduate courses. Bethan has a BSc in Biology from University of Bristol, an MSc in Biodiversity and Conservation from the University of Leeds and fifteen years professional experience, including as a co-ordinator of the national Allotments Regeneration Initiative, ecological consultant and farmers market manager. Bethan also works part-time at Plymouth University, where she is undertaking research on botanical education; other interests are organic crop production, perennial cropping and soils in sustainable agriculture.

Charles Dowding began growing organic vegetables on his family’s farm in Somerset in the early eighties, and moved on to market gardening in Zambia and France. He returned to Somerset and now has a two acre garden of permanent raised beds and fruit tree from which he produces salad bags year-round. He is the author of three popular books, Organic Gardening: The Natural No-dig Way, Salad Leaves for All Seasons, and How to Grow Winter Vegetables and runs courses on organic gardening techniques at his farm, as well as giving talks to a wide range of gardening and activist groups. Visit

Patrick Whitefield was brought up on a smallholding in Somerset and qualified in agriculture at Shuttleworth College, Bedfordshire. After several years working in agriculture in the Middle East and Africa, he settled in central Somerset where he still lives. In 1983 he bought a flower-rich hay meadow to save it from destruction and kept it as a nature reserve for 25 years before handing it on to the Somerset Wildlife Trust for safe keeping. Since 1990 he’s devoted himself to permaculture, especially to teaching it, and is now one of the leading permaculture teachers in Britain, indeed in Europe. He combines a deep knowledge of the subject with an inspiring and professional teaching style. He’s written three books on permaculture: Permaculture in a Nutshell, How to Make a Forest Garden and The Earth Care Manual. His latest book is The Living Landscape: How To Read & Understand It a subject especially close to his heart. He also practices as a design consultant. Visit

Stephan Harding is Programme Coordinator of the MSc in Holistic Science and resident Ecologist at Schumacher College teaching on the MSc core modules and as part of several of the short courses at the College. He is a close associate of James Lovelock and an expert in the study of Gaia theory and deep ecology. He is the author of Animate Earth and Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College.

“This is exciting stuff. Soil is an ecosystem that we invite you to explore. We probably know less about this eco-system than we do about the Amazon. As well as being a foundation of life on earth it is also intrinsically beautiful. But I tell you this – some of the stuff you see in soil is weirder than what you might imagine in outer space. The earth under our feet is one of the last frontiers of ecology. So whilst we will be looking at the big picture of the importance of soil we will also be shrinking you down to the size of a pea on this course so you can crawl through the air and water on a soil safari.” Bethan Stagg, Lecturer in Ecological Horticulture, Schumacher College

Video: The magic of soil

Course Fees

Fees: £525 All course fees include accommodation, food, field trips and all teaching sessions.

For further information about Schumacher College please see About the College

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We will hold the place for five working days for reservations – three weeks before a course or earlier. After five days we will automatically offer your place to someone else if we have not received your application.

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Schumacher College is part of the Dartington Hall Trust, a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and as a charity (company no. 1485560, charity no. 279756). Registered office: The Elmhirst Centre, Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EL, United Kingdom