Courses Overview >> Taught Postgraduate Programmes >> Ecological Food Systems

Ecological Food Systems

MSc and PG Diploma (full and part-time) and PG Certificate programme approved and awarded through Plymouth University

This programme is now closed to further applications, and is under review. If you have any further interest in this programme please e-mail and ask to be placed on our mailing list for updates on this course, or course area. Thank you.

Ecological Food Systems at Schumacher College

Schumacher College is the first in the world to offer a postgraduate programme in Ecological Food Systems, developed in collaboration with Plymouth University, The Organic Research Centre (ORC), The Campaign for Real Farming and the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT).

Join the leaders and change agents at the forefront of new thinking in resilient and healthy food systems.

This course explores the frontiers of research and practice that will meet the social, ecological and economic challenges our food systems face in the 21st Century.

We offer you a unique and transformative blend of academic and practical learning opportunities from Schumacher College, Plymouth University, the Organic Research Centre, The Campaign for Real Farming and the Centre for Alternative Technology.

sustainable horticulture and food production students

Beyond industrial food systems

Now that global population has passed 7 billion, we urgently need to consider how our food systems will cope in the coming years. The food industry tells us we need to increase yields but the reality is far more complex.

Food needs to be of sufficient quality as well as quantity,  while diets will need to adapt in order to improve agricultural land-use. We need to move away from methods of production that contribute to environmental degradation and consume finite resources. Food sovereignty (the right of people to define their own systems) must be included in the debate, as well as grassroots movements in food localisation. Food waste and distribution are complex issues that also need to be addressed alongside production. In addition, food systems need to be resilient in an unpredictable and changing climate.

These are the issues that you will explore on the course, which brings together the thinking, research and practice at the cutting-edge of a global food revolution. Drawing from many different models and initiatives around the world, including ‘human scale’ horticulture, holistic mixed farming, farm-scale agroforestry and local food networks, Schumacher College’s starting point is complexity and resilience in natural systems. We believe that agriculture  and associated food systems have to be inspired by biological and ecological processes.

Why Schumacher College?

Schumacher College has an international reputation for its holistic and systemic approach to sustainability. Our teaching approaches offer more than an intellectual enquiry since they nurture the whole self, fostering a deep engagement with nature that empowers and inspires our students to take action in the world.

Food and ecology have been at the heart of the College, since its inception in 1991. The College launched its vocational programmes in sustainable horticulture in 2008, which have expanded to include the postgraduate and short courses, as well as a sizeable food growing operation.

The College’s four acres of grounds and gardens include polytunnels, composting areas, forest gardens, ‘no dig’ kitchen gardens and habitats for biodiversity. We have recently begun to develop a five acre field for an innovative project in agroforestry. These land-based resources provide a rich learning experience, with a variety of research opportunities for dissertation projects. We are adjacent to Martin Crawford’s famous forest garden and School Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture scheme.

The course is validated through the School of Biological Sciences at Plymouth University, which has a well-established profile in horticulture, nutrition and ecology alongside high quality research and laboratory facilities.


From Schumacher College: 

Bethan Stagg - Programme Co-ordinator

Bethan co-ordinates the Postgraduate Programme 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 is undertaking research into people's relationships with wild plants with Plymouth University and publishes regularly in the Journal of Biological Education. Other interests are organic crop production, perennial cropping and soils in sustainable agriculture.

Tim Crabtree - Senior Lecturer

Tim Crabtree has 25 years experience in the third sector, working in policy development and business advisor roles before becoming the chief executive of Local Food Links Ltd, a successful Dorset-based social enterprise which provides vocational training and community education, and delivers user-led catering services in partnership with 23 schools and a range of older people’s organisations. Find out more about Tim here here >>


Programme Co-ordinator
Programme Co-ordinator

Stephan Harding - Senior Lecturer

Stephan oversees the MSc in Holistic Science, teaching on the core models and as part of several of the short courses at the College. Stephan was born in Venezuela in 1953. He came to England at the age of six with his father and housekeeper, with whom he spoke Spanish (his mother tongue) at home. Since childhood Stephan has had a deep fascination with the natural world, and his scientific cast of mind lead him to do a degree in Zoology at the University of Durham and then a doctorate on the behavioural ecology of the muntjac deer at Oxford University. Find out more about Stephan here >>

Jonathan Dawson - Senior Lecturer

Jonathan is a world renowned sustainability educator and a former President of the Global Ecovillage Network, he has around 20 years experience as a researcher, author, consultant and project manager in the field of small enterprise development in Africa and South Asia.

Jonathan is the principal author of the Gaia Education sustainable economy curriculum, drawn from best practice within ecovillages worldwide, that has been endorsed by UNITAR and adopted by UNESCO. Find out more about Jonathan here >>

Guest Lecturers May Include:

Senior Lecturer
Senior Lecturer

The programme in Ecological Food Systems brings together some of the leading voices in Agroecology, Agroforestry and Holistic Farming which may include:

Senior LecturerGuest contributions from:This postgraduate programme is fortunate enough to have some of the leading voices in agroecology, agroforestry and holistic farming, leacture at the College.

Colin Tudge - author and founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Martin Crawford - author and Director of the Agroforestry Research Trust

Prof. Martin Wolfe - founder of Wakelyns, 60-acre Agroforestry research farm; part of The Organic Research Centre

Dr. Andrea Berardi – systems scientist and researcher in indigenous cultures from the Open University

Julie Brown – Founder of London’s first organic vegbox scheme, now a major food localisation scheme Growing Communities

Rebecca Hosking – agroecologist and holistic farmer; producer of the BBC documentary ‘Farm for a Future’

Guy Watson - farmer and founder of Riverford Organic, Britain's largest supplier of organic produce

Iain Tolhurst - Founder of Tolhurst Organic and an independent organic horticulture consultant specialising in advice and training in horticultural business development.

Iain Tolhurst - Tolhurst Organic

Click here to find out more about our Visiting Teachers >>

Who is this course for?

We are looking for enthusiastic agents of change who are ready to co-create a new sustainable food system in practice. Are you prepared to take a risk and stand on the cutting-edge of new thinking in this area?

We are delighted to receive your applications whether you are coming from an undergraduate degree, taking time-out to study mid-career or wanting an opportunity to retrain in a subject area that is of huge importance to our future resilience and well-being.

Schumacher College welcomes students from all over the world in its diverse mix of cultural experience and age groups which allows for rich peer to peer learning.

Where you will go?

Graduates from this programme will have the skills and knowledge to work for sustainable change in the public, private and NGO sectors or to set up their own enterprises or organisations that will be a part of the transition to a more holistic understanding and appreciation of the world.

Previous students have gone into NGO positions relating to food and farming, working as independent consultants, as educators in community and educational food initiatives or as practitioners in land-based initiatives.

Read out student profiles to find out what our past students have gone on to do >>

Collaborating institutions in our postgraduate programme

Plymouth UniversityPlymouth University is committed to social and environmental sustainability and was top of the People and Planet Green League of Universities in 2010.


Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)CAT aims to empower people to live a more sustainable life. Through a combination of post graduate, short, and school courses and practical onsite examples.

campaign for real farmingThe Campaign for Real Farming was set up by advocate, journalist and biologist Colin Tudge to promote Enlightened Agriculture – “Farming that is expressly designed to feed people without wrecking the rest of the world”.


Organic Research CentreThe Organic Research Centre is leading a European-wide project to support the development of plant breeding focused on the needs of organic producers. Funded through the CORE Organic II Eranet, with Defra providing the financial support for ORC and other UK work, the project aims to improve seed quality and health, promote genetic and crop diversity, and encourage the adoption of suitable materials by organic producers