Sustainability Spotlight | March: The Husbandry School

Posted by
The Husbandry School
Posted on
26 Feb 2024

This spring we are turning our Sustainability Spotlight onto The Husbandry School. They explore the ideas and practice of ecologically sound land management, through their educational programme, public courses and award winning produce.

So, what is Husbandry, and what does a Husbandry School do?

We’ll let founder Jonty Williams tell you more…

We are not talking about animal husbandry. Or crops. Or even husbands.

We are talking about something very much more. Husbandry is an ancient word which means nothing less than ‘the care and management of nature and resources for living’. This meaning has all but gone into obscurity. We are going to help renew that meaning. It seems important.

Our business is the learning, practicing and teaching about the husbandry of our particular place. We apply our knowledge of Husbandry, to our 49 acres of hill-top and hillside in the Parish of Bickington. Our place is called “Liddy Ball”, one of a number of “Balls” (little hills) around us here just to the south of Dartmoor. Husbandry isn’t just limited to our farm boundaries, it can be applied in all aspects of our lives, whether that’s individually, in the workings of businesses or through local communities, Husbandry is something that we can always be thinking about.

Devon, in particular, has a strong history of passing on the “how-to-do’s” of making a living from a place while carefully managing the soils, plants, animals, water, stones and wind that make up that place.  This proud tradition is what we at our The Husbandry School have made it our mission to make more widely known.

At The Husbandry School you will find our years of experience in traditional sustainable gardening, farming and land management transformed into education and training opportunities and delicious produce.

Our approach to land management – for food growing, livestock and importantly nature – includes the composting, re-use & recycling of waste materials, as well as the implementation of renewable energy supplies for our work.

We grow award-winning produce, including a wide variety of vegetables that we distribute to the local community, businesses and restaurants via our weekly veg bag scheme, Cereals for bread making, Home grown Lamb, Pork and Goat meat, and lots of wonderful preserves, jams, vinegars and Jellys, all made here, with the help of our students.

Our food growing business adheres to the Wholesome Food Association principles with no chemical inputs, natural pest control (e.g. garlic sprays) and natural fertilisers (e.g. bone meal, plant teas, seaweed, mulches). Our local Veg Bag scheme is delivered within 10km of our site, using re-usable jute tote bags and recyclable and plastic-free packaging.

Since we have been on our land we have been improving the water management systems, such as developing ponds and ditches to increase water storage & recharge and reduce run-off & soil erosion. We have also restored the traditional Devon hedgerows around our fields to increase biodiversity, help with water management and provide natural windbreaks for our crops & animals.

We work with our volunteers, the public and students of our Re-engage Re-inspire programme to ensure we pass on our skills and knowledge around sustainable husbandry practices, for the care of our land and community. We do this through public courses & workshops on food production and husbandry skills such as Devon hedge-laying, as well as supporting regular volunteers who come to share their skills and learn about our approach to the land and food production.

Alongside the Husbandry of the land, Our re-engage & re-inspire programme offers an alternative education provision to children and young people with complex needs. Key parts of this provision include working with our students in the kitchen, garden and on the land with our livestock. We support our students to understand the science and practical skills involved in food growing and livestock rearing, as well as nutrition, cookery skills and tools for independent living around food. Working with our livestock helps young people to develop a sense of responsibility and learn about empathy. Working with food in general provides our students with an outlet for creativity and sharing with others as well as a tangible way to develop their confidence and sense of self.

We also run courses in the various skills of husbandry for adults at weekends. For those who are interested in growing more of the food we eat each week, and learn to do so in a natural, ethical, time-honoured and sustainable way, mindful of the rhythms of nature.

For any “proper job” (as we say in Devon) of sustainability for a business operating on any place in and around this wonderful green county, then some familiarity of this trade is a must, I believe.

I believe for true sustainability to continue far into the future we need to have conversations between the seasons of the past, springs, autumns, winters and summers and how they have been handled in generations before us and the springs and autumns we are about to encounter.

My wife, Carole, and I started this project 17 years ago, shortly after the death of my teacher in the trade, Walter Edwards, of Fair Oak in Upottery.

Our school has been inspired by him and his life in the trade. Our work is in many ways a homage to him and his family.

Our wish, from the beginning, was to get this Devon tradition more widely known about. Perhaps our greatest wish was to help people and communities everywhere to see husbandry as their trade too. Joining up the circle, to care for our places and the people attached to them, as Devon folk have been doing since time began. The break in this tradition happened so recently, and I believe we can all begin to carry it over into the seasons and years we are about to embark on.

Perhaps businesses everywhere could begin to see themselves as schools for learning, practicing and teaching the arts of looking after?

Currently, as our name implies, we are ‘the’ only Husbandry School. We would dearly love to see schools of husbandry all over Devon, working together to care for the people and places that we attach to throughout life.

Jonty Williams



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