Satish Kumar and Schumacher College

Composer and poet Matt Shaw (who also works at ethical cosmetics firm Lush) invited me to join him on a visit to meet Satish Kumar at the college he founded, Schumacher College, on the Dartington Estate in Devon. Earlier, Matt had invited Satish to talk to Lush employees about his book Soil, Soul and Society. John Vidal interviewed Satish about his book for the Guardian – and you can read Satish talking about the book in his own words here.

Satish also founded Resurgence magazine, which he still edits. Satish is an amazing character, nearing his 80th birthday he is full of vitality and a burning desire to achieve change in society, move society towards a more sustainable future, with less focus on material things, consumerism and money. Satish talked about the importance of soil and how a respect for soil was essential to the survival of humanity. I asked him if he was concerned that nationalists also talk about soil as a defining element of their national identity – central to the Nazi’s belief system, for example, was Blut und Boden (blood and soil). Satish was crystal clear, that we had to claim a reverence for soil for all of humanity and all of nature, and prevent it from being appropriate by nationalists, from any nation.

Satish Kumar

Satish Kumar in front of Schumacher College. Photo by Matt Shaw

We talked about People Need Nature and many more things besides. Satish, accompanied by Lou Rainbow, who leads craft learning at Schumacher College, took us around the college, showed us the vegetable gardens and Lou showed us her craft building. The building was an old chicken shed, a survival from a time when Dartington was a place where techniques for modernising food production were being developed. Now the Chicken Shed has been transformed into a place to celebrate and learn crafts in all their forms. The co-founder of Dartington, Dorothy Elmhurst, was a very good friend of Arts and Crafts founder William Morris; and iconic British potter Bernard Leach also worked with the Elmhursts, helping them to set up the Dartington Pottery in the 30s.

We met several of the students studying ecological design at Dartington, and their tutor Seaton Baxter, a retired professor from Dundee University. Seaton had donated his entire academic library to Schumacher College – an invaluable resource for the students to make use of. While talking to Satish about possible projects involving Lush and PNN, we were treated to a delicious vegan lunch which had been prepared from food grown in the college’s own gardens. Satish told us he wants Schumacher College to be a multiversity – where students come to learn a diverse range of skills and are encouraged to think holistically, rather than down linear paths of thought.

The atmosphere within the college was inspirational – there was a great of deal of positivity and conviviality. I was particularly taken by the array of musical instruments available for anyone to pick up and play, in the main hall. Before we left, Matt showed me some paintings in a landing gallery by the Bengali artist and writer Tagore, who Dartington co-founder Leonard Elmhurst had stayed with in India.

I hope that PNN and Schumacher College can develop close links – we share a common vision where people value nature as a source of inspiration and for its spiritual value.

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