Interested in learning more about cooking or growing your own food in harmony with nature? Our Editor, Alicia Miller, provides an overview of the top courses available in the UK and Ireland.
The School for Artisan Food in Sheffield ‘dedicated to enthusing and helping people from all walks of life to learn about healthy, sustainable – and delicious – food’, offers a broad and diverse programme from a six month accredited Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking which covers the wider issues of food production and sustainability (along with training in starting a business) to short courses that run from a demonstration to half-day and week-long intensives. The programme is focused, as the name states, on artisan practice with cooking just the start of what’s on offer – there are courses on butchery, cheesemaking, foraging and growing and even food photography, along with much more. They offer bursaries and subsidies to students to make courses affordable and accessible to all.
Leeds Cookery School devotes all its profits to Zest, a charity that supports disadvantaged communities in Leeds, working to promote healthier lifestyles and improve life chances. The School has a focus on seasonality, sustainability and local food and courses focus on a broad range of cuisines – Thai, Malaysian, Jewish, Nordic, Persian, Mexican, Italian to name a few. There are also courses on sourdough bread making, sweet bread making and even doughnuts!
The Square Food Foundation is a cookery school and community kitchen based in Bristol, that works to ‘reduce hunger, improve health and bring people together through food and cooking’. The Square Food Foundation was set-up by chef Barny Haughton. Alongside a programme of masterclasses for a wider public, the Square Food Foundation runs a free and subsidised programme of training and engagement focused on NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training), older people at risk of isolation, care home cooks, people at risk of homelessness and children and families. The programme includes a £5 cookery class for over 55s, a free cooking social for adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues and a free 12-week chef’s training for young people 16-21 offering a level 2 BTec qualification and Level 2 Food and Hygiene certificate.
While not in the UK, Ballymaloe Cookery School offers a singular experience for budding chefs and home cooks alike – the School sits on a 100 acre organic farm. The ethos of Ballymaloe is just this, to make a connection between the ingredients a chef cooks with and the land which provides this: ‘our students learn not only to cook, but to work in harmony with the landscape around them, to tune in to the seasons and cook with passion’. This integration with the farm offers a more rounded experience of where food comes from, reconnecting its production to its cooking. Ballymaloe courses run the gamut – with a notable 12 week residential Certificate Course, a broad range of on-site short courses and very affordable live streamed course where you can cook along with a chef.
Interested in growing? Schumacher College, part of Dartington Trust, offers a range of programmes for people interested in horticulture production. It has recently developed a six month practical residency programme in horticulture based around agroecological practice, working with biological systems in ways sympathetic to nature. The hands-on practical aspect of this programme is particularly important – residents live on site and have an opportunity to engage with the nine acre plot on the Dartington Estate over several seasons. Schumacher College also runs a number of short courses (well worth a thorough peruse), including an online course on Sustainable Growing that runs for three months and a week-long residential on Sustainable and Regenerative Viticulture for those budding vintners. Keep an eye out also for its new BSc degree in Regenerative Food and Farming.
In terms of agroecological practice, biodynamics is a step ever deeper into growing and food production. The Biodynamic Association’s Agricultural College runs a four week online course on biodynamic agricultural practice. Numbers on the courses are limited to ensure there is meaningful interaction for participants. There are weekly webinairs which explore different aspect of biodynamic farming that are accompanied by suggested reading and videos to fill out your learning, and there are discussion sessions with instructors and other participants. There are also suggested activities and questions to reflect on for offline contemplation. And it’s all for a very affordable fee of £55.
The Centre for Alternative Technology in north Wales is a great place to look for a wide range of study and training. Its ethos is all around sustainability and in addition to a lively programme of short courses, it is also notable for its postgraduate degrees. It offers an MSc degree in Sustainable Food and Natural Resources that spans 18 months full-time or 3 years part-time in an immersive learning experience. Significantly, it also includes a practical work-based or applied project in which to ground the learning.
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