Interview with Nathan Einbinder
In this interview, we catch up with Dr Nathan Einbinder, who we’re pleased to say is the new lead on regenerative food and farming programmes here at Schumacher College. Will Kemp began by asking Nathan whether he was more of an academic or more of a practitioner.
Nathan: Yeah, I guess so. I. Over the last probably five or six years, I’ve been working mainly in research, but I always maintain a bit of a practical foot on the ground. So much of my work has been in Guatemala, where I went in my mid twenties and just continued going to the same community where I did my master’s research, which is in a pretty remote area north of Guatemala City. And I went there first as a as a human rights observer and part of an academic group that were looking at some of the mainly some of the problems that were developing from international projects, mining, hydroelectric schemes and infrastructure and displacements that were happening in indigenous areas. So my master’s work looked specifically at this issue of displacement and violence, and my interest soon led towards farming and food. And I started working with local organizations there, fundraising, doing a bit of consultancy with groups that were really trying to rebuild their food system that had been somewhat destroyed from conflict and development and violence that lasted a few years. And then I started doing more academic research through a university in Mexico called El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, and developed my my PhD research looking at agroecology and the nature of food and farming at these small scales and really integrating livelihoods and well-being and sustainability culture.
Will: It’s interesting what you said there about how you kind of gravitated towards food, having not gone out there specifically to look at that at the beginning. Is that because food production is just so essential to human existence or the formation of societies?
Nathan: Yeah, definitely. And specifically in these indigenous communities where farming is a way of life, its connection to their ancestors. It represents autonomy and resilience and self-determination, which has really been the foundation of survival for these communities. So specifically, I was really interested in some projects that folks were doing surrounding recuperating culture and livelihoods and their way of life after being destroyed and displaced. So projects that involved youth and displaced peoples and relearning the ways of connecting with the environment to grow food, to utilize the resources at hand, which at times are very limited, to be able to produce their food sustainably and survive and maintain their identity as indigenous people.
Will: So you’ve done all of that research out there. Now you’re transplanted, is that the word, to Devon and Schumacher College? What interested you about Schumacher College and the work that is already going on here at Dartington before you came?
Nathan: Well, I was really interested first in the history of Dartington and the current context in Devon and this part of England in terms of still having maintaining this heritage and livelihood that involves production. And so usually when I would meet farmers in Guatemala, often they were growing with you know, they were connecting their production with sustainability and wellbeing. And it was greater than economics. Right. Economics has to be a part of it for sure. But there are pieces that go beyond the economic scope, which really interests me different ways to view well-being. And so anyhow, Devon and Dartington appeared to be a really interesting laboratory. And this was even before I got here, I had heard about it. I’d seen maps. I’d read about it at this laboratory of sustainable farming with great potential and an amazing history. And I wasn’t let down at all when I got here 10 days ago and started walking around and receiving tours and talking with farmers and seeing what’s going on, where there’s farming happening, alongside education happening alongside
small businesses, youth and conservation. So this idea of not separating agriculture completely from where people live, where people swim in the river, where people go to take walks. Agriculture can exist alongside of that. Where I come from in California, it does not for the most part, it is completely separated and it’s industrialized here. It seems like there’s still potential to have that mix as it is in Guatemala as well.
Will: The word that’s coming to my mind is “regenerative”, it’s obviously something that Dartington as a whole is interested in doing in different aspects, whether it’s farming or the arts, or whether it’s economics. Regenerative agriculture is kind of really taken off as a thing that people are talking about a lot on social media, aren’t they? I wondered what your take on that word was and what that means for you.
Nathan: Yeah, so regenerative. My background is more in the framework of agroecology, which in the Latin American sense integrates science practice and social movements. It’s not just the ecology of agro ecosystems. Let’s say it’s a much broader approach to transforming the food system. And so with regenerative I see, you know, strong comparisons and connections between regenerative food in farming and agriculture. And that’s the kind of connections that I want to make here. I don’t want to think of regenerative just as simplistic practices, agronomic practices, which it can be reduced to. And there’s a danger, a grave danger of reducing regenerative to a few simple practices. That is like a recipe across the board in which transformation is not even in question. Small transitions, sure. But transformation, I think, personally is necessary. So regenerative for me is yes, it’s regenerating the regenerating the soil, which is like a fundamental. This is the essence of regenerative agriculture, to begin with the soil. How can we rebuild the soil to be a living body? But also you can’t leave the social component out of it. The cultural component out of it, the value component out of it. People aren’t going to transform their soils and their crops and their food systems without attaching it to greater values and culture. So to me, regenerative is grand. It’s huge, it’s all encompassing of the food system, not just the practice, it’s principles.
Will: People listening to this might be interested to know a bit more kind of practically what you’re going to be doing, what’s going on the horizon now that you’re here, in terms of courses and practice. Give people just an overview of that.
Nathan: Yeah. So I was hired mainly to run these brand new programmes, Regenerative food and farming Bachelor’s and Regenerative Food Farming Enterprise, which is a master’s beginning this January. The Bachelor’s will begin autumn 2022. And these are groundbreaking programmes. You know, for me, I think the biggest draw of these programmes is the idea that we need to train a new cohort, a new generation of young people to be able to move forward this transition, this transformation in the food system. We lack the capacity to do this. Agriculture has been a conventional model for the past 50 years in going even more technophile and conventional. And we lack the understanding, the critical thinking, the insight, the practical on the ground, knowledge and experience to really move this forward.
So Schumacher is going to move to the forefront internationally with these programmes of training at the bachelor’s and the master’s level, individuals who can farm, who can work in policy, who can open a small business that’s innovative, that has to do with transforming the food system, whether it be putting forth new products or, you know, consulting people who want to grow food in their yards, who don’t know anything about soils or seeds. We need professionals to do this. And, yes, there are ways to educate yourself, and many people do that. And I think it’s amazing. But to have a programme that’s specifically designed to educate people in this very contemporary and cutting
edge field, that’s what I want to do. And I’m not saying that I’m an expert in everything. I might not be an expert in anything, but I want to bring people together.
I want to bring in the top names and the top thinkers in this field and bring them here and bring the students to learn from them and organize it. So that’s really my top priority here. Another priority is research. So, as I mentioned, Dartington in South Devon in particular is an absolutely amazing laboratory. It is an agro-ecological experiment in a way. And it needs to be scaled up. It needs to be scaled out. Experiences need to be systematized. We need to understand what’s going on and how to improve them. How can we make it more sustainable? How can we intensify agriculture to where production in this little bio region is approaching food sovereignty? So that’s the other part of what I hope to do here is really advance a research programme around regenerative food and farming, utilizing Dartington as an amazing laboratory.
Will: One last thing I wanted to just bring out in a sense, is that you’re joining a community here and the idea of community is strong at Schumacher College in particular. It’s, you know, what a lot of the programmes and what lecturers are specifically interested in, this collaboration. You’ve talked about it in terms of South Devon as an area as well. But I suppose it’s quite early for you to feel like you’ve joined the community. I think there was a question that I’m asking you about community. How important is community to food production?
Nathan: Hugely important. So, for example, in about 10 days we’re starting that short course and rethinking global food systems. And at the forefront of the discussion is connecting the dots between consumer and producer, shrinking that chain, decentralizing the food system, I think is a fundamental step forward.
So without community cohesion, without knowing what your neighbour’s doing, in caring what your neighbour’s doing in this upstream, to the store in Totnes that relies on local food, and to the consumer, to the politics that might support it, you know, favourable policies without these connections in these collaborations, you’re working in isolation and food systems don’t even make sense anymore. So, yeah, since I’ve been here, I’ve been here for 10 days. I’ve already met so many interesting people who care about what’s going on. I’ve been to farms that are outside of Dartington like Sandridge Barton, where they’re so keen on collaborating with Schumacher to start really turning their practices regenerative. And these collaborations between academics and farmers and the public are lacking, you know? And so, yeah, I think community support will be huge and I hope to really get involved.
Will: Well, on that note, welcome to the Schumacher and Dartington community, and thanks for talking to me. Good luck with the role.
Nathan: Thank you so much. Pleasure.
Dr Nathan Einbinder is the new lead in Regenerative Food and Farming here at Schumacher College. If what Nathan said has inspired you to find out more about our programmes and forthcoming short courses visit the programme page via this link.