With the wealth of information that we have at our fingertips, the internet is an incredible tool to share tips and tricks from all over the world. Alongside various University and open access courses, some of the biggest names in Regenerative Agriculture have now started offering courses online, where you are able access their knowledge and ideas at your own pace in the comfort of your own home from anywhere in the world.
But sometimes it can be hard to figure out where your time, energy and hard earned money is best to go, and choose which option is best for you. Well, we’re here to tell you about our experiences to help you decide which course might benefit you the most to give you the most bang for your buck. Here we give you the lowdown on the three courses we have taken in order of our preferences for our context here at Mazi.
3. Dr Elaine Ingham (Soil Food Web Inc.)
Best for: Those interested in microbiology and its importance in agriculture and land restoration
In this course, renowned soil expert Dr Elaine Ingham gives a detailed overview of life in the soil, explaining all the categories of organisms found in healthy soil and how these work to help you and your plants. The main take-home message for growers is that soil microbiology is the key for healthy soil and healthy crops, and the basis for plant nutrition and protection. She has developed practical techniques, through the use of composting, compost teas and innovative ways to use microscopes, to help growers grow beyond organic.
This course is sold as offering the theory and practice behind the ways that you can harness the power of microbiology on your farm. Whilst Elaine mentions a diversity of practical techniques, we felt these were given in less detail than we hoped for. Overall, the course has quite an academic feel to it.
Another key element of this course which initially attracted us was the real-time, personal interaction with Elaine herself. These moments are some of the most useful and interesting parts of the course as you really start to delve deep into her knowledge. However, the format of these sessions means that your relationship with Elaine remains quite impersonal.
That being said, we feel that there is a lot of valuable information put forward from Elaine, and there is definitely a lot to be gained from a course like this. One of our highlights from course was in the ‘Microscope Class’ which offers an innovative approach to quantifying microorganisms using a microscope, including more specific advice which is difficult to find elsewhere and a handy pre-prepared spreadsheet. However, there are a few ways we feel the course structure could be improved to help make the information more user-friendly. Things like quick links, subheadings and summaries of key take-home messages would make the knowledge that you can gain through this more course more easily accessible.
Where to access this course: You can sign up to this course at https://environmentcelebration.com.
For those on a budget: Elaine offers this whole course for $4,988, which is a pretty considerable price-tag and may be prohibitive for some. It’s also important to mention that for this price, you also only have access to the course for one year rather than for life, as offered by other programs. But the good news is that there we have found some great, cheaper alternatives to gain quality knowledge about soil microbiology. The book ‘Teaming with Microbes’ is a great alternative way to learn about soil microbiology at a fraction of the price. Other resources I’ve found really helpful include this free website which provides a detailed description of how best to brew compost tea. Elaine herself also offers several youtube videos (for example, see here and here) which give a nice introduction into many of the topics she covers in her course.
2.Mark Shepard (New Forest Farm)
Best for: People interested in agroforestry and integrating forest ecology into agricultural systems
Mark’s course provides a great introduction into forest ecology. He provides a thorough understanding of the basic concepts of forest dynamics, such as the role of disturbances in forest systems and the patterns of natural succession, and, most crucially, how we can integrate this knowledge of ecology into our agricultural practices. From the ecological study of your biome, to water management and designing tree systems, this course provides a guide to creating low input, large scale, regenerative and productive farms.
A major strength of Mark’s course is his emphasis on how you can interact with an ecosystem in a way that provides a source of income, as making a living from the land is central to his whole philosophy. Another aspect which lends a lot of strength to this program is how rooted the course is in real-life farms, whether his own (a 40 hectare farm he manages solo) or one of the numerous case studies he cites, which clearly demonstrates how he combines academic ecological theory with practice.
However, we feel that the course doesn’t have a very structured format to it, which makes the knowledge sometimes difficult to access. Although the course gave us a solid foundation in how to integrate ecological theory on our farms, we sometimes found that we were lacking the practical details to implement this.
Where to access this course:
The course can be found on a website called https://www.eatcommunity.com, where buying a pass comes with the added bonus of access to a whole array of classes on natural chicken farming, aquaculture, permaculture and many others, as well as the opportunity to be part of a global community (which includes over 22,000+ Eco-Entrepreneurs) as well as many helpful resources, which definitely makes the course pretty good value for money.
For those on a budget: Lucky for us, Mark has helpfully written a book (called Restoration Agriculture) which details his ideas of the way forest ecology and agriculture can be linked, so reading it gives you a good idea of what’s involved in this course. Alternatively, much of Mark’s work is inspired from a book called Forest Ecology, from which you could gain all the basic forest ecology principles, although at around $100 this book is also an investment in itself.
1. Richard Perkins (Ridgedale Permaculture Farm)
Best for: People that have land and are ready to get up and running
Like Richard’s farm itself, this course is efficient, practical and successful because of it. It is structured and extremely well thought out, guiding you through all the necessary steps for starting a farm, from clearly establishing your objectives and values, to the basics of forest ecology, right down to the nitty gritty numbers game of how to truly make a farm work in today’s economy. For everything planning and decision making, this course is invaluable. Richard describes the course as “helping you start smart”, and that is exactly what this course helps you to do.
One of the real strengths of this course is the interaction that you get with Richard himself. In addition to weekly seminars where you are invited to ask questions, you also have the chance to have your work and ideas critically evaluated with personal feedback tuned to your specific context and situation. It’s essentially like he is consulting for your farm, but remotely and much more cheaply than it would be to fly him onsite. Something else that is a real bonus is that all the videos, information and resources are available to you for life, meaning that if there are some bits that are more relevant to you later on, you can revisit them in your own time.
I have to stress though that this course is really designed only for practical purposes- if you have a farm or are in the process of buying land to start farming, this course is the one for you. However, although the course does touch upon the general principles of Regenerative Agriculture, if you’re looking for a more theoretical approach to agriculture from an ecological or more general viewpoint, you’d definitely be better off with one of the other courses on offer.
Where to access the course: You can access this course through Richard’s website, http://www.ridgedalepermaculture.com.
For those on a budget: Ridgedale just recently offered another, more affordable way to access the online course, making it available on a monthly subscription basis as opposed to all in one go, so you can pick and choose the chapters that suit you. Alternatively, you can buy his book, ‘Making Small Farms Work’, and use the information inside to apply it to your situation. Rich also has a great youtube channel full of information about the work he does on his farm which, although doesn’t give you as much information as you gain through the course, does give you a flavour for the work he does at Ridgedale.
Hopefully this has given you a little flavour of what you can expect from each of these courses!