This extract returns to the theme of self-sufficiency and another project which was sponsored by the Trustees of the Trust. Again, ther was a degree of controversy around the project because of its perceived new age dimenison. It is probably for this reason that it was established as a separate organisation, slightly at arms length. As the piece mentions a second site was acquired and despite the closure of the Dartington end of operations this continutes today in North Devon here. The extract also makes the point that Dartington itself has not been a particular pioneer of organic farming in the area.
Sadly, Tom Welch, one of the founders of the Yarner Trust, died last year. Tom also played a role in supporting the development of permaculture in the Totnes area, something that I will write about in due course. He remained a figure around the Dartington scene, not only as a regular attendee at the Schumacher lectures, but also as a visitor to the gardens that he loved so much.
One way in which Dartington’s interest in self-sufficiency was realised was through the provision of ‘mini-holdings’, allotments which were ¼ of an acre in size. Another was in the development of the Yarner Trust. The Yarner Trust was a school for self-sufficiency for those who intend to make a living from setting up their own organic smallholding. A group of up to sixteen students would study at the centre for year, with the focus on community as the method of teaching. John Lane was one of the key drivers of the project and in an introductory article in the Dartington Voice he placed it very much in the context of supporting a wider movement of people who were moving to rural areas because they shared ‘a belief that the imperatives of urban-industrialism no longer serve the human good.’ Lane also highlighted the fact that there was an aspect of what he called ‘whole living’ to the project, of personal development. Rumours that Yarner students would be using meditation to talk to the plants were subsequently scotched by Lane who compared it to the Dartington Hall School in the way that it was exploring ideas and challenging conventions. Suspicion and internal conflict around the Yarner Trust were not helped by the fact that the project was being led by Tom Welch, one of the three visitors from the Findhorn ‘new age’ community in 1976. Welch had subsequently been invited back to establish the Yarner Trust. Originally intended to be based at Buckham’s Barn in the centre of the estate, it was subsequently located at Yarner Barn, which was in a more discreet location, perhaps reflecting some of the internal reservations about the project.
The Yarner Trust operated at Beacon Farm for several years, and acquired a second premises in North Devon near Hartland. Whilst the Dartington operation has since been closed down, the North Devon operation continues to operate under the same name. It does appear that the Yarner Trust did provide a valuable resource for small scale producers during the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, this was one of the Trust’s few forays into organic agriculture which was an area where Dartington as an entity did not engage in any particularly pioneering way. As early as winter of 1969/70 there was a debate in the pages of the Dartington Hall News about the merits of organic agriculture, with the incumbent farmer at Dartington’s Parsonage Farm, Ronald Hawtin, vocal in his defence of the status quo and the economic logic which underpinned it. Maurice Ash added his voice to this debate, stating that he did not think that ‘the cultivation of a patch of organic farm land at Dartington could contribute much’ to the debate about organic agriculture and the despoliation of the environment. In fact, it does seem that as the 1970s progressed Dartington did begin to engage in small scale organic experimentation, not only at Yarner Trust but also on a farm at Rattery near Dartington. However, it was not until late in 1993 that plans were announced for the whole 600 acres of the Dartington estate to be put into organic conversion after three years of discussion, only for these to be subsequently abandoned.