Natural History of Great Britain (Global Field Study) (ST)

Great Britain is the largest island of the United Kingdom, and home to (most of) three countries: England, Scotland, and Wales.  At about 81, 000 sq. miles, Great Britain is a little smaller than the state of Kansas.  However, it is an ideal location for a budding naturalist to visit due to the diversity of habitats it holds, and the wealth of knowledge and understanding associated with each of them.  Through visiting sites in three distinct parts of Great Britain:  Shropshire, Northumberland, and the West Highlands of Scotland, this course will introduce students to a broad range of habitats.  Students will experience lowland flood meadows to upland hayfields, sweeping tors and fells to peats bogs, coastal saltmarsh, sand-dunes and off-shore islands, chalk grassland to acidic heath, intensively managed market gardens and arable fields to ancient woodlands, hedgerows and stonewalls to graveyards and hill-forts.  The majority of these habitats are considered ‘semi-natural’, that is, their appearance and ecology are not only determined by prevailing climate and geology, but are intrinsically linked to human activity that has been sustained over hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of years.  Students will explore the characteristics of each of these habitats and the climatic, geologic, and human factors that have led to their development at different stages of British history.  In addition, students will develop naturalist skills including plant identification, use of dichotomous keys, use of biological recording systems, and use of Ordnance Survey. 

Students enrolled in this course will co-enroll in AS/NS370 Nature Conservation on a Crowded Island

Learning objectives

  • To understand the roles of climate, geology, and history of human land management in shaping different habitats and landscape features in Great Britain;
  • To appreciate the history of human usage of Great Britain from Neolithic times to the present day, and the legacy of different historic eras on the landscape;
  • To be introduced to the field of phytosociology: the categorization of habitat types based on their plant species composition;
  • To develop skills in reading the landscape both while immersed within it, and inferring from a map;
  • To develop skills in vascular plant identification and the use of dichotomous;
  • To be introduced to the concept of biological recording systems;
  • To be able to use Ordnance Survey maps to plan routes to explore the British landscape


Nature Conservation on a Crowded Island (Global Field Study) (ST)

While the UK is about eight times larger in area than Vermont, it has a human population of over one hundred times greater.  Many Americans view the UK as a ‘crowded island’, and can imagine little room for green space. Is it possible for wild nature to thrive in a land with so many people?  This course will delve into this question, examining evidence for and against this possibility.  It will first attempt to define the ‘problem’ that human pressure poses to nature conservation in the UK, and will then explore multiple approaches to conservation, conducted by multiple types of agencies and individuals.  Through lectures, field-trips, meetings with practitioners, and a local service project, students will develop an understanding of approaches towards conserving and preserving nature on this crowded island. 

Students in this course will co-enroll in NS270A Natural History of Great Britain.

Learning objectives

To become aware of the threats to nature in the UK and the need for nature conservation;

To understand the nature of semi-natural landscapes and the importance of the working landscape for their maintenance;

To be introduced to the contribution and approach of different organizations towards nature conservation in the UK including the EU, the UK parliament, local government, quangos, NGOs, private landowners and the interested citizen;

To become familiar with the concept, and examples, of agri-environment schemes;

To explore species-based vs. habitat-based approaches to conservation and the practice of evidence-based conservation, habitat restoration, and re-wilding;

To explore relationships between field-sports, hunting and conservation in the UK

To understand the importance of green-belts and planning regulations for nature conservation


Desert Expedition Skills Practicum (Field Semester)

This field course builds on foundational outdoor skills and trains students in all aspects of wilderness trip design and implementation, as well as both front country and backcountry field camp skills and management.  The program begins with a series of vehicle supported long-term basecamps in remote locations, where students learn field camp set up, functioning and management.  Specific topics include kitchen set up and management, food planning and purchasing, cooking, living space set up and management, study resources and library management, tarp and tent systems and vehicle management and logistics.  Additional topics include small group decision making models and group communication skills.  The wilderness component occurs through immersion on a series of multi-week expeditions into remote Southwestern environments in the Sonoran Desert, Central Highlands and Colorado Plateau.  We begin with logistics, including route selection and itinerary development, food planning, equipment selection and preparation, and establishment of group culture.  As we move to the field, we learn, practice and hone skills such as minimum impact camping techniques, map reading and navigation, water location and procurement, backcountry medicine, establishing and maintaining high functioning field camps, equipment maintenance and repair, group communication and organization, and travel skills such as on-trail and cross- country backpacking, routefinding, and general canyoneering.  

Natural History of the Southwest (Field Semester)

This course is a field-based exploration of the flora and vegetation of the American Southwest and the physical factors such as climate and geologic history that shape the region.  Emphasis is placed on the ecological interplay amongst desert, chaparral, and temperate conifer forest vegetation types, the climatic and physiographic factors that determine community distribution.  Students build on foundational principles of natural history and ecology through development and practice of observation, identification, and interpretation skills and the keeping of a refined naturalist field journal.  Topics include a botanical survey of woody plant families and representative species, natural community composition and structure, biogeographic concepts, desert adaptations, geologic history, geomorphic processes and related landforms, and southwest weather and climate.  Students gain skills in identification, classification and interpretation of organisms, field journaling, species accounts and systematic species lists, and reading the southwest landscape.  Course format includes lectures, discussions, and a significant field component.


Ancestral Lifeways of the Southwest (Field Semester)

This field course is an experiential exploration of the early peoples of the present-day American Southwest.  We will explore migration patterns and creation stories of peoples in the region and the interactions amongst the cultural groups up to the time of Euro-American contact. We will investigate aspects of culture including material culture (i.e. artistic rock paintings, and ancient baskets), language, spirituality, and subsistence systems and their resulting lifeways.  The class will visit ancient sites such as Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, as well as several unnamed sites of cultural significance to Tohon O’odham, Mogollon, Hohokam, Puebloan and several distinct Athabascan groups.  Simultaneously, we will manufacture material implements in the tradition of archaic and paleo southwestern peoples, including cordage, containers, packframes, baskets, firemaking tools, cutting edges, food procurement devices and preserved traditional foods and use these materials on field outings.  These experiences will help students explore basic human subsistence and relationship with landscape that every culture, including modern cultures of the Southwest, must engage in.


Seminar in Whole Communities

This Seminar will engage student leaders while they explore the related concepts of Whole Communities and Transformative Leadership, in the context of their roles as Community Advisors.

Students will interact with a range of ideas, theories and tools meant to enliven and deepen their involvement in their communities. Drawing concepts from psychology, resiliency theory, embodiment studies, transformative leadership, spirituality, philosophy, and change theory, students will develop personal strategies to cultivate meaningful connections, and to strengthen and embody community competencies:

  • empathy
  • compassion
  • accountability
  • resilience
  • effective communication
  • self-care
  • honesty
  • vulnerability
  • critical thinking
  • integrity

Students will explore several important questions, including: What is community? Why does community matter? Who am I within community? How am I transformed within community?

Agroforestry (ST)

Agroforestry embodies the middle road between agriculture and forestry land uses by combining agronomic cropping and livestock systems along with perennial tree crop production. Founded on ancient food production, ecological principles, and agroecological research, the integrative approach of agroforestry intentionally manages for improved biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration, and soil health through economically successful and socially conscious land use practices, including: riparian forest buffers, shelterbelts, alley cropping, silvopasture, forest farming, and special topics (e.g. forest gardening). In this course, lectures and course materials serve to define these practices and associated ecological principles, and to elucidate management strategies for developing functional agroecosystems. Practice-specific case studies and field trips provide working examples of agroforestry and interaction with practitioners and agroforesters. Throughout the course, students create an original agroforestry handbook.The course culminates with site implementation of agroforestry practices.

Resilience, Complexity, & Flow (ST)

The complex ecological, social, and economic systems through which we daily engage with the world around us help to both shape our perceptions and our selves. This course looks at the relationships among complex systems in different domains and asks whether an understanding of how these systems are nested and how they work can help to build resilient structures. Traditionally, resilience is defined as increased redundancy and complexity to prepare for disruption and decrease potential vulnerability. We will begin with the premise that there are no separate systems, but rather we exist with/in a  single complex socio-ecological system. Could this help us to revision resilience, sustainability, and the flow across different disciplines and domains? Students will ultimately take steps toward applying their understanding of systems to a real-world scenario.

Adventure Literature

Adventure Literature will trace the development of the twentieth-century non-fiction adventure narrative from its roots in early exploration narratives to its modern expression in the exploits of twenty-first century adventurers and athletes. In order to construct a complete picture of adventure writing, this class will consider both the literary and literal construction of the adventure narrative. On one hand, the class readings challenge a unified concept of adventure writing; from its beginnings in the journals of Cabeza de Vaca and Sir Francis Drake in the sixteenth centuries to Lewis and Clark in the nineteenth century to more contemporary descriptions of wilderness travel, the adventure narrative reflects continuing transformation of how, in Thoreau’s words, humankind “fronts facts” in the nonhuman world. On the other hand, the very definition of adventure presents a problem; historical discussions of climbing and wilderness ethics continue to underscore contemporary debates about how we should conduct ourselves in the backcountry.

This class will use the occasion of the centenary of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition to frame a dialogue about how adventure writing exists on a continuum as well as how it reflects the period in which it was written; we will situate the work we read in its appropriate historical, cultural, and literary contexts—and try to understand its timelessness. At the same time, we will also engage contemporary debates about the ethics of climbing, exploration, and backcountry travel. While these discussions can clearly be traced through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—in the writing and exploits of Fanny Bullock Workman, Ernest Shackleton, Walter Bonatti, Royal Robbins, Wanda Rutkiewicz, Warren Harding, Reinhold Messner, Lynn Hill, and many others (in fact, there are few climbing narratives that do not implicate themselves in the discussion of how and why objectives are worth attempting), these debates continue to be critically important to contemporary adventure and environmental writing as well as to the development of regulations about backcountry use.

We will explore the act of adventure as a lexical and ideological ecotone between adventurers and the terrain before them; what does adventure in distant or dangerous places offer that life within the quotidian confines of society cannot? By looking at a variety of voices, from narratives about early polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott to Gaston Rebuffat’s prolific reflections on the sublimity of mountain climbing to more contemporary definitions of adventure by writers like Kilian Jornet to students’ own writing we hope to traverse this conceptual bergschrund to develop our own definitions of adventure and adventure writing.

Organic Mushroom Farming & Mycoremediation

Organic Mushroom

Farming & Mycoremediation

June 17-21, 2019

Faculty:  Tradd Cotter

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Mushroom Mountain’s Tradd Cotter leads an exclusive five-day immersion course that dives into mushroom ecology and basic identification, farm reproduction methods and cultivation, mycoremediation, and medicinal mushrooms, extracts, and tinctures. Beginners and advanced students alike will walk away with the knowledge and skills needed to accomplish a range of personal or professional goals, including: cultivating fungi on small and large scales, incorporating edible mushrooms and beneficial fungi into garden designs, identifying wild mushrooms, cultivating and preparing medicinal mushrooms, and cleaning contaminated soils and polluted water through mycoremediation.

The following topics will be covered:

  • Foraging and Identification
  • Tissue Culture and Spawn Generation
  • Cultivating Indoors and Outdoors
  • Recycling and Composting with Fungi
  • Medicinal Mushrooms and Extractions
  • Mycoremediation of Soil and Water

The workshop is designed to empower and energize anyone who attends to make a difference in their local communities; it encourages the rapid deployment of these concepts worldwide as a collective collaboration.

Course Details

Level:  300 / Beginner to Intermediate

Prerequisites:  In order to take full advantage of this course we recommend students have prior knowledge or brush up on the following topics:

  • Fundamental biology and chemistry related to micro-organisms
  • Beginner taxonomy of mushrooms, molds and mycorrhizae

Tuition & Fees:  $1400 covers the cost of the class, most course materials, and daily meals from our top-ranked Sterling Kitchen. Accommodations are not included in course pricing.

Housing Availability & Fees:  On-campus housing is available for an additional fee of $60/night with a private bathroom and $50/night with shared bathrooms. Please note that Sterling College offers rustic/vintage/farmhouse style accommodations that are clean and safe but not luxurious.  Availability is limited and room requests are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you prefer to stay off-campus please see our accommodations page for local recommendations.

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Please email us if you have any questions about this course or others:


Tradd-CotterTradd Cotter is a microbiologist, professional mycologist, and organic gardener who has been tissue culturing, collecting native fungi in the Southeast, and cultivating both commercially and experimentally for more than 22 years. In 1996 he founded Mushroom Mountain, which he owns and operates with his wife, Olga, to explore applications for mushrooms in various industries and currently maintains over 200 species of fungi for food production, mycoremediation of environmental pollutants, and natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. He is the author of Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation (Chelsea Green, 2014). His primary interest is in low-tech and no-tech cultivation strategies so that anyone can grow mushrooms on just about anything, anywhere in the world. Mushroom Mountain is currently expanding to 42,000 square feet of laboratory and research space near Greenville, South Carolina, to accommodate commercial production, as well as mycoremediation projects.

Disclaimer: Course descriptions on this webpage are for informational purposes only. Content may be updated or change as planning evolves.  Sterling College reserves the right to alter the program specifics, including details about course content, instructors, collaborations, field trips and facilities at any time without notice.  Some aspects of course content may be weather-dependent.  

The Art of Fermentation (ST)

The Art of Fermentation

June 24-28, 2019

Faculty: Sandor Katz


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World-renowned fermentation educator and author Sandor Katz leads this hands-on exploration of the production of fermented vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. Students will learn processes for fermenting primarily plant-based materials: from the basic techniques of vegetable fermentation to tonic beverages, mold cultures, and fermenting legumes and grains. We will also work with dairy ferments such as yogurt and kefir. Students will connect with traditional foodways across a range of cultures and experience the transformative, health-giving power of beneficial microbes. Classroom sessions will focus on the history and science of fermentation, as well as the feasibility of marketing small-batch fermented products. Using the bounty of Sterling’s own vegetable gardens and greenhouses, students will transform the abundance of the harvest through fermentation, and practice what they have learned through the preparation of a fermented feast for the community.



Course Details

Level:  Beginner

Prerequisites:  This course is designed be enriching for both newcomers to fermentation and those who want to refine their skills, deepen their understanding, and widen the array of products they feel confident fermenting. No prior fermentation or culinary education is required.

Tuition & Fees:  $1400 covers the cost of the instruction, field trips, most course materials, three meals per day from our top-ranked Sterling Kitchen, and ground transportation between class locations. Not included are airport transfers or accommodations; please let us know if we can assist you with finding or providing these.

Housing Availability & Fees:  On-campus housing is available for an additional fee of $60 per night with a private bathroom and $50 per night with shared bathroom access. Please note that Sterling College offers rustic, dormitory-style housing that is clean and safe but not luxurious. Availability is limited and room requests are filled on a rolling, first-come, first-served basis.   Please visit our accommodations page for more options.


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Please email us if you have any questions about this course or others:

photo of Sandor Katz eat fermented foodSandor Ellix Katz is a fermentation revivalist. His books Wild Fermentation and the Art of Fermentation (Chelsea Green Publishing), along with the hundreds of fermentation workshops he has taught around the world, have helped to catalyze a broad revival of the fermentation arts. A self-taught experimentalist who lives in rural Tennessee, the New York Times calls him “one of the unlikely rock stars of the American food scene.” The Art of Fermentation received a James Beard award, and Sandor was honored with the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance. For more information, check out Sandor’s website

Disclaimer: Course descriptions on this webpage are for informational purposes only. Content may be updated or change as planning evolves.  Sterling College reserves the right to alter the program specifics, including details about course content, instructors, collaborations, field trips and facilities at any time without notice.

Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese

January 6 — 12, 2019

Faculty: Ivan Larcher

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The School of the New American Farmstead at Sterling College offers “Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese,” an intensive seven-day program for aspiring and practicing cheesemakers. This unique course is offered in partnership with the Cellars at Jasper Hill, an American Cheese Society-certified cheese professional educator and producer of award-winning, perfectly ripened, single-source cheeses from the verdant working landscape of Vermont. Led by world-renowned master cheesemaker and educator Ivan Larcher, “Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese” provides experienced students with the practical and scientific knowledge needed to perfect exquisite small-scale artisanal cheeses.

This course offers a whole-system perspective on cheesemaking, which begins on the farm and requires careful attention to animal husbandry and welfare, forage and feed, dairy production, and milk quality. After covering the production of extraordinary milk, the course dives deep into both the science and art of cheesemaking by exploring raw and pasteurized milk theory, cheese microbiology, coagulants, curdling mechanisms, and starters. In classroom lecture sessions as well as hands-on and observational cheese making, particular attention is paid to the artisanal production of lactic, hard, soft, Saint Nectaire, and traditional brie cheeses. After learning to make this array of cheeses, focus shifts to affinage, with attention to ripening cultures, climate control, rind treatment, and handling throughout the aging process. Because great cheesemaking can not be reduced to rote, recipe-driven work, sensory and tasting skills are developed. A session on defects and troubleshooting provides invaluable tools for managing production and working through the challenges of the inherently variable ecological processes of cheesemaking and aging. In sessions offered on the Sterling College campus in Craftsbury Common, at Jasper Hill in Greensboro, and at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, Vermont, students also learn about the business of cheesemaking, sales and distribution, and content-based marketing. Attention to critical food safety concerns, an on-site food sanitation workshop, and an overview of plant design round out the curriculum.


Level:  Intermediate – Advanced.  This course is suitable for confident home cheesemakers and those who have experience in commercial cheesemaking. This course is often considered a professional development opportunity to those who work in the cheese industry.

Certification:  This course can count towards our Certificate in Sustainable Foodcraft

Prerequisites:  In order to gain the full value of the class, students should have some cheese making experience and should come with a general understanding of the biology and chemistry associated with milk, proteins, carbohydrates, enzymes and microbes along with basic algebra. Ivan commonly uses metric units and degrees celsius; please be comfortable with these units of measure before class begins.

Tuition & Fees: $3000 covers tuition, a printed text, electronic access to course materials, and ground transportation between all course locations. All meals are available from our top-ranked Sterling Kitchen. Not included are airport transfers or accommodations; please let us know if we can assist you with finding or providing these.

Housing Availability & Fees: On-campus housing is not available for this course. We recommend the Highland Lodge in Greensboro, VT which offers breakfast and a daily shuttle to and from campus. For other recommendations please see our accommodations page.

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LarcherFaculty Bio:  Ivan Larcher is a world-renowned master cheese maker, cheese expert, and educator. Ivan lectures and provides technical advice to cheesemakers in North America, Israel, Slovenia, Croatia, Spain, Morocco, Algiers and in the United Kingdom. He also works closely with individual dairies and groups of artisan cheesemakers. Ivan is a former tutor at the Centre Fromager in Carmejane, France, as well as a former lecturer at Duchy College and the School for Artisan Food in the UK. He and his wife Julie have a 20-cow dairy in France, Ferme de L’or Blanc (Farm of the White Gold). Here, they make butter, yogurt, cheese, and rice pudding. They have chosen to stay small-scale for their dairy. Ivan has been teaching at Sterling College since January of 2014, when Sterling and the Cellars at Jasper Hill launched the Artisan Cheese Institute, a series of short courses designed to provide students the practical and scientific knowledge involved in creating small-scale artisan cheese.

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Disclaimer: Course descriptions on this webpage are for informational purposes only. Content may be updated or change as planning evolves. Sterling College reserves the right to alter the program specifics, including details about course content, instructors, collaborations, field trips and facilities at any time without notice. Some aspects of course content may be weather-dependent.


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