On the edge: How permaculture and Transition meet

1353788229_40c1c68f80_zSometimes there just isn’t enough room in the paper for all the great grassroots stories we are sent. So in advance of our Autumn issue (publishing this Saturday, 1st September) and the Permaculture Convergence in London (12th-14th September) here is a tale from the road about the relationship between permaculture and the Transition movement, and the challenge in communicating both.

Permaculture is a design system that underpins much of Transition’s ethos. One of its tenets is that some of the richest and most interesting places are found at the edges where ecosystems overlap. Phil Moore reports from the junction:

Trojan Horses and Golden Geese

As my girlfriend Lauren and I hitch-hike across the UK visiting various projects on our way to the UK Permaculture Convergence in London this September, explaining permaculture to people has been an exercise in public relations and has led to some fundemental observations.

We have always been keen to couch the language of permaculture in a way our audience can grasp: whether it’s Jivad, a Pakistani immigrant who arrived in England with just a fiver and is now expanding his clothing business, or Lola and Peter of the Flying Theatre Company, on the road to their next school performance.

As hitchers, on the side of the road, we are, in some senses, at the edge of the mainstream. The parallels with permaculture are all too apparent! Many of our kind lifts have heard of the Transition movement, whereas the word permaculture is a new one to them.

So what does permaculture have to say to Transition? Permaculture is founded on a three-fold set of ethics: fair shares, earth care, and people care. From this foundation flows an intelligent design system pointing to how we can do stuff here and now. A design solution for a sustainable present and future.

Whether it is using your window sills to grow greens, placing your compost bin relative to your needs, running effective, inclusive meetings, or project managing the build of a compost loo, permaculture enables us all to be active designers.

3459711224_bb4a60d188_zPermaculture is the art of connecting things. This type of joined up thinking is paramount at a time when questions around food sourcing, and where our stuff comes from – and goes – become more prominent.

Similarly, permaculturists, those practicing and at the centre of the global movement, shouldn’t lose sight of the wider general public. As Rob Hopkins said, “We need to be where people are, rather than expecting them to come to us.” The golden goose of permaculture, the chicken-greenhouse is a nice idea but one that is hard to readily communicate to the public without recourse to a flip-chart and drawing a bunch of arrows. Transition has been dubbed the Trojan Horse of permaculture, as the language used by Transition and the way it communicates is seen as more digestible. Transition is permaculture, evolved to communicate differently.

Culturally, this is changing. The Permaculture and Transition networks share an interest in energy and how we reduce our reliance on unsustainable sources. In respect to ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing for natural gas), how can we collectively respond to the issue of energy and distribution? Widening the self-interested idea of human survival to include the natural world, the fair shares ethic at the core of permaculture rejects the model of pure industrial growth. An ecology and economy that truly takes into account our actions makes the interconnection between our lives and well-being, and that of the planet’s there for all to see. Making these decisions, focusing on what is appropriate, permaculture provides real, positive examples of how to design more equitable systems.

4287480727_2abe5cb1b7_oFrom a public perspective The Offshoots Permaculture Project in Burnley is one of Nesta’s 11 Rethinking Parks project, a huge boost to the profile of permaculture.

Permaculture and Transition still have much to share with each other. So, who’s coming to the UK Permaculture Convergence this September in London? You’re all very welcome. There will be good food and drink, entertainment, and let’s make sure of good conversation! For the UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 are available to buy now, book your place at www.permaculture.org.uk/convergence2014

Phil Moore is one half of Permaculture People. Having spent two years travelling the Americas they are currently touring the UK visiting projects, places and people working toward sustainable, sane and human futures. www.permaculturepeopleuk.tumblr.com and @permapeople on Twitter 

Images from London Permaculture

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From waste to taste

Nov 2013-16-24The Transition Community Cafe in Fishguard makes use of waste food to produce good quality hearty meals for the community. Since this article on the cafe, by Tess Riley, was published in our Spring/Summer edition, the cafe won £10,000 in the ‘Future Dragons’ Den’ at the Hay Festival. They will use the money to help expand the enterprise and spread the word, encouraging other communities to take on the challenge of opening their own cafe.

As Transition Bro Gwaun member Ann Bushell was trawling local businesses for waste vegetables to feed her chickens, it dawned on her just how much edible food was going to landfill. It was this realisation which eventually led to the birth of the Transition Community Cafe in Fishguard in June 2013.

The cafe now opens four days a week in the centre of Fishguard, on the southwest tip of Wales. The thriving Transition Cafe makes lowcost, healthy meals and preserves from products with a short shelf-life, including fruit, vegetables, dairy, bakery goods and a small amount of meat.

“I always find it hard to believe that what comes out on the plate is made from gluts and surplus from the community,” says local resident Paul. “The food here is worthy of any high-class restaurant!”

As the waste food can’t be predicted, the menu changes daily. The typical ingredients the cafe receives means that most of the meals served are vegetarian, such as quiche, vegetable gratin and curry, and they try to have at least one gluten-free option available each day. Popular puddings include fruit crumbles, sponges and pies. With prices from £2.00-£4.00 for a main course, and £1.50-£2.50 for a pudding, the cafe’s customers aren’t complaining.

“Bendigedig! [fantastic in Welsh] And so reasonable – long may it last!” says happy customer Carys.

According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, Wales produces an estimated 400,000 tonnes of household food and drink waste every year, the majority of which is sent to landfill. That’s £700 per household thrown in the bin.

Like Transition Bro Gwaun’s other major projects – renewable community energy and skill sharing – the cafe focuses on carbon reduction. Turning food waste into delicious meals means no methane emissions from rotting food, and surplus food is collected within a four mile radius of the cafe to keep fossil fuel emissions down.

“We have an energy monitor in the kitchen to monitor how much electricity we’re using, and we try to reduce it wherever possible,” says co-organiser Chris Samra. “We also monitor our storage systems – there’s no point in rescuing food from landfill if we then use lots of energy keeping it frozen for ages.”

Local support has been key to sustaining Fishguard’s Transition Cafe. The enthusiasm of the local Co-operative shop manager led to the cafe’s installation rent-free in an empty building next door. The property was then renovated thanks to the generosity of local businesses and volunteers, plus several grants.

The cafe team say that it has been particularly successful in attracting volunteers from a much wider cross-section of the community than ‘traditional’ Transitioners. It provides a meeting place for local groups, addresses food poverty, promotes ideas for sustainable living and offers valuable work experience for local people. In the words of Chris Samra: “The Transition Community Cafe demonstrates that a food system characterise by waste, food miles and low social benefit isn’t our only option.”

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist who writes about food, the environment and communities, and co-edits the Food pages of Transition Free Press. 

Subscribe to the digital edition of Transition Free Press here at Exact Editions or sign up to get the paper version through your door.

Photo: By Brian Jackson. Sarah Purbrick, Rosi Jones and Fay Ford work in the cafe.

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We have gone to press and other timely matters

Years-of-Living-Dangerously-350x230This week our Autumn issue went to press and the TFP editorial team are breathing a  collective sigh of relief. It can be tense on a deadline, particularly when you are working on-line in different locations (instead of in a shared office). But hey, time is what Transition is all about: knowing it’s time to change tracks, not getting stuck in the past, looking forward to the future, as well making time to focus on community projects,  living seasonally and pausing to reflect on our actions and the bigger picture.

While we wait for the bundles of our bright new edition number 6 to come back from the printers and be distributed to Initiatives and enterprises around the UK, thanks to our stirling distribution system (aka Mark Watson), here is a great piece about Sustainable Time from our last issue. It’s by Michelle Bastian who co-ordinates the Transition Research Network, a team of academics who support research that is beneficial to the Transition movement, “making research more accessible, developing best practice guidelines, running events and developing new research projects”.

transition cambridge

Sustaining Time Michelle Bastian

The pressure to do everything faster, to produce, consume and discard with greater frequency and with less thought for the future, has become central to affluent Western lifestyles. Whereas the clock once represented all that was wrong with early capitalism, its current incarnation is represented by speed.

The Sustaining Time research project has been looking into this connection between economies and time and particularly what it might mean for developing sustainable economic systems. Would a shift towards more sustainable ways of life bring a shift in how we experience and understand time? If so what would a ‘sustainable time’ look like?

Working with the REconomy project, the new economics foundation, Co-operatives UK and Permaculture UK, the research team visited ten sustainable businesses and four archive collections in the UK and Australia to see how past and current attempts to develop alternatives to capitalism come up against the question of time. Enterprises ranged from Lammas Eco Village of nine smal holdings in Wales, IT co-operative Webarchitects in Sheffield to Open Shed’s ‘collaborative consumption’ start-up in Sydney.

There were already a few candidates for what a sustainable time might be. The most obvious is the Slow Movement, which has expanded beyond its original protest against fast food, to embrace Slow Cities, Slow Technology and Slow Science. Other possibilities include moving from linear time to a more cyclical time, developing a longer sense of time (looking forward seven generations), or simply more focus on a better work/life balance.

Real life is always more complex however, and we found that the ways people were negotiating their time didn’t fit neatly into these possibilities. Most continued to feel pressured and overworked. Others had strong criticisms of cyclical models of time because of the way they been co-opted by big business. Why worry about upgrading to a new phone when you can recycle your old one? The long-term was important, but we didn’t see any seven-generation business plans.

Instead what we did find pushed us to dig deeper into what each of these sustainable times might be standing in for. So while people weren’t slowing down, they were developing a wider sense of what the ‘right time’ for a task might be. For example, the continuous time of industrially produced food (where everything is available 24/7) became the intermittent time of seasonal food. The well-planned out time of the ‘good worker’ made room for the unpredictable time of community-building, and ‘wasted time’ became the time of learning.

Importantly each of these kinds of time are thought to have little value within mainstream economic models. However, just as the idea of a sustainable economy challenges a narrow focus on profit and the limited way in which ‘economy’ is understood, our research suggests that perhaps a sustainable approach to time would throw open the ways we value time and allow it too to become a site of experimentation and creativity.

Find out more about the project at www.sustainingtime.org.

Michelle Bastian is a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a co-ordinator of the Transition Research Network. She previously led an Honouring the Elders project called Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden, as part of her work with Transition Liverpool

Images: Times of Living Dangerously, US documenatry series 2014; keeping in the seasons, Cambridge CropShare (also features in our Summer issue).

 

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Putting down local food roots in Louth

If you are in any doubt as to the benefits of sourcing locally produced food (and have exhausted the brilliant Food pages in Transition Free Press of course!), look no further than ‘Local Food Roots’,  a short film celebrating the wide-ranging benefits of the UK’s local food movement.

We were delighted to hear from Steve Mansfield from Transition Town Louth not long ago, whose Transition Initiative recently put on a film showing of ‘Local Food Roots’ at the Louth community centre one Saturday night, before serving up a three-course vegan meal using as much local produce as possible.

Steve writes:

Why not try this in your town or city? Combining the film with a meal is a way of putting theory into practice, getting people to talk about the issues, making new friends in the community, and eating delicious food.

For those without easy access to local food, such as through a market, local buying group or Transition food project, why not check out FarmDrop and The Food Assembly, two excellent organisations helping connect customers directly with local producers, cutting out the middlemen and ensuring farmers get paid a fair price for their produce while customers access fresh, delicious food – wonky veg and all!

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Fight to save Grow Heathrow

grow heathrowTransition Heathrow, which in 2010 set up the Grow Heathrow community garden on the site of a proposed third runway for the major airport, has been served an eviction notice for Friday, 15th August at 8.00am.

The group is calling for supporters to help resist the eviction and try and save the site. Events begin on Thursday, 14th August from 12.00pm with workshops, talks and training, followed by dinner and music in the evening.

Grow Heathrow is a squatted community space, open for people to visit and learn new practical skills such as organic gardening, permaculture design, bicycle maintenance and wood and metal work. It also hosts gatherings for groups which in the past have included Climate Camp, Reclaim the Fields, The Transition Network and People & Planet.

Grow Heathrow’s beginnings were in 2010 when Transition Heathrow members took over an abandoned market garden site in Sipson, one of the villages threatened by the Heathrow third runway expansion.

The derelict site was transformed: 30 tonnes of rubbish was cleared and it became a thriving community, demonstrating sustainable ways of living. Grow Heathrow produces its own food and uses solar and wind power, operating ‘off grid’.

Although Grow Heathrow have not been able to win their legal battle, their case has set a positive precedent in housing law. The appeal was the first case of its kind to have Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, the right to respect of private and family life, deemed relevant by the judge.

Plans for the Heathrow third runway were announced in 2009 but, after a massive campaign, the expansion was cancelled in 2010. Now the runway is back on the cards and the government’s Airport Commission is expected to make recommendations on this and other potentially UK airport growth in 2015.

Eviction resistance: Friday 15th August, 8am. Grow Heathrow, Vineries Close, Sipson, West Drayton, UB7 0JH. Find out more and keep updated on Grow Heathrow at the Transition Heathrow website. 

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Our watershed moment

A storm in PorthcawlWater is a big part of our Spring/Summer edition after the winter’s storms brought the reality of climate change nearer home, but it also showed us the power of this natural resource. This article by Alexis Rowell is the front page story from that issue: amidst the chaos of extreme weather we can remind ourselves of the inherent wonder of water.

“Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink.” Coleridge’s words have a prophetic ring to them. We humans need water for life, we love it for leisure, we make art out of it; yet we also waste it, dirty it, privatise it, use it as a weapon and, most dangerously, stir it up brutally in the form of manmade climate change.

The recent Climate Impacts Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is dripping with references to water. Shrinking glaciers, struggling marine species, reduced crop yields, increased flooding, melting Arctic sea ice, drought – the list of water-related climate issues is long.

There was no new science in the report, but the language was different – it was more dramatic, especially in terms of consequences for humans. “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and expo- sure of some ecosystems and many human systems,” it warned. Or, in the words of Dr Patricia Romero Lankao, one of the report’s authors, “The polar bear is us.”

Some chose to decry the report’s “alarmist” language, but most climate experts see the IPCC as ultra- cautious. “It has to be,” says Rob Hopkins, a founder of the Transition movement. “It’s a synthesis of research papers and its output has to be agreed by governments. It is, by definition, the lowest common denominator in climate science. That’s why, time and time again, the reality has been worse than the IPCC predictions.”

Britain has just experienced its wettest winter since records began. Adrian Tait, a psychotherapist and member of Transition Athelney, which is situated in the catastrophically flooded Somerset Levels, says: “People aren’t talking much about climate change explicitly, but they’re palpably fearful of future events. My interpretation is that they’ve taken something on board about changing weather patterns and the threats these pose to the Somerset Levels.”

There’s no shortage of solutions for the Somerset Levels in the recent Blueprint for Water Coalition report: “Restoring wetlands, planting wet woodlands, encouraging rivers to meander over the floodplain and creating ‘upstream’ holding areas and buffer strips are just some of the ‘slow water’ techniques which allow time for underground reserves to fill and prevent flash flood peaks racing downstream,” it says.

Cities are just as much at risk of flooding as was shown in London this winter. Germany is a leader in urban flood management. German councils have the right to introduce charges for hard surfaces or even to take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach. Thomas Kirchmayer of Transition Ingolstadt in Bavaria says: “When we built our house we had to prove that all rainwater would drain away within our grounds. Not even a litre could go into the sewers!”

On other parts of the planet the problem is lack of water. California has been enduring its worst drought for 500 years. Its largest city, Los Angeles, imports 89% of its water. Pumping it to end users costs around $1bn a year which, crazily, is roughly the same amount the city spends on flood management.

Andy Lipkis of the environmental group, Tree People, is trying to persuade Los Angeles to capture the rain rather than push it down the sewers. “The water that does fall here is estimated at today’s usage to provide potentially 30%– 33% of the water we need in Los Angeles,” he says. “But if we were to capture it and use it really efficiently – let’s say we were to double our efficiency – that would be 60% of the water we need.”

At the edges of these debates about too little or too much water is perhaps the beginning of a new narrative. Tim Palmer, author of landscape book Rivers of California, says: “Water’s long-term availability raises questions about the sustainability of growth itself.”

The UK government’s former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, believes “GDP rise in the face of the impact of extreme weather events is very unrealistic.” Joanne Poyourow of Californian Transition group, Environmental Change-Makers, notes: “Local organisations which weren’t founded for environmental or climate-based issues are now folding these topics into their descriptions of why they do what they do.”

Amid the manmade chaos, says British water artist, Amy Sharrocks, we need to remind ourselves of the inherent wonder of water: “It fulfils our most basic need and offers us some of our greatest joys,” she enthuses. “A cool glass of water, the comfort of a cup of tea, the conso- lation of a hot bath, a water fight in a summer garden, the soothing rhythm of a mountain waterfall, the power of a wave crashing on the shore.

“Next time it rains, instead of defending against it with an umbrella, stick your tongue out and invite it in,” she playfully suggests. “Beautiful, extraordinary water, without which the performance of everyday life would be utterly impossible – celebrate it, respect it and never underestimate it.”

Alexis Rowell is Managing Editor of Transition Free Press.

Subscribe to the digital edition of Transition Free Press here at Exact Editions, or sign up to get the paper version through your door.

Photo: A storm brews in Porthcawl, South Wales. By Ben Salter, under a Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0).

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Test run for Poole Harbour heat project

Poole HarbourThis article, by Gareth Simkins, was published on the Energy page of the Spring/Summer issue of Transition Free Press. This regular page focuses on sustainable energy for the future, including local initiatives such as Poole Tidal Energy Partnership. Other subjects covered in the past include, big biomass, community hydro and energy saving.

Wind turbines, micro-hydro schemes and solar panels are not the only way for community groups to generate their own energy. One scheme in Dorset has rather different plans – to produce heat and power from Poole Harbour.

The 36 square kilometre bay acts like a “massive solar heater,” says John Gillingham, a carpenter and one of the leaders of the Poole Tidal Energy Partnership (PTEP).

As the name suggests, PTEP’s original plan was to build the UK’s first ever community-owned tidal power project. The community interest company emerged three years ago, as a collaboration between Transition Town Poole, Bournemouth University and the borough of Poole.

But the tidal power proposal has proved too ambitious, at least at present. The harbour’s average depth is only 48 centimetres and there would be many competing interests to satisfy.

“It’s not viable to put a fairly large turbine there,” Gillingham explains, though harnessing the power of the bay’s tides is still on the cards.

For the moment, PTEP is undertaking a more modest project: extracting heat from a pond to warm a café and art gallery at Upton Country Park, just to the north of the harbour. This is intended to be a proof-of-concept scheme, a public demonstration of heat pump technology prior to the bigger plan – using the bay itself as a heat source for council buildings and local businesses.

The tea rooms in the park are notoriously poorly heated and have even had to be shut in the winter because of the cold. They’re a listed building, so demolition or major refurbishment is not an option. To solve this, PTEP is installing an underfloor heating system, connected to a heat pump, fed by water flowing through pipes in the pond.

Heat pumps are an old and established heat-exchange technology, most commonly used to keep fridges and freezers cold. However, they are increasingly being used, effectively in reverse, as heaters. Unlike normal electric heaters, they can produce far more heat energy than the electricity they consume.

If all goes to plan, the system, entirely funded by the council, should be operational next winter.

The scheme could increase public use of the park and will certainly cut electricity bills, probably by some £5,000 a year. It will also educate the public, and save 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide being tipped into the atmosphere – all of which will help the council meet its objective of a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.

Gillingham said the advantages are clear: “It will save quite a lot of money, cut carbon… and the public can see a working system.”

He admits heat pumps have a downside; although they are a low carbon source of heat, “we could be accused of using dirty energy” from the grid to power them. “It’s not all sweetness and light. Sometimes you have to walk before you can run – but we’re not disheartened.”

Gareth Simkins is an environmental journalist who edits the Energy page of Transition Free Press. He is also a member of Croydon Transition Town.

Subscribe to the digital edition of Transition Free Press here at Exact Editions or sign up to get the paper version through your door.

Photo: Poole Harbour from a plane, by Petr Kratochvil in the public domain.

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