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Local food initiatives

(TKensal to Kilburn created this community allotment on the platform of Kilburn Underground (Photo - Chris Wells)


It is only in the past 50 years that we have perfected the art of the completely useless and unproductive urban landscape, at the same time as we have become nearly completely dependent on long, and highly oil-dependent, supply chains. Yet within this vulnerability is a huge opportunity for rethinking how we feed ourselves.


Food is often where Transition initiatives start, and it offers a great way of finding common ground, given that everyone interacts with food on a daily basis! Here is a taster (pardon the pun) of some of the varied projects under way...

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There are many food projects a Transition initiative can start, from garden shares to community supported farms. Local food projects which involve local schools, other local organisations, councils, church groups or whoever else feels like a useful ally, offer much potential for boosting new Transition initiatives.

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Food is often where Transition initiatives start, and it offers a great way of finding common ground, given that everyone interacts with food on a daily basis! Here is a taster (pardon the pun) of some of the varied projects under way. Some start by planting productive trees in urban spaces. Transition Town Finsbury Park planted fruit trees around their local station, and Taunton Transition Town developed their ‘Tasty Borough’ scheme with the local council, planting traditional apple varieties around the town (leading to a dreadful pun on their website about wanting to ‘put Taunton Deane at the core of the apple country’). Transition City Lancaster’s urban tree-growing project is called ‘Fruity Corners’.

Transition Town Tooting’s annual Foodival is a great way of reaching people and bridging cultural divides. Growers from across the area bring their surplus produce, which is cooked by a range of local cooks in different ethnic styles. One of the intentions of the Foodival is to create new traditions, which was apparent at the 2010 event when two local people were overheard having a conversation: “Has this happened before?” The reply was, “Oh they do it every year”, in spite of its being only in its third year!

Some Transition initiatives, such as Tunbridge Wells, Bramcote and Wollaton, Ashtead and Forest Row, are creating community allotments, where people for whom a whole plot feels daunting get together and share one. One of the earliest incarnations of this idea was in Transition Canterbury, where they also keep a very informative blog about what they are learning and how it is progressing.

Other Transition communities, such as Wandsworth in London, Louth and Ashburton, have set up community gardens, where people learn to grow food together and support each other. Inspired by the Fife Diet, some places are experimenting with eating a seasonal and local diet. Transition groups in North Cornwall and in the New Forest are exploring the practicalities of eating a more local diet, and what this can teach us about food relocalisation.

Some places are setting up their own community-supported farms, for example Glastonbury, Matlock, Stroud and Kippax (near Leeds). Here the community owns shares in the farm and is involved in what it grows. Transition Town Kinsale set up a community supported agriculture scheme (CSA) with a local farmer to produce potatoes and oats for its members. Transition Town Dorchester are creating a two-acre community farm on land made available by the Duchy of Cornwall for a peppercorn rent. Many places produce a local food directory to help people source local produce: Forest Row, Glastonbury, South Kerrier in Cornwall and High Wycombe have done so, and Transition Cheltenham is going for an online rather than a printed version.

Transition in Action: PEDAL (Portobello Transition Town)’s local organic market

by Eva Schonveld

PEDAL’s local, organic market runs on the first Saturday of every month. It began with a Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) grant, but is now self-sustaining, managed by a paid market manager and a small team of local volunteers. In 2009, with some money from the CCF, we did a door-to-door survey to see which of our projects would be most likely to get local support, and included several questions on local food. These projects all came out with very high ratings, with people keen on the idea of growing courses, a community farm and a local market. On the strength of this, PEDAL got money for a food worker (and two other workers looking at local energy saving and generation), one of whose duties was to get the market started.

Setting up Portobello Organic Market took much longer than we had anticipated. Finding the right site and applying for three licenses took almost all of one half worker’s time. It was close to the wire, but the first market opened on a gloriously sunny day on 4 September 2009, and most of Portobello turned up, or so it seemed. The market has gone from strength to strength, even proving the importance of local food during the heavy snows in December, when no one could get to the supermarket, but the market was there with bread, fruit, veg, lamb joints and cakes!

We were worried about the effect on local traders, and so were they. We were also worried about our relationship with them if things went too well for us! So we ran this as a pilot. The feedback was that the market either benefited their trade or did not affect it, so fears evaporated. We even have one of the shops from the high street selling at the market. We are looking forward to selling the produce of the community orchard and farm, and may bring in other community growing projects and other new producers, but that's for the future!

Transition in Action: Garden share schemes

Transitions Stirling, Cambridge, Bristol, Stratford, Clitheroe, Totnes and Falmouth have begun ‘garden share’ schemes, which link committed, enthusiastic growers with local garden owners who are happy to share their space and see their gardens being used more productively. The benefits for the garden owners include a share of the produce, the pleasure of seeing a lovely developing veggie plot, and the sense of community in being part of a sharing initiative. I asked Lou Brown of Transition Town Totnes, the first Transition Garden Share scheme, for her thoughts after three years of running the Totnes scheme:

“All I can say is that the experience has been profoundly positive and there have honestly been no drawbacks. All the gardeners and the many garden owners have worked and shared their spaces with respect and commitment. Sure, there have been a couple of gardeners who haven’t put in the work and have been disappointed, but inexperience and lack of time has been the worst of it – and these cases are astonishingly rare!...

The idea is a very basic one, and humans are so good at cooperating and working together beautifully as long as everyone knows what to expect. People don’t tend to take advantage of each other when they are working together on this kind of project – it's about sharing, community, and a bit of hard work. I find that seeing how people cooperate like this and how happy it makes them to do so really inspires me to believe in our potential for community living.”