Saturday, April 16, 2011

Transition Towns and more...

Yesterday I received my latest issue of Vogue Living Australia (May /June 2011) in the post and when I had the chance to sit down and lose myself in its pages I came across a very interesting article (p.78) and I just have to share it with you here.

SEEDS OF CHANGE - Margie Fraser

'A worldwide movement prompts a green revolution in Australia's towns, and our cities are set to follow.

It may be a case of looking to the future by tapping into the past. The pace of life in the idyllic New South Wales town of Bellingen has a leisurely, perhaps even vintage, measure to it. A recent addition to the ever-growing lit of Transition Towns around the globe, it's not hard to imagine that its contented citizens will soon be able to graze on fruit, nuts and other bounty from the trees of the shady main street, courtesy of the commitment of local devotees to permaculture.

The Transition Initiative that spawns Transition Towns is gaining impetus around the globe - even in the houses of Parliament (The Transition Handbook, an account of how communities and individuals can respond to concerns over climate change and dwindling oil supplies, came fifth in the summer reading lists of British MPs in 2010). Politicians and civilians alike cannot fail to see the benefits of the increasingly influential movement; like-minded community groups in Transition Towns organise regular seed-swaps, low-carbon-mile organic food picnics and liaise with local government to allow for tracts of communal land for cultivation. They are pooling resources, tapping into the skills and knowledge bases of their residents, and deciding, democratically, how to improve both their lifestyles and the longevity of the planet.

It's not surprising to find that towns like Maleny and Eudlo, in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland, have engendered many such transition groups, the idyllic strip of rolling green hills and magnificent rainforest is a permaculturalist's paradise.

The Victorian town of Baw Baw is taking the process one step further by following in the footsteps of Totnes, England (one of Transition's earliest converts), establishing its own currency to boost local economy and enhance a sense of community.

Urban communities are also taking up the green banner, with re-use projects such as the refurbishment of neglected buildings in inner urban areas. In inner-city Brisbane, the Kurilpa Initiative "perma-blitzes" their neighbours' gardens in a matter of hours. Following devastating floods that caused empty shelves in the city's supermarkets, the blitzed gardens were a harvestable godsend. It's an edible future.'

Human interest stories like this really resonate with me. I think as a western civilisation we have moved too far away from our roots, particularly people who live in cities - they are too disconnected from the source of their food and new generations are emerging without a clue as to where their food actually comes from. We live in a convenient industrialised era where everything is at our fingertips and we have enjoyed this abundance for so long that we now take it for granted that it will always be there. But what happens should things we take for granted be not so readily available?

Many people have no idea how to fend for themselves and would instead instigate food wars as a survival strategy. This is not the solution, we need to start getting smarter about being more self-sufficient. As Fraser says in her article, looking into the future by tapping into the past. Looking to what previous generations did, particularly migrants who would cultivate their own produce in their backyards or in community gardens.

I came across this fabulous article by Rachel Sullivan some time back about an idea to grow vertical gardens in high rise buildings in cities in a bid to reduce carbon miles of getting their fresh food, to make it more readily available, to reduce the risk of loss due to natural disasters and so on. It seems someone took up the idea and ran with it, in this article on Indoor Farming.

There are plenty of community gardens to get involved with, or if there is not one in your neighbourhood think about getting one going, as growing vegetables and herbs in your backyard may not always be an option. Think about getting your community involved in the Transition Initiative. Now that I know about it I am going to write to my local council and our local Sustainable Neighbourhood Group (another wonderful initiative, implemented by Lake Macquarie City Council) and see if there is enough interest by our local community to become involved in this too.

I think a decentralised approach to agriculture is definitely a way to insure communities against future shortages. We need to start getting creative about how to ensure there is plenty of food available for everyone and that we will never experience shortages.

In the face of such a crises the Cuban citizens 'planted thousands of urban cooperative gardens to offset depleted rations of imported food.' You just have to do a Google search for Cuban Urban Gardens to see all the wonderful and inspiring stories. You can also look up Urban Farming or Urban Agriculture to read more great stuff.

It seems to have been a week of food in the spotlight, so to speak, as a brief glimpse of the Oprah show revealed another thing I was not aware of - the documentary, Food Inc. This is the flip side of everything written above, it is the toxic chemical side of agriculture, it is the greedy money side of agriculture and worse of all it is the absolute abuse and disrespect of animals side of farming. I really admire people like Robert Kenner (the filmmaker) who brings such dark goings-on out into the light for all of us to be aware of... because the people involved certainly don't want to make you aware of them. I believe that all the farmers, bar two (one pro and one against), that they wanted to interview declined... hmmm, makes you wonder what they have to hide. The farmer who was all for it, to me represented the saddest element of human nature and that is the complete ignorance and arrogance that he could treat animals this way. He was a chicken grower and said 'why wait 3 months for a chicken when you can have one in 49 days?' They also showed the size of the chickens we are growing now, which are about 3 times or more the size of the natural chickens our grandparents' generation would have been familiar with. The animals are pumped full of hormones to make them grow - let alone the growing conditions but do you really want to put that crap in your body and that of your children?

More and more people are championing the cause for people to eat better, people like Jamie Oliver who has done revolutionary stuff in quite a short time frame, to bring our awareness to what we are doing to animals and what we are putting in our bodies. The beautiful actress, Alicia Silverstone, was on that Oprah show the other day and she has written a book called The Kind Diet which will not only get you to an optimum level of health but it will bring about an awareness of animals in the context of food. Another wonderful bunch of people are those of the Voiceless team whose mission is to “bring the institutionalised suffering of animals to the forefront of Australia’s agenda; ensuring that animal protection is the next great social justice movement."

I hope you get something out of this post, I hope it has sparked an interest to go off and do some more research, to spread the word to family and friends and to become really pro-active in some or all of these great initiatives. Or are you already involved? Feel free to share your experiences or any interesting initiatives you have come across and would like to spread the word about :)

1 comment:

River said...

I'm in favour of growing my own food, but this last season when I tried, the weather conditions were against me, then there were plagues of caterpillars and aphids etc, plus I was growing them in large pots and recycling tubs. After months of effort and nurturing, my entire harvest was two mini rockmelons, a couple of dozen green beans, several tomatoes and a small bowlful of mini capsicums. And three stunted twisted carrots. Very disappointing.
In the past I've grown enough to eat and put some in the freezer, but I've become discouraged by the cost involved this year for so little produce.