Saturday, 31 October 2009

The joy of a full wood shed

If you think that there is a hint of smugness about this post then you are right – because, this year, I actually got all the wood chopped whilst it was dry and the wood shed is full! Bring on those frosts! Of course there are lots of other jobs that should have been done but we will pass quickly on ...

Most people find a wood stove to be a great comfort on a cold night – the cat certainly does ( if it is not yet lit, he sits in front of it and glares at us). I get even greater comfort if I have obtained the wood for free and so far have managed to get free wood for the last 30 years. It has not been hard to find and much of that wood would just have been burnt on bonfires had I not asked for it – a lot of wood has even arrived by wheelbarrow from neighbours.

Of course, burning scrap wood does require a lot of storage space and a suitable chimney - so is not practical for everyone, but flats can be served by communal wood chip boilers. I have helped with scrub clearance and coppicing at two nature reserves this year and piles of useful wood is just being burnt in the open. It seems to me that there is huge potential for growing wood locally for fuel, it is a carbon sink, home for wildlife and provides local resilience and employment. In the 19th century the gathering of firewood from hedgerows was an important privilege, it is about time we started coppicing all those trees planted alongside most new roads, instead of just chipping the trimmings.

I currently have two wood burners and have owned one previously, plus a multi fuel boiler, I’m happy to pass on advice to anyone thinking of getting one.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Heart and Head

At the beginning of the week, I thought it might be a challenge to write five posts. Now I'm thinking it’s a challenge to stop at five! After tonight, the blog will be open for anyone to post over the weekend, then I hand over to Elena to be guest-writer for next week. I’ve really enjoyed writing this week, and am looking forward to seeing what Elena will write about.

In the meantime, I’m going to finish off my week as guest-writer by talking about motivation. Part of the challenge of transition must be in motivating enough individuals to join in, so that we collectively reach a tipping point in terms of our environmental footprint and our ability to respond to a post-oil world. The question is how to do this. Some people will be motivated by the heart, some by the head, some, possibly, solely by a self-interest that just happens to be served by transition-like activity. If someone wants to comprehensively insulate their home just so that they have smaller utility bills rather than because of their carbon footprint, does that really matter? The outcome is still the same.

I have a strong heart motivation in that I don’t want my children to have an impoverished future as a result of my society’s actions today. However, overall I consider myself motivated more by head than heart. I’m drawn to the complexity of the twin problems of peak oil and climate change; I like solving problems and understanding the underlying causes of those problems. I like working from facts, evidence. I like to understand the arguments for and against before making a decision; I like to know that a solution to one problem won’t have unintended consequences in another area.

Finding good solutions to these problems will require heart and head, and I hope that the solutions to the challenges of climate change and peak oil will also go some way towards creating a more responsible world, a fairer and more equitable world, the kind of world that I would like to bequeath to my children.

I'm hugely encouraged by the people I've met so far in Transition Norwich. And I hope it continues to grow. And to do that, we need to motivate, in different ways, all sorts of people to join the Transition movement – teachers, builders, agronomists, economists, town planners. Practical people, leaders and visionaries. Thinkers and doers, head people and heart people. Ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things.

In other words, everyone.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

I want to be a YIMBY (please)!

Another view of TG4718 : Wind turbine and farm, Somerton - four of the eleven turbines at this wind farm.

Heading home from Essex to Norwich, we pass a series of signs along the A140 saying "NO GIANT WIND TURBINES HERE". I confess I'm a bit of a fan of wind turbines, as much for their aesthetic appeal as for their utility. Once, on the way to Winterton Beach, I commented to R that I was surprised the council hadn't installed accident blackspot signs to take into account all those drivers whose attention must surely wander from the road ahead while they admire the beautiful juxtaposition of Norman churches and 21st Century windmills!

She laughed and suggested that it might only be me in danger of that!

There’s an argument I hear a lot that goes “Renewable energy will never satisfy all our requirements, so we need to build more coal / nuclear / gas (delete as appropriate) power-stations”. This argument seems especially prevalent when people talk about wind farms, where even the most ardent supporters have to concede that the wind doesn’t always blow as hard as you need it, just when you need it.

And I think the argument’s true. Renewables can’t satisfy all our requirements, if we carry on wasting energy the way we as a society do. But if we combine a programme of renewables with efficiency measures that match the shortfall as we run down non-renewables, surely that can give us what we need, in a way consistent with our energy and CO2 commitments, at a price we can all afford? I’m no energy analyst, but I’ve yet to find anyone who can tell me that this is an incorrect premise to start from.

All choices are fraught with difficulty and, for example, George Monbiot (a commentator for whom I have a lot of time) has suggested that to achieve proper returns, wind farms need to be big, and need to be offshore to persuade people to have them built.

But, when it comes to wind-farms, I consider myself a bit of a YIMBY - a “Yes, In My Backyard” (please!). Maybe the way to promote a new spirit of wind-farm “YIMBYism” is for communities to sponsor the installation of the wind turbines in return for a share of the output (or a cut of the proceeds if the electricity’s fed into the grid). Perhaps, more radically, community cooperatives could join together and form their own local energy companies!

At the end of the day, I’m sure people would prefer a wind-farm to a nuclear power-station in their back garden?

Picture Credit: Another view of TG4718 : Wind turbine and farm, Somerton - four of the eleven turbines at this wind farm. © Copyright Stephen Craven and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A look back at the future...

Usborne Book of the Future (1979)

Christmas 1979. The seventies were teetering towards their end. Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall was the Christmas number one. I was seven, and one of my favourite presents that year was the "The Usborne Book of the Future". The book is a cornucopia of likely and unlikely predictions, including robots in every home, an electronic mail system that would send handwritten letters to be printed out for the recipient, and wars fought by remote-controlled tanks with laser guns.

So far, most of their predictions haven't come true, however there was one small piece that caught my eye even then. Dealing with the vulnerability of society in an age increasingly dependent on computers, it made a bold suggestion for a backup plan.

Thirty years on, I wonder what the author would make of the Transition movement!

Help from an Unexpected Quarter

We are down in Essex for a couple of days, and decide to take the children for a walk in the woods behind my in-law's house. It doesn't immediately go according to plan - the girls are in no mood for walking, and ask if we can go in the car. Go in the car? Through the woods? Don't be silly! Some serious chivvying follows and we manage to coax some interest in looking for squirrels out of them.

Further down the track, we hit the next hurdle - "we're hungry! can we go home now?" At which point, R suddenly detours towards a big tree and comes back with a handful of shiny dark chestnuts, their brown skins like polished caramel jewels. She peels them, pops one into each small mouth and everyone is happy! I'm amazed. Less than a week after my confession in the comms meeting about not knowing the difference between a conker and a sweet chestnut, here is my wife of nearly ten years, and partner for ten years prior to that, happily foraging for chestnuts! And I never knew she knew this stuff! Turns out she used to go foraging for mushrooms and other wild food with her Grandad in Ireland when she was a child. But until the need arose, we never had the opportunity to share this information with each other. So, while the girls happily munched on a raw chestnut each, we talked about wild food, free food, and transition. I told her about the Spring Tonic walk earlier in the year. R had read somewhere that nettle soup is delicious and full of vitamins, and we wondered whether someone would consider doing a "Food Walk".

So buoyed up by this revelation, I tackled the garden. I found the two chestnut trees, and, really, how could I ever have thought I wouldn't know the difference between a conker and a sweet chestnut? Next thing, the girls and I had foraged a treasure-trove of fat chestnuts, and buried them in a tin under a bonfire of raked leaves.

A couple of hours later, it was getting dark, so we dug the tin out of the ashes and brought it into the kitchen. I discovered that two hours in the low heat of a leaf-bonfire isn't enough to really roast chestnuts, but the ones at the edges of the tin were cooked through and delicious. A stint in the oven will sort the rest out, and they'll retain that lovely smoky flavour.

So now I just need to find that perfect recipe for nettle soup!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Exploring the World

We are lucky enough to live near the big cemetary on the Bowthorpe Road. I say "lucky" because we are near the old Victorian end, and at this time of year the trees are a glorious profusion of red, yellow and gold leaves, and the paths are carpetted in a thick layer of crunchy leaves. Walking alone through the cemetary is a profound experience, the silence broken only by the wind in the branches; the names and dates on the stones the only reminder of lives lived long ago. There is a faded and elegaic beauty to the landscape.

Walking with my two small children through the cemetary is an altogether different experience. We escape the pathways and go exploring through the tunnels of latticed branchwork, jump in piles of fallen leaves, and pick up sticks and pinecone treasure. For my part, I escape the pathways of responsible adulthood and go exploring the tunnels of childhood wonder. We pick those blackberries still accessible and purple our mouths and fingers with the juice. We then stop at at tree full of swollen dark fruits the size and shape of olives. "Can we eat one, daddy?" they ask. And I don't know how to answer.

They're not blackberries, not olives, obviously, but beyond that, I have no idea. They could be damsons; possibly, some kind of small plum. On the other hand, they could be something horribly poisonous - the kind of "poison berry" that parents spend ages warning their children against picking up and putting into small mouths. I confess my ignorance to the girls and we move on.

Later, I talked to Jane at the comms group meeting, who told me they might have been sloes. I've heard of sloe-gin, but would have no idea what else one could do with them. And if I fancied making some sloe gin, what would I do? How many would I need? Should I pick the big ones, the little ones? The hard ones? The soft? So many questions. In my in-laws' garden, there are two kinds of chestnut tree - a sweet chestnut and a traditional conker tree. Which is which? Again, no idea! But it's important if we're flying in blackberries, chestnuts, or even, perhaps, sloes from all corners of the globe.

This stuff is all here already, and it's free if we knew what to do with it. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, UK households throw away 18% of all the food it buys. Talking to Jane made me think more deeply about free food, about seasonal food, and about what we do with the food we buy. And by opening my eyes to the possibilities around us, it'll make our next "exploration" of the cemetary all the more exciting.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Baby steps

So this is it, my first week as main contributor to the TN Blog. In fact the first week to have a main contributor. When I first met up with the Transition Norwich Comms team in September to talk about the possibility of running a blog, Charlotte already had a clear idea of what she was hoping for. One of the ideas that really appealed to me was that of offering people a week at a time to talk about their "lives in transition" and what it means to them to be part of the Transition Norwich movement. But I didn't expect to go first, and that felt a little bit scary!

John Heaser's post of 19th October gave me courage. One of the great things I've found in the relatively short time that I've been part of the Transition community is that there are no saints and no sinners - we are all on a journey, together, exploring what it means to be in transition towards a low carbon or post-peak oil future.

I calculated my carbon footprint about a year ago using the calculator on, and recently refreshed it. My footprint has actually gone up in the last year (fractionally, but that doesn't make me feel better) to 8.62 tonnes a year. So what's that all about? Well, we're all at different life stages, and we start our journey at different points. I have two small children under five, which in itself generates a huge amount of washing, and, in winter, drying. We moved into a Victorian end-of-terrace when daughter number two arrived as our previous house was just not big enough any more. I've never lived in a more draughty house - you can feel the wind whistling past your nose sometimes when you're lying in bed. It costs a fortune to heat. Our last car, an eleven year old Ka that, again, the girls were just too big to fit into anymore, finally died this summer and had to be replaced (that accounted for the most of our increased carbon footprint). And our family is scattered across the UK and Ireland - they all want to watch our children grow up and it's important to us that they do.

But... the UK average carbon footprint was nearly 11 tonnes a year in 2006 and I don't suppose it's got massively better since then. So ours is still better than average. Our electricity comes from npower's Juice scheme which uses wind farms to generate electricity. After years of commuting round London on the M25, I can now walk the twenty minutes to work each morning. We turn off all our (energy efficient) lights when they're not needed, leave nothing on standby, and we're replacing all the thermostats on the radiators. My wife is trying to find a carpet fitter for a beautiful, recycled carpet to deal with those draughts in our hall and daughters' room. A long, long way to go, but we're getting there.

One of my colleagues in the Comms team has been thinking about groups of transitioners helping each other on home projects to reduce the overall environmental impact of our homes - I'm keen to get on board!

So we all start from different places. Some journeys will be longer, some shorter. What's important is that we know where we're going and take those first baby steps.

That's it for today! Tomorrow I'll be writing a little bit about food...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Chestnuts and conkers

I’m stealing a march on the local squirrels, scooping up a bumper crop of sweet chestnuts in the city centre. It’s in an office car park and very few passers-by take any interest. They are missing out on a treat, because this year’s chestnuts are big and very tasty – and they won’t be able to buy British chestnuts in the shops, because all that is available to the wholesalers comes from China (or, if they are very lucky, from Spain).

I’m wondering why I don’t have to compete with anyone for this free harvest. Perhaps people don’t know whether they are sweet chestnuts or conkers. At one of those convivial Comms meetings recently, Jon confessed that he didn’t know which is which – so, for those of you who are unsure, here’s an infallible guide!

Sweet chestnuts are on the left of the photo. They have painfully prickly cases and the glossy little nuts have a tuft at the top. Conkers (on the right) have a much chunkier case and no tufts. They ripen at the same time – from now up until mid-November. Sweet chestnuts are delicious when cooked; conkers are inedible.

Maybe people don’t know how to cook them or think it isn’t worth the effort. It’s true that peeling chestnuts is not the best of kitchen chores… but, as my daughter discovered, it is definitely worth the effort. “Blimey,” she said, when I showed her how to peel the outer husk and the inner bitter skin (scorching hot), “I’m never going to bother to do this myself.” But after pinching a couple to taste, she changed her mind. “They’re really sweet – delicious, nothing like those waxy pre-packed ones that don’t taste of anything.”

(Here's a thought for the post-oil era and sustainable lifestyles for everyone. If I'm not peeling my own chestnuts (or processing any kind of food), who is doing it for me? What does it cost and how is it being done? Charlotte's just been telling me dreadful stories about Somalian ex-fishermen, forced by economic necessity to prepare tomatoes in Spain under awful conditions. And we've all heard the scandal about shipping prawns caught in British waters to the Far East, where cheap labour peels them and freights them back to us. Part of our Transition journey is to count the cost of this hidden labour and to do much more ourselves.)

You can roast chestnuts over an open fire in the traditional way (or in a hot oven or on the grill). If you’ve got a proper chestnut pan with holes in the base, so much the better – but you can improvise with a perforated tin. You must prick or score the chestnuts so that they don’t explode. Experts tell you to leave one nut unpricked – when it explodes, the others are ready to eat.

If I’m cooking with chestnuts, Jane Grigson advises that the most reliable way is to score the chestnuts on both sides, taking care not to cut right through the nut, then boil for eight minutes. The last step is the painful one: take the pan off the heat and peel the chestnuts as fast as you can – it gets much more difficult as they cool down, so leave them in the cooking water till ready to peel. You must remove the bitter inner skin.

Best recipes? If you are a meat-eater (there’s a Transition debate for another day!), then the chestnut and chorizo soup in the Moro cookbook is stunning, guaranteed to keep out the cold. If not, there are lots of lovely dishes, such as the chestnut and apple puree served for Thanksgiving.

Changing our behaviours and finding out what fun it is – that’s what Transition is all about. The postscript to this story is that I first got into gathering chestnuts ten years ago when I saw hundreds of them on the ground at Sandringham. I didn’t think Her Maj would miss them and I was determined to put them to good use. My family weren’t especiaily interested at the time, but my daughter joined me today to collect a few chestnuts for herself and said: ”It’s a great feeling gathering a seasonal harvest like this. You feel reconnected to nature.” And I’m not making it up – she really did say it!

What would make you pick up more food for free? Easy ways to identify things that are safe to eat; recipes; hints on when and where to find our wild harvest? We’d love to hear your comments.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Food in Transition: Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark

Food is one of the principle ways we can engage in creating a low-carbon culture. Cooking happens every day in our kitchens and what we buy and eat is in our own hands (or at least it needs to be!). In the following months the TN blog is going to look at some of those low-carbon food issues from home-growing veg to community orchards, from distribution hubs to fairtrade tomatoes. We'll be debating whether or not to eat meat or fish, drink orange juice or new world wine and most of all how we can be inventive with what grows locally and doesn't cost the earth. We'll also be reviewing some of the best cookbooks around. Here is one:

Sam and Sam Clark's restaurant Moro is famous for its cuisine deeply rooted in the Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean. Their third cookbook, Moro East, is set nearer home: in an East End allotment they shared with Turkish and Cypriot neighbours, exchanging recipes around kebab grills and great vegetables. The 150 Moorish recipes apppear amongst the allotments’ creative salvage and burgeoning plants - dishes spiced with rosewater, cumin, mint, pomegranate, as well as local poppy leaves, pea shoots and green tomatoes. The book is a poignant testimony as Manor Garden Allotments were later bulldozed for the Olympic Hockey Stadium.

Its essence, captured in Toby Glanville’s elegiac photographs – children playing amongst hosepipes, women making flatbread, men cooking over charcoal, fragrant dishes served on tin plates and terracotta, everyone eating together – however is not lost. It’s a picture of what a postcarbon future might look like.

Moro East by Sam and Sam Clarke (Ebury Press, £25)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Being in Transition - or not?

The invite to write for this blog said ‘write about what it feels like to be in Transition’ – well that’s a problem for me because the word ‘Transition’ implies a continuous process of change and I’m stuck at the same level that I got to 30 years ago. Certainly, cycling to work, growing my own food and heating my house with scrap wood were quite radical steps to take in the 70’s and it has taken a long time (and higher prices) for these ideas to become more mainstream. So does that mean that I’m doing all that I can to reduce my carbon footprint?

No, there is far more that I could do. So what’s stopping me? Well it’s not complacency – though I can reasonably claim to be more resource efficient than the vast majority. The problem is that to do more would impact the lives of those around me in a way that they are probably not yet prepared to accept. I need the wider society to embrace the vision that a Low Carbon Life is not a 21st century version of a medieval hermit in a cave but an opportunity to shape a better society.

I support TN because we need a lot of people to work together to turn around 60 years of a society built on the dream of ever increasing consumption. Only Maoist style governments can force whole populations to change their way of life - however things can change very quickly once a critical mass of people latch on to a new idea.

So maybe, on reflection, I am in Transition, it is just that the pace is not as fast as I would like it to be. What I need is a lot more people to catch up and provide the wave to ride to the next level! In the meantime I’ll do what I can to support those people brave enough to show real commitment to a Low Carbon Life.

I've added this picture of a cycle path, taken on holiday in Jersey a few weeks ago, because it shows such a nice way to get about and is the sort of path that I'm currently campaigning for ( )

and it was a really nice day!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

On the Road (without a Car)

On World Carfree Day (Sept 22) I cycled cross-country to meet the Transition initiative, Sustainable Bungay who were celebrating the day by cycling to a pub called the Geldeston Locks on the River Waveney. Just as we set off to meet them Mark dropped his bike and buckled a wheel. “I’ll take the bus,” he called out to me as he wobbled down the lane. “How will we get back?” I yelled back. “I’ll ring Graham and Nicky!” he shouted as I pedalled on resiliently into the autumn wind.

15 miles later I met everyone by the Buttercross. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful evening of the year. The sun had been roaring all day and had gone down in a blaze of glory. The moon rose over the hill, the land lay tawny-coloured and breathing in the twilight. Warmth rose up from it as we cycled down the back road to Geldeston from Bungay, through the mill and down the track to the Locks Inn. Occasionally a car would stop in the lane startled by this sudden line of cycling people, laughing and talking, as wheels bumped over stones and veered into hedges.

At the Locks we were scheduled to meet the Zero Carbon Caravan, a group of cyclists making their way from Wales to Copenhagen for the Climate Change talks in December, entirely without fossil fuel. En route from Norwich however they heard they had lost their passage over the sea from Lowestoft and had been diverted to Dover. They had to make it in three days (“Three days!” exclaimed Margaret, one of SB’s veteran cyclists, “Do they know the hills in Kent?”). So we had our regular monthly Green Drinks and when it came to go instead of returning home we went back with Graham.

When I say went back what I mean to say is we canoed back down the river. Graham climbed skilfully into one canoe with the bike, and Mark and I climbed rather less skilfully into the other. We pushed off from the shore, there was a rushing sound as the boats entered the stream and then suddenly we were gliding out into the star-filled night. Great shapes of trees rose beside us - ashes and willow – as we moved by. The water brimmed right to the edges of the land and the stars and the branches glimmered in its dark surface that was as smooth as a stone. There was space everywhere as meadows water and sky merged together and in that space it felt as if a door opened. For a moment I didn’t know where or when I was as we paddled softly down the Waveney that could have been the Mississippi or the Amazon.

It was the moment of autumn equinox, the moment the light of summer cedes to the dark of winter. In that full-on mysterious planetary encounter I realised why all of us came out of our way to meet each other in Transition, in spite of all its difficulties and heartaches, why we took pains to cut carbon and struggled up hills to travel across the sea in a sailing boat. You give something up because you love the earth, and the earth gives you something in return. Something, if you thought about it, you were born to experience.

The next morning I helped Graham gather hazelnuts from his abundant red cobnut trees and as we patiently shifted through leaves on our hands and knees it occurred to me I would never have spent a long and (equally abundant) breakfast with him or canoed down the river had we driven our car.

So this week a month later I went entirely car-free. Being car-free in a city is not hard but in the backcountry where I live it’s tricky, especially at night. It’s one hour by foot round-trip to the Library (where I use the Internet) and four bus rides to collect my veg box and shop. Nevertheless I walked everywhere: mapped the neighbourhood for apple trees, picked the last damsons and blackberries, witnessed the gathering of starlings and jackdaws and the turning of the leaves, and met and talked with people I had not seen for months and would never have encountered had I taken the car. The discipline of a week was good, just like having that day was good. Because that way you start paying attention – paying attention to the things that really matter about being alive, right now on the earth where we all live.

Left: Chris Keene of the Zero Carbon Caravan in Ludlow

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Carbon Admissions

We had our first Stranger's Circle meeting last Friday. The Transition Circles started after Tully wrote a ground-breaking paper on the need to expand and explore the work of carbon reduction. A hub group formed in July called TN2 and this has since developed into the Circles, based in different neighbourhoods. The Strangers (after Stranger's Hall in Norwich, originally a meeting house for the Hugenot weavers), are a group of us that live in the hinterland of Norwich. Our first meeting was held in Shotesham and like the other groups, Circle West and City Centre, we decided to talk about energy.

After our shared meal in the kitchen (with Angie's delicous damsons for dessert - see pic above) we talked Electricity, mostly in relation to home heating. Already we're into October and temperatures outside are falling with the leaves. Last winter Mark and I had our heating on for one hour each day and we really toughened up. "It's important to turn everything into an adventure," I declared. Everyone thought we were way too extreme (though Elena said she and Alan were thinking of cutting out heating in the mornings this winter). We decided that keeping one room warm during the evening was the most efficacious way forward. Because the Strangers live out of the city we have an easier time with wood-burning stoves and can go collecting fallen wood or trees in our own gardens and hedgerows. It's also easier to get outside and have a relationship with the earth, the wind and sky which is the best way of keeping warm. Something about shivering indoors in cold, damp houses and not moving makes you just want to reach for that switch.

We owned up to other difficulties: non-green teenage sons, a clothes habit, too many hot baths in the wintertime. Each circle has its own style. Circle West is developing into a local support group, where ours seemed to contain seeds of political and philosophical discusssion within it. Tully brought up the question of social equity in relation to our pursuit of resources. Naomi brought up the clash between a new culture of limit and the concept of endless universal energy which lies within current spiritual thinking. Can they work together? Or do we need to review the way we think about energy and how it powers our illusionary way of life? In many ways it felt like the real discussion about fossil fuel had only just begun.

If you would like to join a Transition Circle check out the TN2 page on the TN website and find out when the next meetings are and their main subject for discussion.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Green Christmas Fair- save Christmas , Save the Planet

As a way of building community, relearning old skills and affording Christmas we have decided to run a Green Christmas Fair at the local church hall. In Sewell ward ( part of NR3) the local transitioners ( reskilling and NR3)have got together with the existing Church fete which was already green - bric-a brac, homemade jam and cakes and handmade knitwear. Already there is great excitement particularly amongst the church goers and the local community. We are planning a range of workshops to show you how to make your own Christmas gifts and generally having a low carbon Christmas which is about loving each other and not buying loads of stuff.
If you feel you can contribute in any way then please contact me, we need story tellers, reskillers ( making gifts) and stuff to make things with. So if you have any of these skills or any old fabric, pine cones or hazel or willow twigs then please let me know.
kind regards

Friday, 9 October 2009

Low Carbon Party Cookbook

It was a great party. Unit 5 was wreathed in fairy lights and everyone joined in with the show -we watched the In Transition film, became "spect-actors" in an impromptu theatre piece, improvised by Tom Harper, danced to cycle-powered music provided by Tom Foxe, Fret 6 and The John Preston Tribute Band.

The Transition banner flew on the walls alongside Reskilling's innovative bunting made from old clothes.The Sheriff of Norwich, Tim O'Riordan opened the proceedings. Tully gave us an update of what we have all been up to in the last year.

But perhaps the star event was the ABUNDANCE of food brought by the Transition Cooking Bee who brought trays of delicious low-carb (on) snacks which we ate gleefully accompanied by Golden Ale (from The King's Head a stone's throw away), Jonty's local cider and organic apple juice - some pressed earlier at the Bluebell Allotments.

Here is the list.

Spinach tartlets with organic spinach from Mangreen garden
Pumpkin pies with organic pumpkin from Mangreen
Eggs from a couple of miles away
Plum flapjack with Mangreen plums
Apple cake with Elena's apples (from her nan)
Tomato chutney - some from Mangreen, Andy also brought in some tomatoes
Pizza with Charlotte's organic tomatoes, garlic and chilli
Onion bhajis with local onions (from Paddocks Farm Shop, Mulbarton)
Organic dried chick peas for Falafel
Homemade bread with flour - a mixture some from Essex, some organic
Pastry - very local flour - given by Tully
Honey - from Orchard Apiaries.
Many thanks to Elena, Naomi, Alex, Mick and everyone in the Mangreen Kitchens & Gardens.
This winter TN will be compiling recipes for our Low Carbon cookbook. If you have any up your floury sleeves, do get in touch Charlotte Du Cann

Left: low carbon wheelbarrow grill (not from the party but a from a great community allotment cookbook, Moro East, by Sam and Sam Clark, pictures by Toby Glanville - book review to follow). Right: A "non-personality" shot of the Band from Downham Market and Villages in Transition.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

More of a Party Than A Protest

Tonight we are one year old and we're having a party. We're celebrating our first anniversary and showing the just released In Transition, a short inspirational documentary film about the world-wide Transition movement that began in the UK in 2005.

Transition initiatives are about facing the reality of climate change, peak oil and the economic downturn wherever you live. But they’re also about resilience, being able to share and work together and create a vibrant culture that can thrive amid the challenges of a post-fossil fuel world.

This year Transition Norwich has been meeting up to find out how we can move forward and enjoy this low-carbon future together. It’s been a busy year since we unleashed at St Andrew’s Hall last October. We’ve been appearing all around the city: at the Sustainable Living Fair at the Forum, at St Benedict’s Street Fair, in the Lord Mayor’s Procession (with Celeste, the blue Transition dragon), at the Zero Carbon Fair in Chapelfield Gardens, on a discussion panel after the screening of The Age of Stupid at Cinema City. We’ve had a midsummer party at the Ranger’s House on Mousehold Heath and shared an autumn ceilidh at the Keir Hardie Hall. Our practical projects include starting up a community-supported agriculture scheme at Postwick and a market garden at the Hewett School, a recycling project at Mile Cross and having our own Transition City Allotment at the Bluebell Allotments.

Key behind all these activities are the TN Resilience Action Plan and Transition Circles. The Resilience Plan group (one of 14 theme groups) is developing a detailed vision that sets out how Norwich could meet its needs for food, energy, transport, textiles and other goods over the next twenty years.

Transition Circles were begun by a pioneer group of Transitioners who’ve made a commitment to cut their carbon footprint to half the national average over the next year. Transition Circles are at the hub of Transition – people who are meeting up in neighbourhoods all over the city to discuss what it takes on a personal level to really downshift and create a collaborative economy and still enjoy our lives. You can read about our discoveries in our new blog, This Low-Carbon Life, or even better come to our first birthday party. As well as the film there will be local planet-friendly food and drink and cycle-powered music.

Because climate change and peak oil don’t have to mean the end of the world, just the beginning of a new low-carbon future.

Transition Norwich 1st Anniversary Event, Sunday October 4 at 7.30pm at Unit 5, Beckham Place, Edward Street (off Magdalen Street). Donations. For info and booking contact Chris Hull or tel 01603 664928

Getting started – our first season on the TN city allotment

October is the start of the new gardening year and we’re getting ready to dig. Today, on our first birthday, Transition Norwich officially opens our very own city allotment at Mahesh Pant’s community allotment scheme (Grow Our Own) on the Bluebell Lane South site. We’re in good company – Michelle Obama’s doing it; lots of fellow Transitioners around the country are doing it; even Her Maj is doing it.

The idea for a TN allotment came to us at Take Five, where the comms group has had quite a few good ideas (must be the ambience!). “Wouldn’t it be great,” we said, “to have our own TN allotment, where we could learn and share, grow lots of exciting things that aren’t easy to get in the shops, cook lots of great dishes with seasonal and regional food – and have a lot of fun doing it?”

The timing was perfect. It was late summer, just in time to join the queue for autumn’s new allotment spaces. I’ve already got a little patch at Mahesh’s Grow Our Own, where several of us Transitioners have been growing veggies for a while. Traditional allotments are huge and the drop-out rate is high (not to mention the waiting lists). At Mahesh’s scheme, he’s divided plots up into a manageable size for beginners, strips just 1.2 metres by 6 metres. Everything is organic. He provides free seeds, plants, compost and muck; there are communal tool-sheds so we don’t have to bring our own.

There’s a lovely other-world atmosphere here. In contrast to the immaculately manicured Dig for Victory allotment in St James’s Park (bulging with productivity) or the serene enclosed space of old walled gardens like Felbrigg in North Norfolk, this is a place full of improvisation and endless variety. At busy times (Wednesday and Sunday mornings) there are lots of people about, ready to chat and swap tips; at other times it’s tranquil and perfect for quiet reflection while keeping on top of the weeds. This is no regimented market garden – there’s room for all sorts of different ways of growing things.

Our site is a block of land 14 metres by 6 metres, with a little pond in the middle. That gives us room for four strips of conventional planting – a strip for potatoes and roots, one for the cabbage family, one for peas and beans and one for everything else that’s grown annually. In the central strip around the pond, we can have fruit, flowers and herbs in pretty little potager beds. And there’s plenty of room for some permaculture – Brenna’s buzzing with ideas for that.

So what’s the next thing for our plot? We need to start digging, because we have only the month of October before it gets too cold to sow things. And we need to start planning in detail, because in no time at all it will be spring again. There are some things that we can still sow and plant now. If we’re speedy with the digging, we can put in onion seeds, garlic cloves (watching out for the foxes – apparently they adore them and dig them up), Russian kale and winter lettuce plants, radicchio and other hardy Italian salads, broad beans….

Friday, 2 October 2009

Waste not, want not

A friend of mine had a bike that his children had grown out of. He didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good bike, and offered to pop it over to us as my girls didn’t have one. We were out for the day (at Bewilderwood – a fabulous place to take the kids!) so he promised to leave the bike tucked safely out of sight in our garden. But he’d never been to our house before, and wanted to make sure he didn’t leave it in some unsuspecting stranger’s garden, so he checked Google Streetview first. He told me his kids were very impressed when they arrived with the bike, and he knew exactly which house was ours – apparently by magic!

I love maps, so I find all these online mapping tools really fascinating, especially the ones with aerial photography overlays. I was browsing around, as you do, when I was struck by a vivid splotch of dark, dark green in the middle of the aerial photo of my parents’ back garden, out in the wilds of Suffolk.

The house isn’t connected to the main sewerage system, so the run off from the house drains into a septic tank. The dark green spotch turned out to be the area right above the septic tank. It’s the part of the garden where the fruit trees bear the most fruit, and where the grass - and the nettles - grow most vigorously. It must be far and away the most fertile spot in the garden. An ideal spot to plant a vegetable garden!

It reminded me of something from The Transition Handbook that stayed with me long after I finished reading it. As a way of bringing Transition’s vision of the future to life, the book contains a number of made-up “news articles from the future”. One of them was about a fictitious future company that collects the, shall we say, liquid waste from public conveniences around Totnes, and transforms it into liquid fertiliser for people’s gardens and community gardens.

And I thought, what a fabulous idea! Turning something that would otherwise be washed away - and wasted - into a useful product that in itself reduces our reliance on oil-based chemical fertilisers. It’s just this kind of creative thinking that I love about the whole Transition Towns concept – looking in new and different way at the things we take for granted. And rather than waiting for someone else to make decisions on our behalf, taking the future – our future – into our own hands.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Local Food - How to make it happen in your community


Local Food - how to make it happen in your community

Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins
(Green Books), £12.95. pp.216

“If you want to find a way into Transition, choose food,” Rob Hopkins once said. Hopkins, a teacher of permaculture and co-founder of the Transition movement, sees the re-establishing of local food networks as core to the Transitional shift from our fossil-fuel dependence to a low-carbon way of life. How we engage physically in this process is by learning how to share our lives and work together in a practical and imaginative way.

Community food projects are one of the key entry points into this new co-operation with people, plants and places, and Local Food is an invaluable handbook in how to set them up, the philosophy behind them, and the different areas they cover, including CSAs, community orchards, garden shares, food coops, school gardens and directories. Inside its pages are detailed reports and tips from world-wide initiatives, as well as “mission statements” from community food activists, from Growing Communities in Hackney to the fruit gleaning project, Abundance, in Sheffield. The majority of the examples are from Transition initiatives but there is also a strong band of UK local food projects that work in a similar collaborative spirit. There is an excellent resources section at the back and profiles of some ground-breaking work by individuals (Sandor Ellix Katz’s work on wild fermentation for example is an eye-opener).

If there is one criticism of this clear and well-researched guide it is that the vibrancy and voices of the ordinary people taking part in these endeavours doesn’t fully come across. And it is the enthusiasm and reciprocity that is commonly experienced from regenerating the earth together and creating a future within the neighbourhood that makes this modern “call to spades” so attractive. Dig it!

Charlotte Du Cann