Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - The Picnic

I think I could happily say that all my favourite meals have been picnics. Maybe it's because I was born at midsummer that the outside has always felt the most natural place to eat. I love that lack of formality, lunching and breakfasting in unexpected and temporary places, immersed in heather, surrounded by dragonflies, on the top of a cliff. When I was a child in the city it was a big treat to go into the countryside and sit in a field or in the woods with the picnic basket (with its lily of the valley china) and eat summer specials like cold chicken and sausages, strawberries and slices of melon, and a bottle of wine cooling in the stream or rockpool.

Even now, when I no longer go on holiday, or it rains too many days in a row, I like to go down to the seashore and sit among the dunes. I don't have a basket or eat classic al fresco fare anymore, but I do have the other essentials, a rug and a thermos and a picnic attitude. Which is: enjoy everything while you can! Picnics can be solitary - sitting eating a sandwich or an apple under a tree, along a trackway, up a mountain. On the train, en route somewhere. But there is nothing like having a picnic with a gang of your fellows.

One of the best ways to show that downshifting is not always a bad or difficult thing is to say: you can share more picnics! More time to enjoy the outside, less fuss indoors. Imagine no more awkward restaurant moments, no snobbery, no rules, no white tablecloths. Just simple fare, fresh bread and home-made dishes, under an open sky, or round a camp fire! And it's also a great way to explain resilience as you try to avoid the rain and celebrate meeting up come what may.

In Transition where bringing-to-share in recycled plastic boxes and tin plates is a default, practically all our summer meals can be eaten outdoors. Our first Transition Norwich Midsummer Party was held at the Ranger's House (in the pouring rain), accompanied by reskilling sessions, give-and-take and a peak oil info tent. Our Sustainable Bungay annual summer picnics are held with a rowdy and very unstructured rounders game under the lime trees on the Old Grammar School field (though this year's will take place in Cathy's orchard meadow with a more restrained game of boules). Elderflower champagne and allotment pickles are the star turns.

Our Dark Mountain Norwich crew held a garden lunch - polenta bake, lots of new potatoes and broad beans -and then went down to the sea in Kevin's wonderful campervan (soon to be turned into a mini film and storytelling theatre), where we had tea and wine and cake at the end of the day. Here the Low Carbon Cookbook crew are tucking into a tea under the London plane after a busy Bungay Beehive Day, including Great British Bean hummus made by Sophie, freegan bread (from Norwich Foodcycle), plus Erik's wonderful cous cous and garden leaf salad. Raspberry wine, plum jam and left over cake kindly supplied by Nick from Sustainable Bungay.

Meanwhile here is a staple of all our picnics: the tortilla, also known as frittata, which is the Italian version. Mark's is made with tomatoes, now finally in season (hurrah!) and home-grown herbs. We used to get our eggs from Sarah's stall down the road, but alas, the man who used to keep chickens on the Southwold allotments had to go to hospital (he is 86) and let them go. So these are made with eggs from Maple Farm. They are organic and very free range, but it's still a commercial operation, which means the hens are "replaced" every year. Transition food dilemma No. 146 . . .

Mark's Marvellous Tortilla

Serves 4


This tortilla or 'omlit' is quick to make from scratch and can be eaten at any time of the day as a snack or main meal, taken on picnics or prepared on the spot for surprise guests. Over the years I've simplified the recipe, but you can also add sliced or chopped red or green peppers (gently sweat at the same time as the onions), or use bottled tomatoes to add taste (a tablespoon will do). I used to add fresh tomatoes to the mixture but now prefer the drier texture without.

2 medium sized potatoes
1 onion
6-8 eggs
1 or 2 tomatoes (optional)
olive oil
fresh or dried thyme, oregano, rosemary or basil (or combination)
sea salt
pepper

Method:

Slice potatoes into rounds 1/2cm thick. Boil until just cooked. Drain.

Slice onions into rounds. Gently fry until transparent.

Add potatoes to pan. (At this point you can add the tablespoon of bottled tomatoes)

Beat eggs very lightly with a fork, adding herbs, salt and pepper and keeping the white and yolk slightly separate.

Fold egg mixture evenly into the potatoes and onions. Fry gently for a few minutes.

Place frying pan under medium grill (you can put sliced tomato rounds on top of the tortilla before it sets) to lightly brown.

The tortilla is cooked when it comes easily away from the pan and there is no liquid. You can test it with a knife. I sometimes need to place it back on the stove for a minute or two after the grill.

Turn out on wire rack. Eat hot or cold with fresh salad and bread. It often tastes even more delicious cold the next day (MW)

Kevin's campervan by Southwold marshes; Sustainable Bungay's Summer Picnic, old grammar school playing field, 2011; Diana and Mark, Dark Mountain Norwich picnic 2012; Low Carbon Cookbook picnic, July 2012, Bungay; Charlotte's birthday tortilla June 2011

Monday, 30 July 2012

Dog Days

Maybe it is because I was born on midsummer’s eve, at the zenith of the year, at the time of the greatest light, that I can now write of what it means to take the irrevocable step, the 52 steps along the downward path that lead us back toward the ancestral land, back down toward the sea. Maybe because the golden English oak stands so firmly behind me that I can embrace the dark holm, his brother, and let everything fall, as I step through the solstice door, as the mood of the great year shifts, as the key slips irrevocably from major to minor, from sweetness into bitterness, from pleasure into duty (Wormwood, 52 Flowers)
This week a book with a dark blue cover emerges into the light, officially published at last! It is, dear Reader, my own book, written during the course of 17 years travelling and exploring the world of medicine plants - the green beings that have shaped our destiny since we first emerged onto the planet.

It also appears, by happenstance, at the time of year the book ends - the beginning of August, the day some call Lughnasa, when people traditionally gathered together and celebrated the harvest. This past two weeks as the sun has finally shone I have taken to going down to the shoreline where the book ends. We have taken a thermos and a rug and gone swimming early in the morning in the calm sparkling sea. And though the sea is beautiful and the sound of it sighing against the shore, and it is lovely to feel all that expanse of sky and summertime, the taste in my mouth is of the bitter plant that now flowers at the sea's edge, wormwood. The plant that heralds the end of a certain world.

Another favourite shoreline plant, the sea holly, is bereft of its usual visitors: the small copper and the small blue. In the garden the huge buddleia now in full flower has yet to see a single painted lady or peacock or tortoiseshell. The apple and greengage trees in the orchard are without fruit. Down the lane I have seen no sloes either, or damsons. It's been a tough and topsy-turvy year for growers - battling with drought, heavy rain, cold, too few pollinators, and way way too many slugs. Abroad a rainless and unprecedented heat, from the grainbelt of America to the ricefields of India, is challenging crops everywhere.

The plants and pollinating insects we depend on for our lives are reflecting back the planetary crisis we now recognise as climate change. 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth, was written before I had heard about climate change or peak oil. And yet at its core is the key directive of Transition - downshift, relocalise and connect with the living systems. It follows the years as I leave the city and travel abroad with Mark, as I encounter a different way of being on the planet, as we begin what we call the Plant Practice in Oxford, as we work with medicine people in the desert of Arizona, as we return home to a different England.

Another thing history does not tell us: you do not return when you expect to, in the spring with the hawthorn flowers, or at midsummer, with the rose, but when the barley is being cut, the time of the fall, in the heat of the dog days, as the broad haze of sun burnishes the land. You arrive at the seashore, with wild carrot and valerian, when the harebell and the rowan berries shine in the heathlands.

When I went down to the shore to greet the sunrise that August day, the day of the losing throw, I repeated to myself a phrase that struck me as I had awoken at dawn:

"This time it will not be me that loses." (Sea Kale, 52 Flowers)

The book is centered around 52 Flowers, each with their own narrative
and their own medicine. Each show how physically, energetically, imaginatively, we can break out of a thousand years of conditioning by our "Empire" civilisation. The book is set in the mood of the dog days, as we realise we are no longer a people in the time of ascent, but of a descent that is unwritten and unknown. Descent is hard for our all-conquering, illusion-loving culture. We are still acting as though we still have the world to achieve and a planet to exploit, but the times are not telling us this. The droughts and the butterflies are not telling us this. Techno-fixes and building empires in space are not where we are going. Reconnecting with the planet and coming home to ourselves is where we are. Reality is where we are. There is an ordeal ahead, as Charles Eisenstein has gently pointed out, and a lot of loving to do.

Descent begins at Lughnasa with the harvest. Descent begins when we wake up to the times we are in and don't look for someone to blame. What are the narratives of descent? What knowledge have we gleaned in all these years? What do we hold dear at the end of the day?

There is an elegiac beauty in loss (or what we imagine is loss), to coming home, to realising your limits, to deepening your experience, to loving the neighbourhood, the people in the room, a humble dish of new potatoes, the small strip of seashore I go to each day, where once I could roam the world like Alexander. In fact when you look back and see the track you have made, the dance you have made with your fellows, that's when you understand everything, the beauty of it all - even the hard times. We're trying as a people to get back on track against all odds. We're not doing it because the government is telling us to, or any religion, or ideology, we're doing it because our hearts are telling us to, of our own free will. That's why these times taste bitter: bitterness is a quality of all heart medicine. We learn though experience and in this the earth, not our education system, is our great teacher. All her plants are books of knowledge, if we can learn to read them.

When I was young I ran away to Italy to try and write a novel. I read Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, and I could never understand how someone who had loved Africa so much could bear to go back to the dark and cold of Scandinavia. Now I do. It's going back and treasuring what you have experienced that really matters. That's what writers do and inspire everyone else to. You treasure everything in your store cupboard. It's a certain stage, a time of making sense, a time of giving back. That's what writing my own book of return did later in my life, when I had given up ambition and success. It made sense of my own downshift and the collective downshift that Transition prepares us for, as small groups, in communities and towns everywhere.

I could never write that romantic novel in the beautiful Riviera garden. It wasn't the book I had to write. Many of us are not configured to be romantic heroines, conquerors and achievers, we're here to do another job entirely. It has a different narrative, one that is only just beginning. One we are creating together. I don't know the ending, none of us do. One thing I do know: love always turns the ship around. If you can still love the world, in spite of everything. The people, the places and the plants.

There will be a Plants for Life talk and reading from 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press) this Sunday, 5 August at Bungay Library, 3pm. All welcome. Further details here. If you would like to buy copy of 52 Flowers (£10) do get in touch with me at theseakaleproject@hotmail. co.uk, or you can order directly from Two Ravens website.

Poster for Plants for Life; buddleia in the garden; sunflower from 52 Flowers That Shook My World; scythng workshop at Uncivilisation Festival; beside the sea holly, 2011; Lughnasa sunrise, 2011

Sunday, 29 July 2012

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Zero Carbon Holiday

As the holiday season begins, we're republishing a post written about not going away. Two years later the tent (rather more battered!) is up in the garden again and I'm sleeping outside, shelling peas and talking with visitors in its shade. Living by the sea brings the wind and damp, but also social advantages. People love to swing by, and you can go swimming any time you please!

“It’s an attitude,” I explained to Philip in the lane, talking about tents and The Holiday.
“Ah,” said Philip,” Bonnes vacances.

We're not-going on a zero-carbon holiday. We’ve put the tent up in the garden and are taking turns to sleep under the greengage tree, moored in the long grass sprinkled with wild carrot. It’s a good space inside. A mattress, a stool, a wooden box for a table, a candle, a coloured mat, a glass of water. In spaces like these you don’t need much. There is something magical about their containment. Yurt, shed, studio, tree house, den, cabanas with rooves of leaves and a communal kitchen down the hill. Thousands of tent-dwellers are having this experience right now in fields and festivals everywhere in England, as they listen to the wind move around their small shelters like the rigging of a ship, as they step out each morning, bare feet on dewy grass. Fresh air. Sunrise. Mist. Today it feels like everything will be all right.

Half of our diseases are in our heads, and half in our houses.

That’s what Andy told me. He was reading a quote from the writer and wildlife artist, Ernest Thompson Seton who inspired the Woodcraft Folk in 1912. Seton advocated living as much as possible outdoors in tune with the elements. When Andy came down last Friday with Ollie and Antony, we walked along the windy cliff edge and jumped in the rough sea, and then we came home and talked in the tent. The boys played cards and whittled sticks. I made tea. It started to rain, and though there were five of us and it’s only a three person tent, it felt just fine.

That’s what I mean about attitude. Everything gets pared down. You do what is necessary. And that simplicity brings out the best in everyone. You feel connected to the planet and to your fellows. Most of our lives we do what is unnecessary. We work to maintain an empire that creates massively complex earth-damaging, people-damaging systems - systems of technology, systems of commerce, of psychology, of addiction, power struggles. But, like our bodies, what we really need, is neither fancy dishes with extravagant ingredients, nor junk food with a hundred additives, what we hunger for is simple fare. What we long for are picnics and campfires, blackberries and wild greens, sitting under trees, swimming in the river, walking on the earth, sleeping outside with the stars above our heads.

And maybe for the odd weekend, maybe for two weeks of the year, if we are lucky, we get to live this life we were constructed to lead. We call it holiday. But maybe it should be recognised as sanity.

If we could get a taste of that simplicity, that outdoor existence, and value it above everything, our lives would be much happier, We would be less stressed and less conflicted. But we would have to look hard at this indoor life first: these houses and our heads full of complicated nonsense – and find ways to deconstruct them. The houses are demanding and expensive. They suck up energy and time, need constant cleaning and decorating. They are full of machines that need servicing and replacing. Sometimes in our Carbon Conversations a feeling of hopelessness would come into the room. It felt out of our hands. It did our heads in. As if the lifestyle were running our lives, rather than ourselves.

Big house, big head, small world.

Last August Andy and the boys came and put their tent up in the garden and their visit sparked off an idea. Maybe there was a way we could chart this carbon cutting journey we were embarking on together (then called Transition Norwich 2.0) that would treasure all our small independent moves. This Low-Carbon Life was born. My first regular blog post (The Reality Business) in November was written from this tent. Since then, like some of my fellow bloggers, I have completed a year of reducing my carbon emissions by half. Done a cycle of Carbon Conversations. We’ve looked at electricity bills and car logs, swapped stories and useful tips. Now some of us are moving outside: we’ve started to dig gardens, chop firewood, swap vegetables and clothes, organise wholefood co-ops – working to create a culture that is stronger than the allure of the energy-sucking pleasuredome.

Where do we go from here? One thing I’ve realised: this attitude is a good place to start, where life does not feel out of our hands, or hopeless or ignoble, the place the poet calls:

A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything

We have to start where we feel things are all right. Where we are valued for what we do.

Small tent, large universe.

Andy, Ollie and Mark (and Anthony) playing Go Fish in the Tent (rescued last year from Latitude Recycling point); Sustainable Bungay Summer Picnic; Mark taken by Andy at Covehithe.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

still dumb as stones about whole universes inside

I wrote this post for the Transition Social Reporting project's book review week on the 12th July 2012. You can see the original here. (MW)

I don’t do holidays or holiday reading, although I might feel the need to this year, as our living room is gradually turning into a book and media distribution centre.

Over the next month or so all three Dark Mountain Project books (numbering over a thousand) will be delivered here where they will sit (be stacked) in boxes alongside Charlotte’s recently published 52 Flowers That Shook My World (Two Ravens Press, official launch date 1st August) and the Transition Free Press preview edition.

Hopefully all these publications will enjoy a happy, but temporary, stay here. Not just because I’m fond of our minimal living room, but I’d like to see them all distributed to more permanent homes and know that they are all being read for the great books they are. Meanwhile I’m happy for them to act as makeshift insulation in our low (and sometimes no)-heating house, even though for that they might have been more effective in the winter.

So for this summer’s transition reading I’m recommending two books and a poem. And I’d like to start with the poem. First a little context:

I’m sitting on a cushion on the ground in the Old City Park of Bisbee, Arizona. The year is either 2000 or 2001, I don’t remember exactly which but early in the millennium. It’s a hot desert evening in early summer and I’m here for a poetry reading. Bisbee was known for its poetry festivals during the 1980s and many writers and artists still lived in and visited this old mining town near the Mexican border. Tonight’s event was a mix of local and visiting poets and a large crowd of fellow cushion-sitters, turning the bare park with its concrete floor and stage into a resonant, magical place.

At the time I don’t think I appreciated just how invaluable such public spaces are. It’s the past few years in Transition with all our community centre cafes and Give and Take Days, playing field picnics, and library meetings and events which has brought it home to me. Especially at a time when many of these spaces are under threat of closure or privatisation. Sustainable Bungay was key last year in helping to raise awareness and keep the library going until at least 2013 and we helped host a World Book Night with local poets, singers and authors.

What I remember of that evening in Bisbee is Betsy Breault’s poem about time as a female being, and how this being experienced, waited, dressed and even farted! I remember how Betsy intoned ‘Ohhh, Ladyeee Ti-iime at the beginning of each verse, drawing you in to another fascinating aspect of her world. I remember a woman from San Francisco reading a poem about turning her innate laziness into an act of civil disobedience.

The poem that struck me most was one by a local poet and environmental toxics activist called Michael Gregory who had co-founded the original Bisbee Poetry Festival in 1979 . With a rhythm and tone with echoes perhaps of Allen Ginsberg, it was about how on earth we could even have survived up till now (now being the millennium then) with all the ravages of history, empire and

the mess and clutter of life as lived
edited only by turns of the head or shutting
of lids

The poem was long, and it really moved me but I didn’t remember its name, only that in the final verse it asked where Sylvia is and what comes next.

Through the years I would think about this poem on and off, and occasionally type in Michael Gregory and Sylvia (where was she?) and What’s Next into a search engine, but without any luck.

And then last week I found it and read it again. And again. It's called This Far and it still resonated all these years later, if not more so, with its

Nervous as never before about the failure
of vital organs: kidneys, heart, brain…

the inner workings at ward and precinct levels…

the gales of free market democracy…

but fairly fit otherwise, considering,
though more than a little tired at this stage
of all the lines, excuses and bullshit

- tired of having the public good sold out
to private greed…

tired of consent and consensus manufactured...

[of] headlines that say the majority think
the opposite of what the majority think...

tired of being enthralled to the ruling eye...


I wrote to Michael, who gave me permission to quote freely from This Far (the title of this post is taken from the final stanza). He told me that it will be appearing this year in his collection, Mr America Drives His Car, a very apt title to include in a transition blog post, even though Mr America is not alone in driving his car! So rather than just posting a link to the Occupy Poetry site where I rediscovered Michael's poem in its entirety, I can actually recommend it in a physical book. And here is Michael's bio.

The books are, as you've probably guessed, Dark Mountain Issue 2 (Issue 3 is due out next month -now why do I know that?) and 52 Flowers That Shook My World. And in case you think by now this is only a shameless plug for works close to my heart (and home), please know that I keep both books nearby at all times and read from them often.

In the case of 52 Flowers, after an intense few months helping to proofread and subedit the manuscript during last winter, I am now discovering the book in and of itself - an extraordinary firsthand account of a ten year exploration of the living territories of the earth and the plants, places and people connected with them.

Beginning in 1990 with a dream of an unknown Mexican plant called epazote, 52 Flowers takes us through England, Mexico and Arizona as the author moves away from a high-energy, high-octane western lifestyle towards a more earth-based life; an energy descent experienced firsthand. With all the joys and difficulties of the journey and always with the plants and trees informing, accompanying, shocking and shaking, this Radical Return to Earth is about going out, letting go, connecting with the earth, leaving one world behind and returning home to quite another.

Dark Mountain Issue 2 is a collection of essays, poetry stories and illustrations on the theme of the 'end of the world as we know it'. But rather than being apocalyptic or scaremongering and at the same time resisting didacticism or any kind of fix-it approach, the book expresses a diverse cultural response to the multiple collapse scenarios which are currently being played out in our civilisation: environmental, economic and social. A head-on look at the cultural myths and narratives we tell ourselves.

The writers and artists contributing to this book include small farmers in the US, environmental journalists and academics in recovery, and Dartmoor painters. One of my favourite pieces is writing professor John Rember's Consensus and Other Realities, not least because I relate to being up in the dark early hours of winter grappling with various scenarios not always pleasant.

In this post which is serious and funny at once, Rember revisits 'dead British psychiatrist' RD Laing, who said we create false selves 'to satisfy the demands of family and culture' and how these false selves alienate us not just from our real self but from nature as well. Rember then looks at the 'false self' of technological civilisation and the 'false story that backs it up' - the meta-narrative. Considering meta-narratives is a theme that runs throughout the book, whether the writers are talking about language itself or considering the true story of the 'Luddites'.

For a book that looks at uncertainty and loss on such a large scale and so directly, Dark Mountain Issue 2 does not leave me depressed. Rather the result is liberating, as if energy that's been bound up in maintaining illusions and pretence can be released and put to other uses.

Dark Mountain is different from Transition in many ways, but there's one effect on me that both movements have in common: I don't feel on my own in facing up to systemic collapse.

For me what unites these three works is precisely this ability to look square-on at what we're up against. And that's what keeps me fired up to continue my activities in Transition.

Images: Dark Mountain Issue 2, cover by Rima Staines; Save Bungay Library read-in February 2011; 52 Flowers That Shook My World cover

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

What's the difference between spending and investment?

I've been looking for a new pair of shoes recently, to replace the over-loved and irreparable ones that have holes in the soles and torn inners.  But I'll come back to that in a moment, and take a detour into economics.

My shoes, with holes both top and bottom.
Each time our economy starts to take a downward turn, the government pipes up with "we must get the banks lending again" and as a result, the economists say "we must get Britain spending again", obviously to make sure there is a market for all these loans.

This, I'm not afraid to say, is absurd.  We are living beyond our own and the planet's means, but the maintained view is that we need to spend more, getting us further into debt and putting more pressure on our natural resources.

"So what's, your answer, smarty-pant, let our banks crash, unemployment run rife and reduce our quality of life to pre-industrial standards?"

No! My answer is to invest!

Investing is very similar to spending - almost identical, in fact - apart from the one distinction: that investment gives a stable or increasing return over time, where spending is instantaneously exhausted as the product or service is "consumed", leaving behind waste (which in itself takes more time and money to dispose of).

The distinction is still not clear, however, because we must answer the question as to whether the return on an investment has to be monetary, because if not, then surely lots of things we spend out money on are investments.  I would say that it doesn't:  A child's teddy, to take an example, may provide a return many times its price-tag in the pleasure and comfort it brings to that person throughout their life, making it a great investment, whilst a cheap plastic toy may provide merely minutes of entertainment before being discarded, firmly placing it in the category of consumer spending, and a drain on natural resources that could have gone into something which provided a significantly larger well-being benefit over a longer period of time.

Many people aren't very good at looking at their purchases as investments, and with good reason - it goes against human nature! Practically from birth our instinct is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Then at some point we learn the story about teaching the hungry man how to fish, rather than giving him a fish, and all becomes clear about the benefits of investment, rather than instant gratification. You would hope that from this point onwards, we would haven't learned and assessed both the short-term and long-term gains of our pursuits, but then advertising keeps on tempting us to satisfy our immediate desires, and we fall prey once again to unsustainable consumption.

So, whilst I've been looking for a new pair of shoes over the last few days, I've been asking myself whether they are a pair that I can wear day-in-day-out and still last me several years. I've also been looking at where they're made (Britain preferred), and what materials and processes contributed to their manufacture (to judge whether they are investment for the planet as well as myself, or merely a drain on natural resources). Alas so far I have been unsuccessful in finding a pair that fits the bill, and I'm sure that I'm going to have to compromise on something, even when I do find a pair!

But my point is this: if each of our purchases were seen as an investment, giving return of money, health or satisfaction in the greatest amount over the longest possible time, then what things would we stop buying, and what would we spend our money on instead?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Freegling

I’ve spent a lot of the last week supporting the new website for Norfolk Freegle. Norfolk was at the forefront of the Freecycle movement in 2004 and in 2009 we changed to Freegle when the people coordinating Freecycle in the UK found it too restrictive being part of a US based organization. I’ve been involved in voluntary groups for many years and have long known that it is harder to keep voluntary groups running smoothly than it is to keep a business going. Having to sell a service to clients, in order to pay the wages focuses people’s minds and provides a discipline that is often lacking in the voluntary sector.

Which is why I feel that developing what we believe to be the UK’s most sophisticated website for enabling things to be reused instead of being thrown into landfill (or incinerated) is a big achievement for a group of volunteers. It has only been possible because from the outset we have got together several times a year to share a meal and talk about things. We are providing a customer service to many thousands of users and face the same problems that a major business would – so passions have often run high and finding a compromise has not always been easy.

You might wonder why it is so difficult to put people who want to give something away in touch with people who have a need for it. The vast majority of Freegle users do behave responsibly and play by the rules but unfortunately there is a significant number who try to exploit the system by trying to extract money, spam other members and other fiddles. Some members fail to keep appointments and annoy people who have agreed to stay at home to hand over an item; it seems that because the items are free that some people think that there is no need to behave courteously. The new website protects people by not exposing their email address and identity to other users and gives a bad rating to those who upset other users..

So running a reuse service turns into an exercise in group working and community motivation and exposes many of the issues that Transition Groups will have to deal with in building societies where people work together in a spirit of cooperation. Dealing with the people who exploit Freegle can be frustrating but the rewards are much greater. A thank you from someone with no cash, who has just got the nearly new kitchen that I rescued from being skipped by a neighbour, goes a long way.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Postcard from a Medicine Bed - Mr Burdock Is Happy to See You Now

On our sister blog at the Transition Network, the Social Reporters are officially on a summer break. As the holiday season arrives, we're kicking back and slipping into a post-when-you like rhythm for the next six weeks. We're sending postcards though - from our events, our gardens, our gatherings in Transition; places we are visiting now, places we have visited in the past, abroad and at home. We'll be posting from the city and the country, from the backyard and the beach, on the road, on two wheels, as we walk, swim, picnic, celebrate and sing. Here is Mark Watson, staying at home, in the company of plants, and one large plant in particular . . .

Dear all,


Every Friday afternoon throughout the summer I've been visiting the Medicine Plant Bed at Bungay library community garden (north-east Suffolk) to see how the plants are doing and holding a 'surgery' where anyone can come along and ask questions or share knowledge about plants as medicine.

I'm curating the bed this year as part of Sustainable Bungay's Plants for Life project, which also includes monthly talks, walks and workshops around the theme of plants as medicine.


I've been meeting up with Richard, who also keeps an eye on the plants and is a fellow lover of wildflowers, and each week we have a conversation that goes something like this:

Me
: Gosh, the burdock's looking amazing Richard. You know it's an awesome blood purifier and helps restore health to the body's systems when they're out of whack. It's called an alterative in herbal medicine. It kind of goes where the body needs it to go. Nick grows Japanese burdock (gobu) and makes a wicked dandelion and burdock beer from it. I reckon you could make the beer out of our native one, too.

Richard
: You know, it will be full of bees when all those flowerbuds open. Oh, look at that honeybee on the herb Robert there. We should probably remove that lower burdock leaf though, it's blocking out the light from the thyme.

Me:
So it is. Could we reposition the leaf just a bit? It's a shame to lose it. That doesn't really work, does it?

Richard:
Not really.

So we talk a bit more and at some point remove the one lower leaf and bring the thyme into the light. That is basically our 'weeding' session. You could call it gardening light.

One of the things that has really struck me with the Plants for Life is becoming aware of just how many different things one type of plant can do. Feed bees. Feed humans. Provide medicine. And probably a lot more that we don't know about.

And all without moving from its home!

Well, if burdock is happy to stay at home for the summer then I am too. And if you're passing through Bungay between 1 and 3 on a Friday afternoon between now and the end of August do come and say hello. You are also welcome to visit at any other time when the library is open.

Mr Burdock will be happy to see you.

with all best wishes for the summer, Mark

Sustainable Bungay, Suffolk, 19 July 2012

Me (l) and Richard Vinton (r) (The One Leaf Revolution) and Mr Burdock with the liberated thyme, July 2012

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen

Last night I was working with the kitchen crew at Sustainable Bungay's Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen. This monthly gathering has been running for over a year now and is always fully booked: 50+ people sitting down together at the Community Centre to enjoy a seasonal, local, low carbon (as poss) meal and everything cooked from scratch. You can read a write-up about the meals by one of the regular cooks, Lesley Hartley (right) for our last newsletter here.

Christine Smith, another regular cook and part of the Happy Mondays planning group, loves Greece and this month’s menu was inspired by her visits. She wrote the introduction to the menu (below) and talked between courses about solidarity with Greece in times of austerity, and living close to the land and to the seasons:

Our main dish is Σπανακοτυροπιττα (spanokotiropitta) a spinach and cheese pie popular across Greece where it makes great use of simple, readily available ingredients. We’ll be using feta cheese with local spinach and chard. Our pie will be served with Γιγαντεσ (gigantes), butter beans in a tomato and selino (Greek celery) sauce with oregano and a little cinnamon.

Our 3 side dishes are Μαρουλι σαλατα (marouli salata), a delicious lightly dressed shredded lettuce and spring onion salad; Παντζαρια σαλατα (pantzaria salata), a sliced cooked beetroot salad dressed with oil and wine vinegar and Τζατχικι (tzatziki), a cucumber and yoghurt dip.

Greek desserts are very simple - often meals are finished with apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon, slices of melon or a pastry. Equally common is home made yoghurt served with honey and walnuts. We’ve decided to make Ρυζιγαλο (rizogalo). Less often seen here than Greek pastries or yoghurt it’s a rice pudding served cold with cinnamon and honey, we’ll be making ours with
milk from Bungay.

These dishes, although found in some form all over Greece, are particular specialities from the Mani, the most southerly point of the Greek Mainland. Traditionally a very poor area, the cooking here makes good use of the simplest of ingredients, with many people still making their own cheese from sheep and goats milk and producing a wide variety of vegetables as well as harvesting their own olives for oil, eating and for soap.

This is an area of beautiful coastlines and rugged mountains, with dramatic foothill landscape in between. The few cattle are generally following a transhumance way of life, being taken to high pastures in the summer, and coming back down for the winter. Other crops still produced on a small scale include walnuts, figs, honey, beans for drying. Horta, the wild bitter greens eaten in large quantities by the locals is also collected from unsprayed olive groves. Fish is an important part of the diet, with meat playing a much smaller role for most, the exception being in tourist locations.

The twice-weekly main market in Kalamata is bursting with fresh produce, a riot of colour and tastes, 80% being fruits and vegetables, but with a very good range of very fresh fish, 60 plus varieties are often available at any one time.

You always see people walking away with huge bags packed with kilos of cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, lemons... The bakeries are excellent too, several making on a daily basis sourdough bread which is baked in wood fired ovens. With careful shopping it is possible to eat delicious meals for very little money, because the quality is so high - especially the local olive oil, a rich, peppery and
very green delight!

Enjoy your meal! Christine Smith

Each Tuesday the Low Carbon Cookbook crew selects a different topic from our work-in-progress. Next week: Off-grid pizza worskhop at Tin Village, Sunrise Festival, 2012

Images: Lewis, Lesley and Nick about to serve up at Happy Monday, Bungay Community Centre; shredding lettuce with Chrisitne; local unpasteurised milk from Flixton dairy sheds;cover of Patrick Leigh Fermor's classic travel book of the region ; sitting down to a Happy Monday meal (October).

Monday, 16 July 2012

Going beyond oil

Transition is defined in part as a community response to peak oil and climate change. Often those two forces go hand in hand. Now as the era of "Goldilocks" fossil fuels comes to an end, and extreme unconventional energy comes into play, I'd like to cross-post this latest message from Greenpeace - as part of an occasional series on associated movements. Greenpeace are taking action today in the UK against Shell, who plan to start drilling for oil this month in the pristine and fragile ecosystems of the Arctic:

Right now, Shell petrol stations are being shut down across London and Edinburgh.

Teams of Greenpeace volunteers are fanning out across the two cities, going station to station shutting down the pumps. In total, over 100 forecourts will be out of action. We're broadcasting live throughout the day on a special online TV channel – watch live now.

Why are we doing this? Because you wrote to Shell, asking it to halt risky plans to drill in the Arctic. Thank you so much for doing that, but the bad news is that Shell didn't listen.

Instead, the oil giant is lining up a fleet of huge oil drilling vessels and later this month will start drilling for oil in the frozen north off the coast of Alaska.

There isn't much time to stop Shell's plans, so Shell needs to hear from you again.

Shell has its own loyalty card for regular customers. So we're offering you the chance to get a Disloyalty Card and send it Shell to register your outrage. . You can print it off, fill it in and post it free of charge, using Shell's own freepost address.

You already know how the Arctic is a dangerous place to go drilling, and how an oil spill would wreak havoc on the fragile, vulnerable environment. Shell's own plans show how difficult it will be to mop up if a spill happens in the Arctic.

By chasing after hard-to-reach oil in remote and dangerous places, Shell is putting polar bears, walruses and other Arctic wildlife at risk.

That's why you wrote to Shell, and why we're shutting down the pumps at so many Shell petrol stations.

But you can help protect them. You can stop Shell. Send in your Disloyalty Card now and tell Shell you won't let it destroy the Arctic.

Let's go!

Jamie Woolley
Greenpeace UK

PS Tune in to our live online TV channel to get the latest updates from the closed Shell forecourts, throughout the day.

Imagea; Go beyond oil (Greenpeace); June hottest record in Arctic (Creative Commons)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

FROM THE ARCHIVE: The Spirit of the Beehive

This is a report from the first Bungay Beehive Day last year. Today the Transition group, Bungay Community Bees are holding their second celebration of the honeybee and the plants they love, on Castle Meadow, Bungay, 10-30am-4.30. Talks, walks and workshops, children's activities, stalls, a film, refreshments, and of course honey. Hope to see you there!

In 1923 the philosopher and seer Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures on agriculture in which he predicted the future fate of the honeybee. Mechanical beekeeping practices were putting these creatures under high levels of stress and interfering with their natural cycles. In eighty years' time bees will face a crisis, he said, and because bees are inextricably linked with the human world, we will also.

The honeybee has worked her delicate symbiotic relationship with the plant world for millions of years and for as long as anyone can remember the sweet substance she makes from the nectar of flowers has attracted the attention of human beings. Still today men will climb trees in the deep forest to steal honey for the benefit of the tribe. It is a substance that no man can make himself - its flavour and density changing from flower to flower. From the light and delicate orange blossom to the deep resinous flavour of pine trees. Only when civilisation came did people begin to cultivate and control bees and provide them with hives. For hundreds of years people chased out or killed colonies from their skeps at the end of the honey season in autumn. Now they feed them with sugar to substitute their foraged winter stores and it is this practice, along with manipulating the queen and her colony and the damaging use of pesticides in our agricultural systems, that has precipatated our present world-wide collapse of honeybee populations.

It was in response to this crisis that we began Bungay Community Bees in 2009, a small Transition project that was the first Community Supported Apiculture in the UK and caught the imagination of bee and flower lovers everywhere. Last Sunday we held a Bungay Beehive Day in “celebration of the honeybee and other pollinators along with the plants they love”. We held it in the local festival marquee on Castle Meadow and though it was a first-of-its kind event it attracted the attention of people from all over East Anglia. Because, no matter how dark and difficult the times, there is something the honeybee colony has that brings people together in a certain spirit. And it is this spirit that Steiner referred to when he said that, in spite of the crisis, the evolution of people would follow along the lines of the honeybee.

It’s not personal, said Margie from the Natural Beekeeping Trust as she described the way bees work with each other and the world. The Trust promotes a move away from commercial beekeeping practices towards a harmonious relationship with the bees and a respect for nature. She was opening a series of talks we organised that ran along with our information stalls, bee and flower walk (conducted by Mark), display hives and children’s activities. And though there was respect for the scientific method the talks we gave that day were about something else.

People say they have done Transition for years, they don’t need to be part of a Transition group, or they try and hide the Transition word at all costs from their friends and community and pretend it is something else, something less challenging, less well . . . evolutionary. But the fact remains it is evolutionary. Not in the way Steiner or a scientist might describe evolution, but because it is effecting something people have not done collectively before, which is to live in harmony in nature and with each other, having spent millennia living against nature and against each other.

The two spheres – human and natural - are indivisible. Those that feel they don’t need to join the Transition movement because they have championed the environment for decades sometimes forget that this is a social movement. And those that feel it’s all about community and people also forget that it is based on permaculture and our right relationship with places and plants. Something has to bridge those two worlds in our imagination and in our actions and no creature does it more effectively, more elegantly, more beautifully than the bee.

The honeybee was first cultivated in ancient Egypt and has been used as a model for social organisation within civilisations, from kingship to socialism to Buddhism. Hive mind is something that is both sought by controllers and feared by the controlled. However this is to entirely misunderstand the organisational field bees operate in and what that feels like.

Imagine you are in hive, I said the schoolchildren as they sat by their computers in May. It’s warm and dark in there (20c) and scented with flowers and there is a hum that resonates inside your body. It is one of the cleanest and sweetest-scented built environments in the world. The bees fly out into the sunlit world and they return with the sweetness of the earth. The queen is like the sun in the solar system and everything in the hive is organised around her creative powers. Everyone has a role and knows what to do.

You don’t understand the field with your mind, you understand it with your heart and your physical form. It’s a different order of intelligence altogether.

It’s hard to talk about the organisational intelligence of the heart, because we are a cold-blooded mind culture, addicted to competition, fantasy and domination. We worship science and reason and champion our above-it-all powers of control and give little place to the warmth and beauty of our natural beings that love to work in co-operation. Publicly we do not acknowledge the effect of high or low vibration in the physical world, even though privately we respond in every moment to atmospheres in rooms and people.

Joseph Beuys the activist-artist, once set up an installation called Honey Pump in the Workplace, inspired by the lectures Steiner gave. He contended that if you provided the right conditions people would naturally communicate and work together in harmony. You don’t have to explain anything people just "got it". The warmth and vibrancy of natural substances related to the warmth and movement of our blood and activated the higher centres of our consciousness: thought became imagination, feeling became inspiration, and will, intuition.

It's that natural harmony we are trying to get to in Transition. It’s a hard slog because the mechanical forces that keep us within the unnatural system of civilisation, that stop us swarming, that overwork us, seem stronger than our natural instincts. Our immune systems have been weakened by the chemicals we have been absorbing for decades, and the powers of the sun that emanate from all creative people within the collective have been routinely excluded or they have had their wings clipped.

And yet if we provide the right conditions people come together and things change quickly. Those sunny creative forces emerge from within and affect the whole. As soon as Bungay Community Bees was formed the whole initiative underwent a shift of mood and tempo, meetings suddenly got easier and more coherent. Other projects started up. Within the town council where there had once been mistrust and dismissal, there was interest and acceptance. The local newspapers ran full page stories, local radio and television interviewed our first beekeepers. On Sunday an estimated one thousand people came to the workshops, talks, walk and to visit the stands and stalls.

We’re doing everything we can to help the bees.
What we don’t know is that the bees are doing everything to help us.

Entrance to the Bungay Beehive; our first top bar hive; Margie's talk on Natural Beekeeping; children's workshops, making bee masks and puppets and bug hotels; Plants for Bees board; climbing Castle Meadow on Mark's walk; in the Bungay Library Community Garden; wild "weeds" in honey jars; on the way to the garden (photo by Muhammad Amin); Philip's talk on bumblebees and wild plants; Bungay Community Bees boards

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Sports are so last century

One of the key cont- ributions of perma -culture to a liveable ecology is its concept of linking outputs to inputs. William McDonough and coworkers called this Eliminate the concept of waste. One of the ways in which I've been applying this is to stop doing sports. Sports are a way of wasting energy that doesn't get used in people's productive daily activities any more, because those daily activities all run on fossil fuels.

So I stopped doing sports; but apart from the fact that I'm not as young as I once was I'm possibly as fit as when I could walk 100 km in 24 hours. It's just that nowadays my energy goes into productive activities, mainly gardening, cycling and chopping wood. But the linking goes deeper. Rather than spending time in what I consider to be a soul-destroying gym, I spend my time on the lookout for toads while harvesting raspberries for breakfast and pulling out the nettles, wondering whether the field of unequal height wheat that I pass every day is inspired by the multi-variety approach pioneered by Martin Wolfe, and looking for edible mushrooms while collecting wood. Written down like that it doesn't sound like much, but then maybe that's the point.

This is not an advertising campaign to sell you the next fad that the biosphere doesn't have the resources to produce. This is about doing "less" with "more". Less unrenewable resource use, more skill, equality and connection. It's about the simplicity of growing your own fresh food from previous years' homegrown seeds.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Plants for Life Review and What's Coming Up this Summer

This piece first appeared earlier this week on the Sustainable Bungay website and discusses events in Bungay, including this Sunday's BUNGAY BEE HIVE DAY. Visitors from Norwich are welcome to come to any of the events and meetings mentioned here.

The Plants for Life series of walks, talks and workshops on plant medicine continues to gather pace. In April we Walked with Weeds around Bungay and explored their medicinal qualities. In May, Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, authors of Hedgerow Medicine, brought herbal tinctures, plant syrups and huge knowledge to a packed library as well as an elderflower water with the most incredible aroma. And in June we learned how to make wild plant oils and ointments of plantain and St. Johns wort with Rose Titchiner, visited Outney Common for wildflowers and discussed plant families at Green Drinks. So far there have been between a dozen and forty people at the Sunday sessions.

These events are a great way to meet up with other people interested in finding out more about plants and the medicine they bring. They also provide a space for anyone to share their own knowledge of and direct experience with the plants. It's all about paying attention to the earth's living systems, and fostering well-being on an individual, collective and planetary level by connecting with those systems.

In the Wild Plant Oils session a woman described how eating feverfew leaves at the onset of a migraine worked for her every time without fail. You can read this fact in a hundred herbals but when you hear it from someone with firsthand experience it brings the whole thing alive.

Back at the library after Walking With the Weeds, we drank a fresh Wild Green tea Charlotte had prepared whilst we were out, and which someone afterwards told me was a total revelation! And a Japanese friend wrote saying how much she enjoyed the afternoon and wished us “Good luck, Weeds Professors!”

You can also read a short article I wrote about Plants for Life in the well-being section of the preview issue of the new Transition Free Press (p.13). Printed copies are available from Bungay Library (along with the latest Sustainable Bungay newsletter), and updates on many of the articles can be found on the TFP website.

Plants for Life this Summer

Here is what we have planned for the summer. This coming Sunday 15th July Plants for Life meetsBungay Community Bees at the second Bungay Bee Hive Day, when I will lead a Bee & Flower Walk around town at 12.15pm, starting at the marquee on Castle Meadow and including a visit to the Plant Medicine bed at Bungay Library.

Last year twenty five of us explored a meadow, alleyways, wastegrounds, Margaret's garden, a car park and the community garden - all in the centre of town and within the space of an hour. For the full (and full-on) programme of this year's Bee Hive day CLICK HERE.

At 5pm after Bee Hive Day, the Transition Norwich Low Carbon Cookbook crew will have their July meeting - an open, shared non-industrial picnic in Bungay and a discussion focussed on bees and pollinators. SEE HERE for more.

Shake, Rattle and Roll with 52 Flowers

On Sunday 5th August don’t miss This Low Carbon Life author Charlotte Du Cann as she takes a radical look at medicine plants with a reading from her just-published book 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press, 2012). Charlotte will also be doing a bee-focused reading from 52 Flowers at Bungay Bee Hive Day, 15th July at 2pm.

And on September 23rd at the Equinox and as the season turns we’ll be learning about (and sampling) someAutumn Berry Tonics.

Both the August and September sessions are at the library at 3pm

The Plant Medicine Bed

And the Plant Medicine Bed in the Library Community Garden? On my latest visit, Friday 6th July the elecampane and burdock were giant, the vervain growing tall, the thyme tumbling over the wall of the bed. The self-heal was coming into flower and the buddleia preparing for its 2012 blooming. We’ll be looking at and talking about Burdock, amongst other plants on the Bee and Flower walk next Sunday.

Everyone is welcome at all Plants for Life events. If you want to know more about plants as medicine or share what you know, come along. There is no charge but donations are happily received.

NB: I will be at the library garden most Fridays during the summer between 1 and 3pm for a ‘plant surgery’ and to talk about the Plants for Life project and events. Come and say hello.

So far I’ve been joined by Carol Stone, permaculturist, wild bee lover and co-ordinator of no less than forty six community food projects in Devon, on a visit to Norfolk with her partner Nigel. And Christian and Fairy, recently back from a year in South America and finding their feet again in Suffolk. Fairy gave me a hand tidying some of the ox-eye daisies which had been bashed around a bit by the recent winds and rain, and we spoke about everything from Ecuador to Elecampane to confronting mass negative assumptions about getting older.

I also removed armies of slugs and snails and transported them to a nearby wasteground and spoke with Richard about slug pubs, though we haven’t got round to making them yet!


For all info on Plants for Life events and the Plant Medicine Bed 2012 at Bungay Library, contact Mark Watson: 01502 722419, markintransition@hotmail.co.uk, or check this website for regular updates.

Images: Outney Common wildflower walk, June 2012; Josiah gets into legumes with Great British Beans at midsummer's Green Drinks; at the Wild Plant Oils workshop with Rose, June 2012; Bee and Flower Walk Bungay Bee Hive Day July 2011*; 52 Flowers That Shook My World by Charlotte Du Cann - cover; Six of the Plant Medicines in the community garden, July 2012; discussing Burdock with Richard, July 2012. All images from Mark Watson except * from Muhammad Amin

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Rational Look at Brands

So, I was eating a Birds-Eye pie the other day (with a little dollop of Heinz tomato ketchup), wearing my lovely Esprit shirt and started writing this article on my Dell computer.

Three-eyed pie monster is sad
"Aaagh!", I cried! "I am one of them!".  I'm one of those consumers that are advertised at on the telly (Panasonic) and follow through with purchases based purely on what image they have been given!  I quickly started to try to justify myself - "Well, of course I would get Heinz tomato ketchup! It's a guarantee of quality!  It even says its Estd. 1869 on the bottle, just to show that their product has stood the test of time and the little slogan that says 'Grown not made', because obviously that shows that they put care into their...."

...uh oh.  Am I defending a brand based on something which was entirely fabricated by their own marketing department so that they could sell more of their products to people like me?

Right... deep breath.  Don't worry... there is still time to redeem yourself...

Brand names are a difficult concept, because once upon a time they had a very real purpose.  The brand name was the name of the company who made the product, and was therefore a guarantee of quality (if not of high quality, then at least a consistent one!) which you could then use to judge its relative value. This, it can be argued, is a perfectly legitimate application of brand names in a world where people are constantly trying to flog you stuff of such compromised quality that you wouldn't want to touch it with a bargepole.

But it didn't take long for companies to take advantage of their own success, cutting costs and letting the reputation of their brand name alone bring in the revenue.  If the lower quality of product led to reduced revenue, they would turn to marketing to bump up their reputation, rather than improving product quality.  Marketing is expensive, but it is cheaper than making real improvements to your product!

With such a powerful voice in the media through their advertising campaigns, companies took things a step further - they can bribe people into buying their products with promises of social status and happiness that are totally unrelated to the quality of the product.  They essentially sell, not something itself, but the mere hope of something.  It's extremely powerful, and when you understand a little of human psychology, it is not difficult to see why it works.

But it is, in my opinion, immoral.  It is not immoral on the part of consumers, because it is the marketeer who is being irresponsible with their promises, but unfortunately it is the job of consumers to rectify the situation, because producers sure aren't going to do it voluntarily.

Is it ever appropriate to defend a brand name?

"Ecover takes ecological, economic
and social aspects into account from the
origins of the raw materials, to the
biodegradation of the final products."
from Ecover's environmental policy.
When you look at a branded product, ask yourself what that brand really means.  Some brands really do mean something, and I think we would be stupid not to respect those meanings.  However, where the meaning of the brand is entirely fabricated by the marketing department, I implore you to look elsewhere and vote against it with your feet.

Look out for brands whose name is based on real, provable quality, best ethical practices and stands for the things that you actually care about, rather than what the advertisers think you should care about. And one big question: do you actually need this thing at all?

Images: Pie by the author; vintage advertising from http://www.wholesale-prints.net; Ecover image from Ecover website