Now that the children have left for university and city life, the simplicity of the resilience kitchen shows through. I’ve been exploring this concept in depth recently, researching for my next book.
I’m exploring food resilience in a rapidly urbanising area. If the global food transport network became subject to frequent disruption, you might have to live on stored food supplemented by what you could grow within walking distance. Local farmers and growers would become an important part of your landscape again, in between the arrivals of imported foods at the declining supermarkets.
The erratic income of an author is well suited to such experiments. My colleague, Linda Benfield, and I acquired an allotment this year, in addition to our gardens. With the extra land, we’re quite well off for fresh vegetables now. Next season, we plan to grow wheat and tobacco!
We’re not small holders. We depend on local farms – we still have a few – for milk, eggs and meat. Potatoes, grains, sugar and spices come from the food co-operative; other supplies from the cash and carry. We can’t provide everything for our households from two gardens and an allotment, but we’re learning what else we need. A lifestyle more in tune with the unfolding seasons, more importance given to locally based food suppliers, more gardeners!
We’re resilience gardeners, cultivating survival skills, and every little helps!
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It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.
Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!
There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.
Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.
In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.
Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!
Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.
Tumble driers now, you could have a point. It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’
Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..
The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use. In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’ This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)
Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!
For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’
I love off grid events – without the diesel generators churning away, the sound levels are gentler, the lights less glaring. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed. It fits into the splendid natural setting of Piercefield Park like a hand into a glove.
The weather was fabulous, with plenty of shady places under trees or in cool venues to shelter from the hot sun. At night, gaily illuminated cafes, bars and venues were strung on curving lines of coloured festoon lights.
If you were inclined to learn resilience skills, there were abundant workshops teaching everything from archery to willow weaving.
Steward Control at the Green Gathering was the last job I did before retiring from event work to promote resilience. Some of the volunteers remembered the trial version of the Resilience Handbook which they were issued with back then! Training event stewards to cope with camping out – often for the first time – provided valuable material for the final version.
The splendid Laura now manages the stewards, but my colleague Linda Benfield is still a director of our company, and also of the Green Gathering itself. We created the Resilience Wheel concept together some years ago.
We were struggling to write an energy questionnaire for Glastonbury, for a Transition Town funding bid. The problem was the huge disparity in energy awareness from house to house, and how to reflect this in a meaningful sense. At the same time, we were involved with the Town Council’s emergency planning committee.
The two projects started to overlap; we began to see the issues around putting these plans into practice, the multiple factors, the many variables. The number of things that should be in place and weren’t. Surrounded by flow charts and spider diagrams, we had a sudden insight and reinvented the wheel!
Anyone can find their place on it. All your efforts towards a sustainable lifestyle – that would be one which isn’t going to vanish in a puff of fossil fuel smoke – feed into one central goal. Resilience. You can’t do without it.
The Resilience Wheel isn’t just a picture. It’s a tool. You have to pick it up and use it.
One of the adventure challenges in the Resilience Handbook is ‘Visit a Repair Cafe and have a cup of tea.’ My budget didn’t stretch to a trip to Amsterdam or Germany, so I looked online and found the nearest one, in Bristol. This is held on the first Saturday morning of every month in All Saints’ Church, Fishponds.
I set off on the bus – I try not to take the car into cities – and navigated to the venue with the aid of my trusty A-Z map book. It took longer than I thought, and most of the actual repairing was finished before I arrived. There was tea though, and cake, courtesy of the church volunteers. I had a good chat with the organiser, Kate, and presented her project with a copy of the Handbook. It’s a pity there isn’t a branch of Repair Cafe nearer home!
The networking potential of these meeting places was quickly demonstrated. Hearing me talk about resilience inspired a young lady to take me to the Feed Bristol Harvest Fair, a short walk away.
This event was so fabulous it was almost surreal! I felt as if I’d been transported into a Transition vision of a post-oil resilient community!
The Welcome gazebo was surrounded by tables of the most intriguing plants for sale – I couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Fish Mint – beyond which stretched polytunnels and plots under cultivation. Further in, excited children raced around tiny woodland paths, played in the sandpit, made paintings using mud and colourful flowers. Adults strolled more sedately, exploring the roundhouse, the herbal gardens, the tree plantings.
One could sip Fair Trade tea in the open marquee while listening to a string quartet playing in the autumn sunshine. It was a glorious day!
The growing area – due to restrictions on images of children, I can’t show the actual fete, but there’s plenty of pictures on the websites
Vietnamese fish mint is not a mint, but does taste of fish! And it’s very pretty.
At the Harvest Fair, I spoke with soap makers, food cooperative organisers, gardeners and teachers. The project is run by Avon Wildlife Trust; the remit is to create an edible yet wildlife friendly landscape, and it works very well. As I listened to the people who worked there, I began to realise that this project utilised the same core concepts as a Resilience Garden!
for use by the surrounding community
an emphasis on education, demonstration and experimentation
the abillity to produce large amounts of seed and spare plants to fast track other growing spaces in a crisis
creation of an edible landscape which supports a positive relationship with local wildlife, especially friendly insects and birds
The Transition movement takes a positive attitude to the changes we will need to make in order to cope with the end of cheap oil.
With the price of fuel, you may not feel that oil is cheap in any real sense, but for operating machinery, running factories and processing other natural resources the power of fossil fuel was incredible compared to that of manual labour. After centuries of runaway technological growth, we are finally arriving at the point where advanced machine design and renewable energy sources can replace the use of oil, and just in time as it is becoming harder to obtain.
The infrastructure, and to some extent the lifestyle, created around fossil fuels needs to change. The Transition network is dedicated to supporting this process. Totnes, in Devon, became the first ‘Transition Town’ in 2006, and many others have followed.
A Transition Initiative looks at forming an energy descent action plan for their area, exploring how local resources can be used in a more sustainable model, and outlining the path of this transition. As life with lower energy consumption is inevitable, it is best to plan for it and Transition maintains that the increase in quality of life will more than compensate for any inconvenience.
The Transition movement has local branches all over the country. Transition is ‘an invitation to join the hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future a reality’