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A well-fed neighbour

Rob Hopkins described in his excellent article yesterday the form of resilience we aspire to in the Transition movement – a long-term ability to foresee and ride the wave of change and create communities that are fit for purpose in a world of dwindling and polluting fossil fuels. But what if change is sudden and chaotic? How resilient are we right now?

When I look around my town of Lewes, East Sussex (pop 17,000) I can see that slow change is possible. Being a market town it was mainly built before oil and some of the pre-oil infrastructure is already returning, such as our thriving weekly food market started by Transition Town Lewes’s Food Group with the help of the District Council. More importantly, over the last five years we’ve been forming good relationships with the councils and other like-minded bodies and businesses. And with all the awareness raising about the issues, it does feel that a critical mass of people can see what might be coming and be able to adapt to a slow ‘classical’ transition away from fossil fuels, perhaps not so much ahead of time but if forced to.

But as Mike Grenville so graphically describes in his guest piece this week, change often happens quickly, especially when we resist it. And resistance, though ultimately futile, is so clearly rife at every level, from the vested interests to ordinary people not willing to leave their comfort zone.  

I’m particularly concerned about our lack of food resilience in Lewes. The number of people who are now mainly eating and shopping locally across Lewes is under 1 in 100. Despite there being plentiful local food, our dependence on the corporate food chains is still huge.

Traditionally, and until 40 years ago, food resilience lay in the land, with local farmers, with their silos of grains, roots in the fields and seeds being sown for next year’s crops, and the numerous market gardeners, whose land has gradually been converted to car parks and housing developments.  In one generation – mine – we have become spectacularly unresilient (and unhealthy). The government has no emergency food plan and the supermarkets will certainly not feel obliged to feed us in times of food shortage.

So a self-selected group of local transitioners, who are prone to seeing ahead, and who have also read some good articles about food resilience, has very recently decided to do something practical about our food resilience at a household level. It’s a three pronged approach.

Step 1. Identify farmers who can grow grains for the Sussex market and form a buyers group to buy the grains and share expertise and equipment such as milling and flaking devices. I’m delighted to have just found a farmer who will grow a ton (1000kg) of oats on an acre of her fields. Sowing commences this week.

Step 2. Create a culture of household resilience by encouraging people to gradually build and maintain kitchen stores of three months’ of staple food. Infinity Foods Cooperative makes it so affordable and easy to form buyers groups such as our local Just Trade buyers cooperative (5kg of organic dried beans for £8).

Step 3. Long term food storage. The South East Transition Initiatives are banding together to create a food resilience preparation day soon on 2 December (contact us here to get involved). We’re bulk buying grains and beans and bagging them up into 5kg lots into oxygen-deprived Mylar bags in 25l buckets – four or five per household. This will keep fresh and clean for 8-10 years tucked away in case of unexpected events. Costing under £150 per household, this is a positive alternative to the kind of panic buying we see during prolonged snow or transport strikes. Far from being fear based, this action is a form of collective insurance. Some of us are imagining soup kitchens; others have job security and mortgage issues; another is thinking of her unresilient neighbours.

Because there is almost certainly turbulence ahead and possibly even chaos, during the inevitable transition that is already upon us. Chaos is an uncomfortable and inconvenient idea, but being open to it and proactively planning for it makes it less likely. And as the saying goes, our best defence against hard times is a well-fed neighbour.

Photos: Wheat field by Viva Lewes; World cafe about food resilience, author's own.