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Can Transition Totnes feed itself? Can any of us feed ourselves?

July 15, 2009 10:00 AM

The Transition Towns movement began as an attempt by communities to work out for themselves how to address the twin problems of climate change and the end of cheap oil. Transitioners believe that life will be better - more local, more in touch with nature, more vibrant, less stressed, less chemical - after oil, and that we will be better prepared to deal with the challenges if we start working together now.

A Transition Town initiative is a group of concerned individuals who use the Transition Model (http://www.transitiontowns.org) to come up with a vision of how to make their community more self-sufficient, how to prepare an energy descent plan, and how to acquire or relearn the skills we will need in a world without oil. Skills like food growing for example: http://www.responsibility.tv/sustainable_food/Local_Food_Growing_in_Camden

The first Transition Town was Totnes in Devon. Over the last few months they have been working on the question of whether Totnes can feed itself. Their final report was published this month and it makes for fascinating reading: http://transitionculture.org/2009/07/10/announcing-the-release-of-can-totnes-and-district-feed-itself/

If you assume that every back garden is producing food, and that the people of Totnes eat a lot less meat than they currently do, and drink a lot less alcohol, then the food footprint of Totnes - the area around the town needed to feed its 8,000 inhabitants - intersects with those of Torbay and Plymouth. In other words Totnes can only feed itself if Torbay and Plymouth don't!

The most sobering footprint is that of Greater London, which extends almost as far west as Bristol, and as far north as Birmingham. The report points out that: "Feeding the UK's cities will be a huge challenge, and raises many questions, including what degree of re‐ruralisation will be required."

Havana should serve as an inspiration to us all whether we like the politics of Cuba or not. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the Russians stopped supplying oil to Cuba and it became the first industrialised society to go through life after oil. Havana currently produces more than 50% of the fruit and vegetables that residents need. Could cities like London, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol do the same? We won't know until we try. And if we don't try now, then it'll almost certainly be too late when we need to find out.

The core ethos of the Transition Towns movement should be familiar to all Liberal Democrats - a belief that local communities are best placed to decide what's right for them and a strong concern about the environment. In my opinion all Liberal Democrats should get involved with their local Transition group or help to start one up in their area.

Cllr Alexis Rowell, Chair, Camden Council all-party Sustainability Task Force (http://www.camden.gov.uk/susforce) and member of Transition Belsize (http://www.transitionbelsize.org.uk)