13 Jun 2007
Food and Farming in Transition – Dartington Hall, 11th June 2007.
One of the most important and prestigious events yet to be run by Transition Town Totnes tool place on Monday night in the Great Hall at Dartington. Entitled **Food and Farming in Transition: the Renaissance of British Food Culture as the Age of Easy Oil Draws to a Close**, the evening brought together a very impressive selection of speakers. Despite not publicising the event extensively, the evening was a sell out, and in the serendipitous way Transition Town events often occur, despite there being a lot of people with no tickets, everyone got in with only one or two seats to spare. The talks were designed to be short and to take the audience on a journey through to a rethinking of our food system.
The evening began with a talk by **Chris Skrebowski**, editor of the Petroleum Review, who gave a detailed look at the peak oil issue, highlighting the fact that what is important is not so much reserves as flows, that the supply of oil to the market needs to be kept serviced and constant. This is becoming increasingly fragile, he argued. He pointed out that from his analysis, we have 2 or 3 more years where flows can be sustained, but beyond 2009, sustaining flows will become very difficult. You can see his powerpoint here.
Next was **Jeremy Leggett**, director of Solar Century. He wove climate change into the story, arguing that the urgent need for much of the remaining oil and gas, and in particular coal, to stay in the ground. Finally, he told the audience, the world is waking up to climate change, but it may be too late to stave off the worst effects of climate change, and is waking up to peak oil too late to avoid an economic crash. However, he argued, preparation is essential, and creative approaches such as Transition Towns have a key part to play. He referred to Transition Towns as ‘microcosms of hope’, which I rather liked.
**Patrick Holden**, director of the Soil Association, spoke about his conversion on the road to Damascus when he heard a talk I gave about peak oil and powerdown last March at Schumacher College. He spoke of how it had led him to completely rethink both his farm and the Soil Association. On his farm he has put in geothermal, started to supply to more local markets, is creating an on-farm dairy, and has plans for wind turbines and solar panels on his new dairy. He also spoke of becoming aware that in order for that to work , the local economy needed to be stronger, hence his involvement in the creation of Transition Town Lampeter. The Soil Association is also moving towards making peak oil and localisation a central part of its work.
Finally, **Vandana Shiva** talked of there being two transitions at work in the world. The first, she said, was the kind of transition that TTT is looking at. The second, she said, is the force at work to drive the world in the opposite direction, the force of globalisation, of undermining local agriculture and local resilience. She spoke of going around in India and visiting villages where Monsanto had led people to believe that it is important for fields to be ‘clean’, and has therefore taken to burning any organic matter they could find. The forces that drive people off the land in India and China are the same as are driving farmers off the land here, she said. We have to reclaim the dignity of work, she told the audience, and realise that we need to become more of a part of where our food comes from.
Despite overrunning in order to allow time for questions and answers, the event was very much enjoyed by those who attended, and the evening as a whole was a great success. Many thanks to Dartington ARTS and to Schumacher College, and to all the speakers, especially Jeremy Leggett, for whom attending the evening event meant a very early morning dash back to London.