20 Jul 2007
Giving Totnes Pounds to the Prince of Wales.
I had the great privilege this week to be invited to teach as part of the Prince of Wales’s **Farming and Food Summer School** on his Highgrove Estate in Gloucestershire. He has, over recent years, developed a number of these summer schools on subjects such as architecture and education, and this was the first one to explore food and farming. The delegates had been invited from a diversity of backgrounds, senior people from DEFRA and the NFU, some from the commercial sector such as TESCO and Sainsburys, some local food pioneers and farmers, some organic, some not. The aim of the 4 day course was to explore the concept of sustainable food, and what that might mean in practice.
I was only able to attend the Wednesday evening and Thursday. Before that, delegates had heard from speakers such as Jules Pretty, Professor Kevin Morgan, Guy Watson of Riverford Organics, Darina Allen, Iain Tolhurst, one of the UK’s organic pioneers, Patrick Holden and Monty Don. I arrived in time for all the teachers and delegates to be taken on a tour of Prince Charles’s private gardens at Highgrove, which were absolutely beautiful. Then, before the evening meal, the man himself came to meet the different delegates.
When I met him I presented him with a Totnes Pound and invited him, next time he was in Totnes, to spend it in a local shop. He said he had “heard so much” about the work of TTT and I told him about what the Transition Network is doing, and how the idea is spreading. He said that although unable to attend the course itself, he was looking forward to hearing the recording of my talk the following day. This was followed by the dinner, in a beautiful room within the gardens, of local produce, during which he gave a speech. At the end of the meal, the Bishop of Liverpool gave a very inspiring talk about the work he has been involved in integrating sustainability into education in Liverpool.
The following day was based at Home Farm, HRH’s model farm (an absolutely beautiful place). The first talk of the morning was by Professor John Wibberley of the Royal Agricultural College, who spoke about his perspective on sustainable agriculture. He has travelled a lot in the world looking at agricultural systems, and his principal point was that any sustainable society needs a sustainable agriculture underpinning it or it has no future. He summarised a number of ecological and philosophical arguments for change, and what those present can do to integrate those ideas.
I then gave a talk called “Energy Depletion and Transition Towns”, where I set out the case for peak oil and how the drawing together of peak oil and climate change offers very different solutions from those when either are looked at in isolation. I gave an overview of the work being done by TTT and how the idea is spreading, putting the concept of resilience centre stage, and putting the question, what would resilience look like in your line of work? It went down very well, with some excellent questions at the end.
To wrap up the course there was a big discussion about how people had found the course. People were asked what one thing they would particularly be taking away with them. One guy said that he had found the peak oil subject fascinating, and that, “as an organisation that runs over 1000 HGVs this has been a real wakeup call”. Another, a food buyer for a large supermarket chain, said that he would be looking to shorten their supply chains. A few others commented that they had found the peak oil/transition/resilience discussion very useful in identifying what local and sustainable actually mean (this had been a long running debate over the course).
All agreed that it had been a very worthwhile exercise. It was fascinating to see such a diverse group of people exploring these issues, a coming-together that would only have really happened at the Prince’s initiative. I met some very interesting people and made some great contacts. It gave me a lot of hope that people are more open to change than one might expect. The concepts of local food and national food security are being taken very seriously in the most surprising places.