Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

9 Mar 2009

Foodzoning the Foodshed

Here are two very interesting concepts I’ve come across recently that feel worth sharing. One is Julie Brown of Growing Communities’ ‘Food Zones’ idea, and the other is that of the ‘Foodshed’ or ‘Foodshed Analysis’. Both hold key pieces of the Energy Descent Pathways jigsaw, and we are actively looking at how to make best use of them in the Totnes EDAP process. Clearly the Transition movement has developed a strong ethic that increasing the resilience of a settlement necessitates, among other things, a food system that grows as much food as close to home as possible. But what might that actually look like?

Growing Communities is a fantastic initiative I was lucky enough to visit last year, based in Hackney in London, which sources produce for 450 vegetable boxes a week as well as supplying a farmers market, based on the principle of sourcing as much food as close to home as possible. Three market gardens within Hackney itself provide some of the salads and other produce, and they have a close relationship with several farms on the edge of the city (you can hear Julie’s talk at last year’s Soil Association conference here).

Julie’s model attempts to pin down what percentage of what, in an ideal, relocalised food system, would come from where. Could Hackney grow all its own vegetables? Of course not. But it could, if it really went for it, Julie suggests, grow 2.5% of its total food consumption. Could the revitalisation of urban market gardening and the cross-city trading of city-grown food feed a city? Again, of course not, but it could perhaps supply 5%, if it focused on salads and leafy greens as well as fruit. The land on the edge of the city (peri-urban), its greenbelt, could grow 17.5%, if it became commercially viable again to do so, and if the city were to create sufficient market and demand. It would focus on fruit, vegetables and some field scale produce.

The rural hinterland within 100 miles of the city could produce 35% of the city’s food needs, mostly through field scale produce and some arable and livestock, requiring a greater degree of mechanisation. Another 20%, mainly arable and livestock, requiring a greater degree of mechanisation, could come from within the UK and the rest, the hungry gap veg and fruit, as well as spices, tea and so on, from overseas.

Julie acknowledges that this is a very rough initial stab at trying to put some figures on a future food production system, but there is much about it that is extremely insightful. Her model has, of course, much in common with the permaculture concept of zoning, but applied on a wider geographic scale. At the moment, there are hundreds of organisations promoting local food, organics, permaculture, agroforestry, fair trade, urban agriculture and so on. Clearly all these organisations have roles ot play, but what are they?

What’s great is that with this model, the roles for the various organisations start to become clear. The urban agriculture people can focus on trying to achieve that 2.5% most effectively, knowing that the rest of the needs are being built up elsewhere. The organic farming organisations and the broadscale agriculture bodies can have a tangible target for how much food agriculture needs to produce organically across the country, as well as looking at how to build those food links. The food links people can focus on the creation of demand.

The planning system in relation to the land around cities will need to take into account specific targets for the amount of land that will need to be permanently exempted from the planning process in order to enable to creation of new market gardens. Suddenly, rather than a melange of activity and organisations replicating each others’s work and doing much the same things, everyone has a clear role and something clear to aim at.

The second concept I have been finding very useful is that of the Foodshed. Originally a term coined in 1929 by Walter Hedden, who was prompted by the threat of a rail strike and its potentially ruinous impact on the food economy of New York City to explore the flow of how food actually gets to urban areas. It was picked up again by permaculturist Arthur Getz in an article in Permaculture Activist (which I have, but can’t find an electronic copy of) as a concept for defining the idea that food is grown as close to home as possible, and that this needs to be looked at systematically. The concept of the Foodshed and the existing literature on it is described in a paper by Peters et. al. published last year, which you can download here. There is also a paper about foodsheds by Kloppenburg here and an interesting paper from the President of the Borough of Manhattan called ‘Food in the Public Interest’ here.

What we are doing in Totnes , as part of the Totnes and District EDAP, is to try and integrate Simon Fairlie’s ‘Can Britain Feed Itself’ approach, Julie’s Foodzones and the Foodshed concept. What we hope to produce, with considerable help and input from the wonderful Geofutures in Bath, is a version of Julie’s Foodzones which is based on quantitative data, so we can be specific about the amount of what that might come from where. It is proving to be a fascinating process. Feeding Totnes and district with vegetables is easy. Feeding it with cereals and grains is harder, but it is the meat that is by far the hardest. There are 346 hectares of back garden space in the area, but how much of that is usable? How much new woodland would we need to plant?

This, for me, feels like a thrilling cutting edge place to be working. Our longer term aim is to create an online tool for Transition groups anywhere to be able to work out how much land they would need to feed themselves and to do this work in great depth. The Totnes pilot will enable us to work out exactly what this will look like. We will keep you posted on this. In the meantime, have a look at these two approaches, they both have a great deal to offer for the food relocalisation movement and for Transition.

Categories: General

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Marcin Gerwin
9 Mar 8:50am

Hmm… Why would you like to include meat in your Totnes EDAP? I thought that UK is already not self-sufficient in food production. To produce 1 pound of meat it takes around 16 pounds of grain. Why not consume this grain directly? Baking bread out of it seems to make much more sense.

For many years I thought that there is one vitamin that is not available in plants, but which is available in meat, vitamin B12. However, as I’ve learned recently that there is actually one source of vitamin B12 in plants – comfrey has it. So even the health argument doesn’t hold 🙂

Finn Jackson
9 Mar 9:47am

I very much like the foodzone diagram approach.
Also Simon Fairlie’s “Can Britain Feed Itself?” which you wrote about a few months ago.

People are often scared that we “can’t possibly feed ourselves on this small island”. But the fact is that by the end of the second world war, in the USA, “20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America”. (I would quote the equivalent UK “Dig for Victory” figure but I haven’t come across it yet.)

If we could then, why can’t we again?

That would mean we only need to grow 60% of our needs from low-carbon farming. Which from Simon Fairlie’s and Julie Brown’s work plus new permaculture and agroforestry approaches seems entirely achievable.


The data on the US wartime “dig for victory” food production comes from here:

The recent BBC TV programme “Farm for the Future” included an estimate that one acre of agroforestry could provide food to support ten people. Even higher than Simon Fairlie’s best estimate productivities!
Link here:
The “10 people/acre” quote comes at 40 minutes and 30 seconds.

Exciting times indeed.

Katy Duke
9 Mar 10:11am

This links perfectly with some mapping work we’ve been doing in Frome, here is the project overview (I’d love to post the maps but suspect attachments don’t work so you can see them here –;

Community Mapping

Assessment of the landscape around a settlement for its potential for renewable energy and food growing is useful knowledge. This googlemap idea gives a way of collaborative mapping by those with local knowledge. Based on the concept that using permaculture principles, the edge between two types of zone (in this case the built-up zone and the surrounding landscape) is the most productive part of any eco-system. Thus for example ringing a town with market gardens and allotments will increase the availability of local food, increase the potential for new green businesses and reduce reliance on vehicle fuel. A map based approach can be built up over time with layers of information.

How does it work?
Googlemaps have three types of maps, roadmap, contour map & satellite view. You can create your own set of maps using existing tools, symbols and your own hand-drawn shapes. Using these tools, zooming in on detailed satellite images, you can map existing woodlands and build up a picture of information, and then create proposal maps. These can have several uses; lobbying locally, giving a clear way of explaining projects, show people a bigger picture of their town, planning community supported agriculture projects, entering into discussion with landowners and farmers, questioning planning decisions, etc. They can also be exported to Google Earth. More info –

I have mapped the existing woodland around the town and made a proposal to create the ‘Fome Forest’ with additional woodland linking the existing woods. The theoretical model was a ring of woodland around the town roughly halfway between it and the nearest towns. The actual proposal turned out to be a little more complex, as you would expect!
The maps on the link show a variety of map types ; a satmap based proposal with existing woodland in dark green, proposed new woodland in mid green, community gardens and allotments in yellow, methane digester site (sewage works) as a yellow house, large solar pv site as a sun and water turbine sites, where the river drops over weirs, as blue anchors. Flag symbols show potential wind turbine sites. The Frome Forest map and energy generation maps are based on the contour map, which helps to identify ridge lines suitable for wind generation.

The last map shows the edge zone between the town and countryside as envisaged by 2028 which includes as expansion of the existing Vallis Veg ( site which recently celebrated deliver of its 1000th veggie box. It is my response to some transition tale dreaming I did (must finish writing that up!) and has been submitted as a consultation response to the District Council’s proposed Local Development Framework, which was not at all ambitious in its vision for our town.

Stephen Watson
9 Mar 11:04am

Meat indeed.

When I gave my series of Peak Oil talks, in the section on “What can you do now?” one answer was “Begin the process of becoming vegetarian” as the idea that we can continue eating the amount of meat that we do today into the future is absurd.

If people are to continue eating meat then I believe it should be seen as a luxury treat and not a 3 times a day daily staple. The consequences of such dietary change in the system you are proposing would obviously be far reaching. Not to mention the reduction of slurry and methane production, neither of which have much place in a sustainable and resilient future I feel.

9 Mar 12:47pm

Someone previously posted some interesting links on meat consumption based on the University of Connecticut (I think) work on food provision. They estimated that using land which was not suitable for arable or garden production to harvest small amountS of meat increased the human carrying capacity of the state by 18%. My recollection was this this referred to about 2 ounces of lean meat per week.

In brittle landscapes (one source here the absence of large grazing mammals results in rapid degradation and reduces the health and productivity of the land, water courses and vegetation. Attempting to afforest increases the problem. In these situations (including parts of southern Europe) all dependent species have less food, so consumption of meat as a by-product of grazing makes sense.

Feed lots and cereal/legumous feed are a huge waste of resources but both Fordhall Farm and the Grazing Animal Project ( prove that these is not necessary. In other areas the use of mixed woodland and grazing or seasonal upland grazing would be appropriate use of land.

Peter Bralesford
9 Mar 8:47pm

Reading this, I’m reminded of something I read about my hometown of Melbourne, near Derby. In the 1960s, there were 76 market gardeners in Melbourne, now, there are 3.

9 Mar 9:36pm

“The rural hinterland within 100 miles of the city could produce 35% of the city’s food needs” – this is a circle reaching Bath in the west and the coast of France in the SE?. Is the percentage by weight, food value, economic value or what?
Google ‘comfrey’ for a debate about the wsidom of eating it.

9 Mar 10:21pm

I wrote a piece for the Warm Earth magazine here in Australia last year about zoning our food supply.

Zones are an integral part of our EDAP – working on zones moving out from our own homes into the community – reflecting the zones of permaculture and ensuring all levels are covered and addressed.


Marcin Gerwin
10 Mar 4:08pm

DaveDann, I woundn’t suggest eating comfrey either 🙂 my point is just that it is a possible source for further extraction. Anyway, for industrial purposes vitamin B12 is made by microbial fermentation, which requires much less space than livestock farming.

10 Mar 4:52pm

I also like the FOOD ZONE diagram idea. However, this is not new. Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton had the “Bullseye Diet” idea couple of years ago, which is quite similar. You can check Sharon’s post here:

It is so good so many excellent actions are taking place all over the world. The Transition has begun, indeed !

british columbia, canada

10 Mar 5:14pm

hi again,
If you want to check Aaron Newton’s article on the “Bulleye Diet”, this is the link:


10 Mar 8:14pm

‘permaculture zoning’… I must admit I find this ‘permaculture’ branding tedious. This zoning is as was taught in standard Geog secondary school classes. Do you think thousands of years of farmers haven’t practised this? Traditional models include some livestock, which is kept close to the house. In Devon this was taken to an extreme in that the animals were actually IN the house ( it was a ‘long house’) – which is not much different to the dogs sleeping on my bed today I suppose.
Folk here seem very keen on doing sums about food production in their perfect world but it is the whole means of moving from one state to another, through various crises that is going to be the problem. And if you think I’m going back to Hackney to live in flat and eat soya burgers while the population increases by another 3 billion then you’ve got another think coming.

10 Mar 8:52pm

…and this is where we have one heck of a fundamental problem…..some of us are trying hard to adapt to the future and work together/live together and others are still producing these extra “bodies” (ie more than 2 children per women)…I wish I could see a way through that one – as I personally try/then get “hot under the collar” because others arent seeing THE most basic cause of our problems/then try/then get “hot under the collar” again…etc….etc….We simply wouldnt HAVE this problem if we had the right number of people living on this Planet of ours…..oh God…my head hurts… the b****y hell do we get THE most basic environmental message of all over to those who will not listen…..?…I’m blowed if I know…every time I think “Just how the heck do we get the overpopulation message over to those who dont want to listen?” I come straight back round in a circle to “There’s none so blind as those that will not see”…and then I get stuck….

I honestly think that that there are two basic reasons why we might not manage to transition through to the Future in one piece:
– greed (as in people thinking “I’ll have however many children I think I will…its my personal choice”….NO…it seriously/really isnt…but how the heck does one convince those that dont want to be convinced? I wish I knew…One can take a horse to water, but one cant make it drink.

– greed (as in people thinking “I’ll have however much money/material goods I think I will regardless”….again how does one convince them this isnt acceptable?

Both examples of greed are very very difficult questions indeed and I wish I knew the answer…as I despair every time I think about them….

Marcin Gerwin
11 Mar 9:23am

DaveDann, I’m not sure if I understand your position correctly… Could you please explain in just a few points why do you think it is fair to live in a large house and continue a land-intensive diet, while others are crowding in slums and suffering from malnutrition?

Ceridwen, as far as I know lots of the pregnancies in the developing world are unwanted. It means that if only women had an access to contraceptives, the population growth would be slower. To take a concrete action – perhaps you would like to consider supporting one of the NGOs that work on this issue, like Population Action International?

Graham Burnett
11 Mar 9:49am

Ceridwen, I’m not an expert but I’m sure that much of the problem with ‘overpopulation’, ie, more people on an area of land than that land can sustainably carry is not to do with ‘people thinking “I’ll have however many children I think I will…its my personal choice”’ or being ‘greedy’/’not listening’ but is more to do with the intrinsic negative cycles symptomatic of poverty traps, one example of which being that people in impoverished situations where child mortality is extremely high due to disease, malnourishment and so on will tend to produce more children as a form of security for when they are older. The more children they have the more chance at least some of them will survive to look after them when they are no longer able to work. In the two thirds world this is economic expediency, and people do it because they need to survive, not because they are ‘blind’.
Its a negative cycle that won’t be broken until we transition to economic systems that move away from being based around exploitation and profit and more towards having a fundemantal ethical basis of earthcare, peoplecare and fair shares as well as social justice. All the more reason why we in the West need to become more self-reliant and get off the Two Thirds World’s back so that they can use their land and resources to feed and support themselves rather than growing cash crops for export to service world banking debts.

Bob Thorp
11 Mar 3:50pm

Hey Ceridwen -we’ve got four kids! But then my brother has none like many other friends. Others just have one. Point is population is about women having control over their bodies and their destiny, its about knowledge, choices, efficacy, empowerment, equality and access to resources. In the end its about political struggle (sorry to mention that).

On food zoning – we’ve started to look – as a community – at how we become self-sufficient in veg by 2020. There are lots of barriers for a small town (52k people) to get over, not least of which is the environment and topography – this is Wuthering Heights country – high, bleak and windswept highland zone – great (tolerable) for sheep, rubbish for veg. There are some imaginative ways to overcome naturally imposed limitations (the poly tunnel!)but livestock has been part of the mix since the brigantes and later vikings settled this area (and those folks knew how to keep body and soul together before ffcarbon).

It’s a happy convergence that sheep provide jumpers and a good dinner. Which takes us on to thinking not just about food but also veg based clothing like cotton, hemp, flax – where’s all that coming from without oil based pesticides and fertilisers, transport etc? There are good reasons why specialisation and divisions of labour occurred at a national level and Kent became the garden of England and Keighley and Bradford the centres of worsted stuff.

Most of our mills are being turned over to flats and we’re planning to drop hydro plant on to their precisous weirs!

I love rambling.

11 Mar 7:44pm

Marcin Gerwin: I don’t think I used the word ‘fair’. Is it ‘fair’ that the human population has doubled since I was at school? is it fair that politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople, experts say that I’m wrong about everything? Is it ‘fair’ that we are running out of oil? I’m just saying that I have no motivation whatsoever in working for a future that involves living in limited space in a town and eating soyaburgers and, moreover I would add, it won’t actually help anyone either. What a word to conjure with – ‘fair’!

11 Mar 10:48pm

“Hmm… Why would you like to include meat in your Totnes EDAP? I thought that UK is already not self-sufficient in food production. To produce 1 pound of meat it takes around 16 pounds of grain.”

Unless it spends all of its time eating grass, in locations where the landscape isn’t suitable for crops (there is a lot of this in the UK). Or else it eats scraps of food that would otherwise be wasted.

I don’t think anybody’s talking about the quantities of meat that people eat today, but to require everyone to forgo it altogether would be a bit much.

12 Mar 7:49am

Of course the implementation of the sort of planning that is being discussed here is generally associated with authoritarian regimes or eras. The history of the ‘communist’ regimes in the 20 century, particularly right from the start in Russia, is one of the state planners trying to tell the peasants what to do. One lesson to be learned is that you can’t ignore PEOPLE in the planning process. When the Minister for Permaculture bans the production of meat the effect will be to massively promote the keeping of chickens and pigs at the back door and in sheds. But also you have to take into account the physical distribution of goods – how you going to get all that food into the cities without use of oil? (A century ago large European cities had the perfect answer – in London the horse and cart would transport horse muck out to the market gardens at places like the Lea Valley and Heathrow and bring back fruit and veg on the return trip – not part of the permaculture plan). Also land ownership – will this change or will present owners be ‘re-educated’? And, as others have pointed out, some of our presently highly valued and protected grassland ecosystems (e.g. Culm in Devon, chalk grassland in Hants/Wilts/Berks) would apparently disappear under chestnut and lettuce cultivation.

Marcin Gerwin
13 Mar 7:48am

DaveDann, this is an important issue that you have raised. Personally I believe that participatory democracy is a pre-condition for sustainable development and for Transition as well, but I can’t speak on behalf of the whole movement 🙂

In my city Sopot we are starting with just that. What we would like to achieve is a local system of governance where people are taking decisions regarding the budget and land use themselves and city council is like a board of directors in a company that is employed to implement these decisions (this system is called a democracy). It means that everyone can suggest ideas, they are talked over on the open meeting and definetely all votes count! Those against Transition process as well. It means also that if people will not be interested in preparing for food security, we won’t have it 🙂

Regarding the previous discussion on diet – please note that lifestyle choices, at least in the industrialized world, are not like gravity. People are free to choose what they eat, and since their choice may have a negative impact on someone else’s life, for me it’s not fair.

[…] it’s an over simplification as the true boundary should be resource driven (i.e by the “foodshed“) and we’re still relearning what that means. In terms of resources a better boundary […]

[…] in the North. In the fast-growing Transition Towns movement, for example, citizen groups are mapping foodsheds and watersheds as the basis for a more holisitc, regional approach to food […]

[…] in the North. In the fast-growing Transition Towns movement, for example, citizen groups are mapping foodsheds and watersheds as the basis for a more holisitc, regional approach to food […]