1 Oct 2009
Mark Thurstain-Goodwin Responds to Colin Tudge on ‘Can Totnes and District Feed Itself?’
As expected, the recent paper ‘Can Totnes and district feed itself?’ has started stirring things up. An intriguing response comes from Colin Tudge, a director of LandShare CIC (co-funders of the research) and leader of the Campaign for Real Farming. Colin’s thesis is that the food security issue is a simple matter of feeding the population as far as practical from local sources, recognising that some trade between specialist production areas will always be necessary. He argues that we simply need macronutrients (energy foods and protein), mainly in the shape of grains, and micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – and that by growing lots of wheat and encouraging more urban horticulture we can feed ourselves. I’m brutally over-summarising, of course, but he is keen to keep things simple.
This desire for simplicity makes him question the value of analyses like the land use mapping Geofutures did for this piece of research: “Elaborate models analyzing overall ecological footprints of particular communities in fine detail are not necessary. So long as we do the best we can within the guidelines we can’t really go wrong,” he writes.
However, at the end of his commentary he includes a postscript in a different mood. “This and all the other questions raised in this essay could and should have been addressed decades ago, and would have been addressed by any government that was truly alert to world trends. There are many other questions, too – scientific, economic, sociological, moral, practical. Since the government is unlikely to act this side of food riots (which it will treat at “terrorism” and call out the riot police) people who give a damn need to ask the questions for ourselves.”
I believe in these sentences Colin contradicts his own conclusion that research – even elaborate models – are unnecessary. The Transition movement has been successful because it responds positively to this fear. People who have never been engaged in environmental questions are getting involved and feeling empowered to help plan their communities’ futures.
And government (here I include many local authorities, which have embraced Transition planning in local strategic plans) is witnessing this community feeling and slowly starting to respond. To encourage this and make energy-descent planning truly meaningful, major resources and policy shifts are needed. My experience of this kind of government is that is moves slowly and demands evidence before committing taxpayer’s money. The farming community needs evidence before it will change any current practices too.
Food security is not a stand-alone issue, of course. The land use analysis and mapping undertaken for this study was not as detailed as we would like – it needs local data from across the country to move to next level – but even so it revealed absolutely fundamental issues which will impact food relocalisation and our life experience after Peak Oil.
There is not enough woodfuel for space heating. If we need to relocalise food production, people will need to live in rural areas, including building houses on protected rural land. And major conurbations overwhelm the foodsheds of surrounding communities. Even if we could be steadfastly common-sense in our approach to planning future food supply, I’d say joined-up planning encompassing these kinds of issue is going to need a wee bit more research to get it right.
Colin describes his own analysis of food security as ‘radical’, and his faith that common sense will prevail without major shifts in political and economic priority is certainly that. In using phrases starting “What all cities can do is…” he is not acknowledging the gap between technical possibility (yes, we can all plant tomatoes on our balconies) and reality (but we won’t while we can still get them dirt cheap at Lidl, and by the time we realise we’re really in an energy crisis it will be too late).
The Transition movement is precisely about how we move from here to a more attractive version of the future, and for me that’s where there’s plenty more meaningful research still to be done.
From the Geofutures blog.