Transition Culture

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

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29 Jun 2012

Transition Essentials: No.1 – Food

So here’s something we’ll try, and see if you find it useful.  I was in Clitheroe recently in Lancashire, and chatted with a couple of people involved in Transition Clitheroe.  I asked them what else Transition Network could do to support their work, were there materials we could produce that would help them?  They said that in fact Transition Network put out so much stuff that they struggled to keep up with it, and that perhaps some kind of a digest would be useful.  It reminded me of Lee Brain from Transition Prince Rupert telling me that in their group they have someone whose role is ‘keeping up with Transition’.  So I thought I would try today to do a digest of the key films, articles, projects and links out there, and see what you think of it and what’s missing.  I thought we’d start with food:

Some food background …

In terms of a good grounding in the wider issues around Transition and food, the book we published on the subject, ‘Local Food’ by Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins, is now unfortunately out of print, but can be bought as a download and for the Kindle here.  A great overview of the wider arguments in terms of peak oil, localisation and food is the very popular BBC programme called ‘A Farm for the Future’:

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

And this short film, from Transition Forest Row in Sussex, shows how one Transition initiative is rethinking food supply:

Transition ingredients about food

‘The Transition Companion’ included a number of ingredients that distilled out the learnings so far about food and Transition.  There’s Local food initiatives, which gives a sense of the breadth of projects that  Transition groups can get involved in.  Ensuring land access explores the diversity of ways in which Transition groups can find places to grow things.  Meaningful Maps explores how maps can be useful for local food initiatives.  Social enterprise and entrepreneurship suggests that we need to increasingly be thinking about how to turn food projects into livelihoods and Strategic thinking suggests we need to see food initiatives in a wider context of the intentional localisation of the place we live.  Community supported farms, bakeries and breweries is pretty self-explanatory really.  Then here is some of the nitty-gritty of what Transition groups get up to in practice:

Growing food in public spaces…

This is one of the places many Transition groups get started.  Here are some good examples:

In Bath, Transition Bath took over a part of a local public park, Hedgemead Park, and as this video so beautifully shows, turned it into ‘Vegmead Park’ instead:

…and in London, Transition Kensal to Kilburn are growing food on their local underground station:

The sky is the limit in terms of how and where your Transition initiative might think about growing food.  Some take inspiration from the Incredible Edible model that started in Todmorden, for example Saltash in Transition.  Others set up new community gardens, such as Transition Hythe‘s.  Here is a useful resource from Graham Burnett of Southend in Transition, a guide created with the NHS for novice gardeners.


Transition Finsbury Park’s Edible Landscapes London (ELL) project is a great social enterprise which teaches people about using perennial food plants in the urban context:

In order to encourage more people to get involved in growing food, some Transition groups organise ‘Edible Open Garden’ tours, such as this one in Stroud:

Some places create a local food directory.  Here’s Transition Helston’s in Cornwall.  Others, such as Transition Towns Donabate Portrane, have come up with innovative ways of supporting people who want to start keeping chickens in the back garden:

.. and Transition Town Tooting’s annual ‘Foodival’ is a brilliant way to stimulate thinking about what ‘local food’ means in the context of very diverse communities whose diets are often imported, en masse, from elsewhere in the world:

Garden Sharing

Garden share is a simple idea.  So far as we know, the first Transition initiative to do it was Totnes, and here is a short film about it:

Lots of other places are now doing it, such as Transitions Cambridge and Stratford.  Here is a useful guide to setting one up.

Seed exchanges

Seed exchanging days are also a key part of Transition and the relocalisation of food.  Here’s a ‘Potato Day’ organised by Transition Stroud:

…and here is one of Transition Town Totnes’ annual Seedy Saturdays…

Here is a good guide to setting one up and running it.

Fruits and nuts in urban spaces

Quite a few Transition groups look to plant productive trees in their area, and to work with the trees that already exist.  Some have organised the collection of fruit grown in their urban areas that would otherwise just fall off and rot.  Here’s Transition Willesden in London:

..and Transition Towns Hackney and Stoke Newington are taking it one step further and have mapped all the productive trees in the area which they then collect the harvest from.

Transition Town Totnes is one of many Transition groups who have been planting nut trees in urban areas:

… and here are Transition Wilmslow planting fruit trees …

… and my personal favourite film about Transition groups planting fruit trees, from Kilkenny in Ireland.

Transition Town Reading have been at it too.

Turning food projects into viable livelihoods

The scaling up part of Transition takes place though when these kinds of projects start to step across into being social enterprises, creating local training, investment and employment opportunities.  Local United have created a great pack about setting up food-related social enterprises. Here, from Slaithwaite in Yorkshire are the Green Valley Grocer and the Handmade Bakery:

Sustaining Dunbar have also set up a community bakery.   In terms of new models for getting local food affordably to local people, here is Stroudco, a food hub from Stroud:

Some, such as Transition Marlborough in Wiltshire and Transition Portobello in Edinburgh have set up new street markets to help make local food available Transition Town Kingston have created ‘From the Ground Up’, a vegetable box scheme, which has been running successfully now for 2 years, and Transition Kentish Town are just about to launch theirs, called ‘VegBox’.  Hebden Bridge Transition Town ‘s is called ‘HebVeg’.

Some places choose a more ‘gift economy’ approach to distributing local food, such as Transition Town Berkeley’s (CA) ‘Cropswaps’:

Some Transition groups are setting up Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes, where the community owns and runs its own farm.  Have a look at Transition Norwich’s Farmshare as one excellent example of this, and has recently begun to offer apprenticeships for local young people.  This ‘The Story of Transition in 10 Objects’ film gives the background to how it came about:

Transition Topsham in Devon have set up a community supported brewery, Topsham Ales, and Transition Leytonstone worked with their local brewery to create ‘Transition Ale’ to celebrate their anniversary.  Some larger projects, such as Transition Town Totnes’ Atmos Project, is seeking to develop a site which combines a ‘School for Food Entrepreneurs’ (with a bakery, brewery and others) in the context of a project designed to stimulate new businesses and to be “the heart of a new economy”.  Here is a film about the campaign for the first step, to bring the site into community ownership:

Do let us know if this is useful, and if to have a set of similar Essentials, perhaps on food, energy, groups and so on would be useful.  Let me know if you think of things that are missing, and how it could be improved, and we can get these on the Transition Network website.  



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


Paul Mackay
29 Jun 4:32pm

This is a fantastic summary, what I wonder though is would this be better in a more reference-like wiki format so others could update it? Perhaps on the Transition Wiki or as a page in Appropedia called “Food in Transition”?

Blake Poland
29 Jun 5:57pm

This is a great summary. Lots of inspiring examples. I’d like to bring to your attention that Transition Oakville (now called Go Local Oakville, in Ontario, Canada) has secured 3 years of funding from the Trillium Foundation for 3 interrelated projects under the banner of Growing and Sharing Food in Halton.
Three, interrelated urban projects, have been undertaken in collaboration with the Oakville Sustainable Food Partnership (OSFP), and with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, to increase the resilience of the local food system and communities in Halton:
• Halton Fruit Tree (gleaning),
• Backyard Bounty & garden sharing
• Community Orchard

All of these initiative support the recently adopted Halton Food Charter by the Halton Food Council (

Shane Hughes
29 Jun 10:44pm

Wow!! great summary. yes please more of these ‘essentials’. You covered so much. Also lots of great Transition Abundance porjects or Foraging and Wild Food projects. Some fledgling Food Forests or Agroforestry projects and then there’s Permaculture…. how best to bring Permaclture into this “essential”? Food is truely the heart (or is that the hands?) of transition.

Shane Hughes
29 Jun 10:56pm

So here’s the question that i’ve been thinking; Can you imagine a community where all/most the food came from an ecosystem of enterprises and projects like these listed above? What kind of economy would it be? If food and agcriculture is the heart of the post peak oil econony rather than banks, lawyers and consultants, then this article lays out the foundations of the food system that i’d like to see in my local area. BUT for this to be a coherent cyclical economic system there are still gaps that need filling but what are they?

1 Jul 11:10pm

Great summary Rob. Probably worth adding shared meals too – for example in Bungay we have a catering group, Bungay Community Kitchen, who cater for our events (and we hope one day other events). Once a month the Community Kitchen runs Happy Mondays, a seasonal, local two course meal for 50 people. The meal attracts all sorts of people, it isn’t free (there’s a £5 charge to cover costs) but it it’s born of the shared meals and atmosphere that mark many of our subgroup meetings: all 50 people sit at a single table, there is a plant and produce swap etc. I know that, one way or another (for example the Transition Norwich Low Carbon Cookbook group) are doing similar things and that shared meals are an important for many initiatives.

Rosemary Abetz-Rouse
2 Jul 7:10am

Great that so many Transition initiatives are using Google maps to map their local food sources so that they become more visible and accessible to consumers. It seems a shame these sites are all stand-alone, ie there isn’t more sharing of data across initiatives. This means if you live on the edge of a map, you will have to look up more than one website to check where your closest local food resource is. Also you may be interested in finding a less perishable food item in your rural hinterland or further afield in your region. I think it would be a good idea for Transition to promote the sharing of local food data, which could easily be stored in a central database. – yet another Google map based local food website – would be happy to volunteer help with this.

josiah Meldrum
2 Jul 11:32am

It’s an interesting observation Rosemary – certainly that connectedness is something the sustainable food movement has always struggled with; so much happens under the radar and often things that are very small and work just, well, work without being mapped or recorded (around us there are so many roadside stalls with honesty boxes for example – you could do a big chunk of your shopping from them at this time of year).

And then there’s all the convergent evolution of ideas, for me one of the strengths of the Transition Network website and the various books is that you can, with pretty much any idea, find and talk to someone already doing it or something very similar.

Another food networking site that is getting under way and that looks to answer many of these issues is Sustaination:

[…] of the Transition Towns movement, runs an active and informative blog about the movement called TransitionCulture. He’s just started a series exploring various ingredients of successful Transition towns, […]

Rosemary Abetz-Rouse
3 Jul 1:48am

Hi Josiah, Sustaination looks great – and you’re right, it says it will be sharing data with other sites, so that could become the central exchange.

There is also in the US which is another good website, and in Australia (where we’re based).

For what it’s worth there are some unique things about which I like, such as being able to subscribe to a farm to receive emails when fruit is ripe! 🙂