22 Mar 2015
Seeing Transition take flight: a day in Luxembourg
I had never been to Luxembourg before. Having recently visited France and Belgium to meet Transition groups, I had just about got used to the fact that in one (I can’t remember which) people kiss on one cheek, and in the other they kiss on two cheeks, and I always get it wrong, either over-kissing or leaving people feeling short-changed. My confusion was multiplied substantially therefore to find that in Luxembourg people kiss three times! I kept life simpler by just shaking peoples’ hands. Once I had got used to the fact that the capital city and the country as a whole have the same name, it turned out to be a friendly and charming place.
Compared to its neighbours, Germany, France and Belgium, Transition in Luxembourg is in its infancy. Its genesis can be traced back to 2010, and the founding, by Katy Fox, of Centre for Ecological Learning Luxembourg (CELL). CELL was initially founded as a vehicle to bring permaculture and eco-village thinking to Luxembourg. Katy, who was moving home after living in Scotland for many years, was also inspired by subsistence agriculture she spent time studying in Romania. In 2010 she also discovered Transition and liked the “inclusive, do-it-where-you-are, integrated, Head/Heart/Hands thing”.
So CELL was formed in 2010 as a structure that could put on trainings and events and generally raise the profile of these various initiatives as well as supporting the emergence of citizen-led, self-organising action groups with either thematic or geographical focus. It had its formal launch in January 2011. By 2012 the first community garden in Luxembourg city’s first Transition initiative was underway, and SEED, a group dedicated to saving seeds, had formed. In April the first Transition group emerged, Transition Minett, which embarked on, among other things, urban gardening projects, food co-ops, an energy co-op and a DIY skillshare festival.
In 2013, Transition West began, a rural initiative with a rather nice logo (regular readers will know that I am a bit of a ‘collector’ of good Transition group logos – sadly I can’t find this one online…). They started doing interesting things with aquaponics among other things. Transition West and the CELL headquarters are located in Beckerich, which has been pioneering energy autonomy projects (gas biomethanisation cooperatives with farmers, retrofitting houses, green energy and solar cooperatives, clusters for innovative businesses) since the mid-1990s.
In 2014, TERRA, a great CSA market garden, of which more later, got started. Two more Transition initiatives formed in the north of Luxembourg, largely with a focus on food projects Transition Bonnevoie also formed. Something is stirring.
I spent one very full day there supporting the work of the Luxembourg Transition Network, who have recently been funded by the Ministry of the Environment to have a fulltime national co-ordinator in order to help accelerate Transition. My first activity of the day was to run a four-hour workshop at Henri Tudor Centre, for architects planners and engineers. Titled “The post-carbon city: the concept of ‘transition towns'”, the aim was to bring them up to speed on Transition and how it might relate to their disciplines.
About thirty people came, from across that professional spectrum, and it was a very entertaining morning. We played the ‘Web of Resilience’ game with string, we did a self-taught ‘milling’ exercise with the Transition Ingredients cards, we discussed Transition, the leaky bucket and how resilience differs from sustainability. Very enjoyable, and hopefully useful for them too.
Then after lunch we headed off to TERRA, Luxembourg’s first Community Supported Agriculture project. Situated on a plateau looking across to Luxembourg city, the garden was started last year by three passionate permaculturists/Transitioner/food growers, Marko, Pit and Sophie.
Their 1.5 hectare site already contained a number of mature fruit trees. To this they have added two polytunnels, a water tower, and many no-dig beds for outdooor crops. As a CSA they already have 150 members who receive a monthly box. They reckon that 200 would be the maximum their site could support.
When I arrived, a large group of Transitioners and others were already there, and in a beautiful barn in which they sort and store their produce, we gathered for tea and a discussion of some questions that were, for them, especially pressing. After a while, as the sun broke through outside, we headed out to see the field in which the CSA is based.
Very impressive it was too, although clearly not the time of year to really see it at its finest. They offer two different sizes of vegetable box, the ‘Pierre Rabhi’ (Rabhi is a well-known French advocate of small scale farming) and the larger ‘Vandana Shiva’ (for 3-4 people per week). Most entertaining. Thankfully the ‘Rob Hopkins mixed nut assortment’ has yet to see the light of day.
From here we whizzed back into town for the evening’s talk. This was hosted at l’Athénée de Luxembourg, a secondary school, in their largest hall. By the time the talk began, the hall was packed, standing room only, 350-400 people (I was told that generally in Luxembourg getting 50 people to a conference is an achievement, and 100 is exceptional, so this was quite something).
The evening began with Norry, one of the co-ordinators of Luxembourg Transition Network, setting the scene, and then Katy Fox giving an overview of the arrival of Transition and its unfolding in Luxembourg. I then spoke for about 40 minutes, with Nicolas and Antoine, my excellent translators, doing their very best to keep up. We had a great Q&A session, and it all seemed to go down very well. Here are a few photos:
By the time I’d finished, the potluck supper brought by many people had largely been devoured, but I managed to get enough, and a beer, and had many good conversations with lots of different people. Very enjoyable and entertaining. Eventually I headed off into the night for a short night’s sleep which included an odd dream about sharks nibbling my toes, before getting up early for the Eurostar home.
My thanks to Katy, Norry and the other organisers, to Carole Reckinger and Joanne Theisen for letting me use their photos here, and to all the great people I met. And wishing the guys at TERRA an abundant harvest in 2015.