It takes hundreds of thousands of years for oil to form. It has taken humanity about 150 years to use much of it. This inequality is our essential problem. Even the oil industry concedes that oil is becoming difficult and costly to extract... if we want to sustain life on earth, we have to find a more sustainable way of fuelling it.
This was the starting point for our fourth and final event in the Trading Fairly: Linking the Chain series, funded by the National Lottery through Awards For All. We have explored fair and sustainable trade throughout this project, and this final event focussed on sustainability. In Trading Fairly: Going Local we saw how our current, supermarket-dominated food system uses oil in a profligate and frequently nonsensical way. In Trading Fairly: Sustainable Food we looked at a participatory model of local food production, and set up an interactive workshop to help people grow their own produce in their own space.
We were delighted to welcome Tully Wakeman, of Transition Norwich (www.transitionnorwich.org) and East Anglia Food Link (www.eafl.org.uk). Tully has promoted a sustainable food system through the work of EAFL, a regional NGO, for a number of years. A year ago he became an inaugural core group member of Transition Norwich, whose hookline explains the nature of their work: ‘from oil dependency to local resiliency'.
Tully presented the food chapter of Transition's Resiliency Plan, and explained how we could feed the 230,000 inhabitants of Norwich within a six mile radius of the city. It was an expansive and ambitious vision. Core tenets of the plan included a vastly reduced consumption of meat, a greatly increased production of beans and wheat, and a local mill from which to turn the wheat into flour. Another key point was that 1,000 hectares of land that is currently private and largely ornamental gardens would have to be used for growing local produce.
It was this that formed the basis of our afternoon. Our packed room of 25 people each chose two from a choice of four workshops. The Getting Started workshop explored how to identify your prime growing area and how to prepare the ground. The Growing workshop explored how to sprout seeds and grow them, whilst the What to Grow session discussed what plants would work best in your space, and how you could get a variety of nutrients from your plot. For the more experienced gardeners in the room, the Organics in Small Spaces discussed compost, organic pest control and strategies for putting nitrogen back into the soil... all ways of making your garden productive without using the chemicals involved in intensive farming, which relies on oil-based phosphates.
Many of our participants were relatively new to growing veg, if not complete beginners, and they were delighted to get input from a number of local experts. Lizzie and Grahame Hughes of Hughes' Organics, Peter Anderson from the Sustainable Living Initiative (www.grow-our-own.co.uk) , Janet Bearman, a member of Norfolk Organic Group (www.norfolkorganic.org.uk), and our very own Maddie Parisio, a long-term member of the Henry Doubleday Research Association (www.gardenorganic.org.uk) were able to answer questions and offer solutions.
The Trading Fairly project team was very keen for the day to be a springboard to future actions. We asked all our particpants to make a pledge - one practical change that they would make to their lifestyle as we look ahead to an era of post peak oil. Our project has been about inspiring and enabling people to make sustainable choices as consumers, and our pinboard of pledged proved a fitting finale for the project. One participant vowed to learn to ride a bike, another to cut out the supermarket and buy her groceries locally; a third vowed: ‘I will sow my seeds and love them.'
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