A few weeks ago, our household attended a weekend workshop at the Food Forest to discuss the idea of “Transition” and how it might apply and unfold in South Australia. The Transition Movement has emerged in the UK over the last few years as a community-based response to peak oil and climate change, and is permeated by permaculture principles in its efforts to rebuild local resilience. The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins, is the main text of movement, and is an accessible introduction to the challenges of peak oil and how the first Transition Town, Totnes in southern England, has responded.
One of my main interests in this whole racket is how to rebuild food security, particularly in urban areas, and particularly in a country like Australia, where ideas like ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’ seem to be still largely ignored in favour of an undiminished enthusiasm for ‘free’ trade and the export economy. (Although, that said, things seem to be changing in Adelaide’s backyards: the Advertiser, the local Murdoch paper, described the trend last year that “gardeners aged between 25 and 34 years are leading the trend to grow food in the back yard”, with a 2008 survey showing 83 percent like the idea of growing their own food”. This has been reflected more recently in a shift in nursery purchases, where “herbs and vegetables accounted for up to 80 percent of sales … a reversal from the flowering annuals previously in demand” (SA Weekend, 19 September 2009, p. 8).)
One of the resources that has been doing the rounds post-Transition weekend is the British documentary Farms for the Future. Farms for the Future follows the adventures of a British film-maker as she returns to her family farm and begins to look at ways that the farm can be future-proofed for a post-oil future – particularly interesting given how dependent Britain has been on imported food for so long. It’s a fantastic introduction to the relationship between oil and food, and on her journey both revisits traditional human and animal-powered farming methods as well as permaculture-based forest gardening. There’s a great line from one of the permies she speaks to, discussing forest gardening and permaculture. He describes how a farming is a perpetual struggle, because “a forest is what the land wants to be”. As a nature film-maker, biodiversity features strongly, even in the kinds of pastures that livestock are fed on: the greater the number of species in a pasture, the more resilient the landscape (I think this is something I recall Peter Andrews discussing for an Australian context in his book Back from the Brink).