Tuesday 23 November 2010

Ooh ah Cantona

You may have read over the weekend about Eric Cantona's latest interview in which he called for people to withdraw their cash from their banks en mass. The Guardian reported it here. The film of the interview has become a You Tube hit and spawned a campaign for a protest withdrawal.

Some commentators have pointed out that such a protest would have little affect because of the limited funds high street banks actually carry and that it would have no impact on the investment banks that were instrumental in causing the current crisis. Fair point, but there is a clear piece of direct action you can take if you are disgruntled with you bank, assuming of course you bank with one of the 'big' names. Switch you account to an ethical based bank operating on a mutual or cooperative basis, or a local Credit Union. This is a clear message you can send out to support the move toward a responsible and fair financial system.

Supporting a Credit Union is particularly beneficial as it is their aim to bring affordable credit facilities to the poorer members of our communities who are often denied access to conventional banking and are forced into the hands of loan sharks and other forms of highly undesirable money lending outfits. There is a move to establish a Credit Union in Haringey and you can pledge your support for it here.

So go on strike a blow for fair banking, support your local Credit Union and put your money where your mouth is!

Friday 19 November 2010

Church Farm, Ardeley's 'More than a Box' Scheme

There’s a farm called Misery, but of that we’ll have none
Because we know of one
That’s always lots of fun (Ha ha!)
And this one’s name is Jollity; believe me, folks, it’s great
For everything sings out to us as we go through the gate

All the little pigs, they grunt and howl etc, etc


Yes indeed, Church Farm is a jolly farm.  If you visit, you will meet the farm you once knew from childhood stories and games.  Animals graze on fields planted with a well tried mix of grasses and flowers, creating a rich mosaic of colour and textures.  Glancing through a hedge to the field next door, the contrast is striking: all there is to see is the uniform expanse of an industrial monoculture.

The farm covers 175 acres which includes 30 acres of woods, 10 acres of orchard, and 2 acres of nesting grounds.  There are around 150 sheep, cows and pigs, and the farm, which is also a family business, prides itself on its long tradition of rearing rare breeds.  The number of poulty is in the thousands, but here again the hens and turkeys are allowed to range freely in designated places such as the orchard. One of the delights of the farm is the piglets, who can be seen playing and scrapping with each other in the feeding area. As the visitors leave, the hope is that they will have been reminded of the very real connection between land and food.

In the meantime, there is a farm called Misery.  It hasn't been built yet but the planning permission for Nocton 'Mega Dairy' in Lincolnshire was passed yesterday, with the concession that they will have 3,770 cows instead of the 8,100 of the original proposal. These cows will rarely see a blade of grass. The intensive system leaves them open to many health problems, including lameness, mastitis and bacterial infections.They will be expected to produce 10,000 or more litres of milk each per year.  In energy terms, that is the same as a human being running a half marathon every day for ten months of the year.

Compassion in World Farming are running a campaign to raise awareness of this first attempt at industrial farming and you can contact them on the address below.  But you can also choose to source your food from a place whose aim is to 'treat the land, wildlife and animals, as they should be treated, and grow great food'. 

You can find out more about the Church Farm and Crouch End box scheme by popping into the Haberdashery, Middle Lane on Thursday between 5.30 and 7pm.

For more information on the Church Farm Box Scheme: http://www.churchfarmardeley.co.uk/farmstoreandcafe/gallery/tailoryourbox.html

For more information on the Nocton Dairies:
The lyrics are from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Monday 8 November 2010

Apprentice RCA Meadow Orchard - a personal view

Unfortunately I wasn't able to come to the splendid bonfire the night before but I was there for the presentation the next morning. On Monday night Richard and I had talked to the RCA students and listened to their ideas so far: for example, an arch to take visitors into the different areas. We discussed the rich diversity of the site and told them how Mary Hogan in her nature walks was so successful in encouraging us to pause and quietly experience the different spaces. We all felt that a sign, listing what could be seen, was too prescriptive and it was more magical to have a hint of the wildlife that could be found. We also mentioned the Table on the Marsh (see separate blog) which was such a wonderful image of community coming together.

When I came in daylight on Saturday I loved so much of what they had done. For me, peeping at the Meadow Orchard through the outer door is like looking into a Secret Garden. Viewing the fire pit and seating area, framed by the willow arch, kept that sense of mystery but at the same time invited me in. The table had been moved to beneath a tree, and a chandelier, made from jars and a bicycle wheel, suspended from the branches. Its new position beside the fire pit (or kitchen area) for me strengthened the idea of a living and working space.

The map at the entrance made from recycled wood and roofing felt indicated the different areas and led us to wonder what the Wishing Tree or the Wilderness would be. As we toured the site, we noted the practical use of fencing to make a wood store, reflecting the site ethos of recycling and resourcefulness. But what enchanted me most were the features that made me pause. The Wishing Tree was indeed magical: made from slices of oak and strung with hempen twine, it reminded me of the trees beside wells in Ireland which are hung with pieces of cloth (sometimes made of material that will not biodegrade in a hundred years). And there were chairs to sit on and swing on, allowing us to rest and observe. We finished by going out through another living arch, that ended the tour and completed the journey.

So well done RCA students, Bethany and Jo. The Meadow Orchard Project is such as multifarious site, but it seems to me you have succeeded in communicating its special quality through the features you have added and the journey you have created.

Where did our money go?

I was recently at an event organised by New Economics Foundation (NEF) entitled ‘Where did our money go?’ It was most refreshing to be among so many people that are not only talking about the problems with our economic system but are also interested in real solutions. This was a discussion going way beyond the stock answers of how to stimulate the economy; how to get people to buy more stuff and the never-ending mantra of pursue economic growth at all costs.
It got me thinking about what is at the heart of Transition and what is the primary issue and the expression that came to mind was ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Much effort is devoted to relating Transition to climate change and peak oil and these are important issues, but are they the issues that matter most to the majority of people? They may become issues that loom large in all our lives in the near future, but right now is this the best way to engage people in the debate of how our future societies should look?
Most people’s primary preoccupation is the economy. It is in the news everyday; it determines if they will still have a job in the future; how much their food will cost; what quality of life they can expect for themselves and their loved ones. If we want to have a conversation that is relevant to most people, then it needs to focus on these concerns about the economy. We need to offer alternative views that challenge the status quo. Argue that the system we are all tied into is a form of collective madness that we have become so used to, we seem incapable of questioning it. Like the consequences of keeping cider in lead lined storage jars before we became aware of the dangers of brain damage, we are all wandering around like global village idiots, grateful for anything that is dished out.
We need to come to our senses and see the true picture; it’s not enough for a few of us to opt out of the system when that is not a viable option for everyone. We need a new economic model that works for everyone and these are the options being researched and advocated by NEF. It is my belief that anyone involved in Transition Initiatives should make the effort to acquaint themselves with these ideas. Promoting these concepts may well be the best opening gambit with the majority of people whose main concern in life is how to make ends meet.
Any vision of a sustainable future needs to be one that can be seen by all and not the private fantasy of a few long term greenies. Without that popular appeal no real change will happen. The more people there are talking about these ideas the more interesting it all becomes to the media and consequently to our political leaders. We need to generate that grassroots demand for change and a different way of viewing the world. It would be naïve to think we can achieve this social shift without the political establishment being behind it just as it would be naive of them to think they can promote policy that does not have popular support. In order to attract the interest of the political establishment we need to capture the attention of the media and in order to attract the attention of the media we need a critical mass of people engaged with the Transition concept.
So the question is: how do we get enough people interested? For me, the initial hook should be that the alternative solutions we are proposing make economic sense to people. They need to be able to afford to make these changes. There is little point suggesting growing your own food to someone who has to work 60 hours a week just to pay the bills. They need to address the work issue first so for that person viable employment options in a local green economy are of far greater interest than volunteering on their local community growing project. A second and equally important way that we may be able to capture people’s interest is on the wellbeing issue. The alternatives we are proposing will lead to healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles and I get the distinct feeling there is an appetite out there for more meaning and value in peoples’ lives.
We need to be ready with ideas and solutions that make sense to others so it is imperative we think beyond our own lives and concerns and put ourselves in the shoes of the people we hope to convince. Unless we have clear answers ready that resonate with those people’s lives and concerns, then the conversation will not last long enough to secure their attention.
So my advice is get acquainted with these alternative economic ideas, talk them over with other people involved in you Transition initiative and let's be ready with some convincing answers when those conversations occur. Anyone up for an economics workshop? Don’t all rush at once!

Read more about NEF at: http://www.neweconomics.org/
Read about the above event and listen to an audio recording at: http://neweconomics.org/blog/2010/10/28/podcast-where-did-our-money-go-at-the-southbank-centre

Thursday 4 November 2010

Waste - the New Weed

Skills Share - Sunday 7 November 2.00-4.30
Tottenham Chances, 399 High Road 

We're going to be knitting plastic bags on Sunday!

Some frightening facts about Plastic
  • Worldwide, plastic bag consumption = 1 million bags per minute
  • Approximately 7 billion pounds of plastic trash floats about 500 nautical miles of the Californian coast, creating its own little island of filth.
  • An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to feed America's hundred-billion- plastic-bags-a-year fix.
  • Plastic bags are not biodegradable.  It takes a thousand years for one plastic bag to break down.
  • Every year, hundreds of thousands of sea animals die from ingesting plastic bags mistaken for food.
Source: AwareKnits (Howel and Armstrong, 2009)

So plastic bags are bad. 

But work done by the NGO Kare4Kenya in Kawangware, one of the many slum areas of Nairobi, tells a different story. The aim was to clean up the area and use the plastic bags to make beach bags, thus creating part-time work for mothers, who were normally unemployed. 

A YouTube video shows the women scouring heaps of rubbish for plastic bags to empty, sort and clean, not an easy task as you can see from the pictures. (Due to the lack of communal toilets, many of these bags are likely to have contained human waste.) Yet at the end these nasty, manky pieces are transformed into stunning crocheted hats and bags.

When the women go to the rubbish dump, are they scavenging or foraging?  Is their life so despicable, this unseemly, dirty activity is their only way of living?  Or it might just be that they actively value what is so easily discarded; it is a free resource which actually earns them money.

Perhaps it is the placing of the plastic that is the problem.  In organic gardening, a weed is just 'a plant in the wrong place.'  The same can be said of waste.  No one would want to rifle a rubbish tip.  Yet plastic bags and bottles carefully stashed for creative ventures are a different matter. 

And with diminishing oil resources, plastic may well become a precious commodity.  So as in the recent Transition Crouch End blogspot about chutney, it all comes down to a question of value.  To return to the women of Africa, that value can be monetary. In our society, knitting plastic gives people a chance to acquire new skills, using material that is essentially expendable.  Mistakes don't count and the experience is invaluable.

We may revile a global inequality that means people have to resort to rubbish for a living: while we play with plastic, they work.  Nevertheless their ingenuity and resourcefulness reminds us that 'waste' is a value-laden term.  It is a label that can be easily soaked off.

What price a jar of chutney?

Here's a problem.

We sold chutney at our recent Apple Day.  It was made from donated apples, store cupboard ingredients and green tomatoes from the HVCC Kitchen Garden that otherwise would have gone to waste. A jar of the same quantity of locally produced chutney retails in Budgens at £2.   

These were the options:  

0.00p - the ingredients were all free (donated or waste)

£2.00 - the same amount of chutney as the Budgens' jar, therefore the same price

£2.50 - same as above but with a recipe included

£3.00 - the chutney was made with love, care and attention.  Also we know where the ingredients come from - note a Belgian beer is twice the price if it comes from a particular monastery.

£1,00- being handmade is not necessarily a good thing - was a strict hygiene regime followed?

0.50p - we made too much - sell it off!

So what do you think we should have charged?  And why?  It did taste nice...

Monday 1 November 2010

Steering Group Minutes 28.10.10

Transition Crouch End (TCE) Steering Group Meeting
Thursday 28 October 2010, The Maynard

Present: Rebecca, Richard, Andy, Gillian, Tilly, Bethany, Jo
Apologies:  George, Rachel, Cathrina, Kate

Minutes of last meeting agreed

  1. Apple Day Debriefing
  2. Growing Spaces – Stroud Green Library and Hornsey Vale Kitchen Garden
  3. Church Farm CSA
  4. Apprentice RCA
  5. Up and Coming Events
  6. Governance
  7. Communications
  8. Any other business

  1. Apple Day at HVCC on 16 October 2010

What went well -
the numbers (approx 400); the timing – a seasonal event just before Halloween; the variety of apples; John Selborne’s  talk and Sarah Moore’s, cookery demonstration; the sale of  produce;  the sustainable values in the café; Food Programme’s Sheila Dillon’s presence, the pre-event apple pressing in Crouch End, possibly at the Town Hall.  The event, after café monies were divided three ways, generated £179 for TCE Funds.

What didn’t go so well-
There was some confusion over allocation of tables.
The position of the apple press in the centre of the room was a little hazardous.
It was difficult to hear the demonstration.
The café signage and pricing could have been clearer.

Next year’s Apple Day will be Saturday 15 October 2011 with a public apple pressing in Crouch End on Saturday 18 September 2011.
 TCE will lead on the organisation of Apple Day, including the refreshments, layout of the space, with a quiet zone.  The map should be used to book tables before the event.  The apple press will be placed either in a corner or another room. 

  1. Growing Spaces

Stroud Green Library
A regular group meets on Saturday and records tasks completed or to do in a logbook.  Fifteen different types of salad have been planted and the shady area mulched; there are plans to grow food in tractor tyres from the farms.   The library have been very supportive and offered a notice board to display transition events.  The project featured  in the 21 October edition of the Ham and High.

Hornsey Vale Kitchen Garden
Due to bookings in the centre, it has been difficult to set up a regular monthly workday.  Once this is established Rachel has offered to leaflet her street to muster more interest. Tilly has researched the cost of signage and a noticeboard.

Note there is a workday at the Harold Road Community Garden (the Police Station Plot) on Saturday 30 October 10-1pm.

Both projects intend to apply for Capital Growth grants:  the deadline is Monday 8 November. Tilly and Richard will finalise HVCC bid after the Management Meeting on Thursday 4 November.

  1. Church Farm CSA

There are fifteen weekly boxes delivered to Crouch End but the scheme needs 25 to be sustainable.  One problem is potential customers would prefer to have the boxes delivered.  The social side of the CSA has been successful and Rebecca and Church Farm’s Becca have talked with Haberdashery Café about meeting there till 7pm.  Massimo is also happy to let people use the garden for stalls.

Talk to Food Cycle about sharing delivery scheme. (Rebecca, Gillian)
Encourage at least one other person to join the scheme.
Create a membership scheme, possibly paid or a Googlegroup.
Organise a designated CSA meeting to discuss this.

  1. Apprentice RCA

MA students from the RCA are on a weeklong two-site project:  looking at communication  between the Meadow Orchard Project and Hornsey PCT, and working with traders in Wards Corner, Tottenham.  The project will run from Monday to Saturday and will be based in the GreenLens Studio, N4. 

Action:  Richard and Gillian will participate in the Monday evening presentations.  Rebecca will collaborate with the students on Bonfire Night .
 Everyone is invited to the final presentations on Saturday 6 November at the Meadow Orchard Project.

  1. Up and Coming Events

Just log in as Transitioncrouchend@gmail.com and use the normal password.

We would also like to offer a fundraising event, a table top sale. early next year, with the possibility of a café space for people to share ideas about community projects.

Gillian is also planning a ‘Not the CV’ workshop looking at skills needed for a post peak oil future.

Action: Confirm with George, if projector is needed for Transition Uncut
Tilly to confirm date of Table Top Sale with HVCC

  1. Governance
      Good idea to have an AGM with a communal lunch, either in January or February next year to reform    
     the core group. 
Action: Arrange date with HVCC

  1. Communications
There needs to be a meeting to discuss the website and other issues around communication.
Action: Gillian and Tilly to convene, with possibly Jo Angel

  1. Any other business
 Foodcycle have now opened a community café at the Station House on Stapleton Hall Road.  They  open Friday 12-2.30pm.

Date of the next meeting:  7pm Monday 6 December  2010 – venue tbc