It’s that time of year for outdoor pursuits and gardening – in spite of our cooler weather! Transition Towns are playing an active part in strengthening local food awareness, access and self-reliance. Here’s what I found in a quick scan of Transition Town websites in Canada.
Tree Mobile volunteers offer “low as possible” pricing on local or heritage fruit and nut trees and bushes. They deliver them, plant them and offer care and feeding tips. Wild Foods in the City is a tour of just that: what’s edible or medicinal and growing wild right under our noses. Poplar Hill/Coldstream has a similar tour on offer. Beneath the umbrella Let's Grow More Food, Saltspring supports a number of food working groups or projects, including:
But there's plenty more besides. Like Saltspring, Transition Victoria has a Nut Tree Project and Transition Cowichan has a Forest Farming group. Golden Ears Transition is showcasing the Farm for a Year project. A group of people in Maple Ridge, B.C. are turning 2.5 acres into shared agricultural space.
Community Gardens are popular in various forms: claiming public space for food production and facilitating a neighbourhood group to care for it. The Maple Ridge group are also doing a Mandala Garden – re-claiming a brownfield as a community garden space. I saw Backyard Sharing promoted by the transition groups in Victoria, North Bay, Guelph, Dundas, and Peterborough. These projects all match backyard space with eager gardeners who have none. The gardeners and property-owners share the results. Transition Alberni Valley and Transition North Bay have each compiled a Local Food Directory (complete with google map of farms). Village Vancouver has a Seed Saver Network, a Bee Keeping group, and food-related courses.
There are also many courses on offer as part of a re-skilling program or in connection with the food working group or projects: cheese making, goat tending, traditional medicine, composting, permaculture, edible mushrooms, and in Victoria the Coup de Ville - a bike tour featuring examples of urban chicken coops! Transition Cocagne offers up a lot of food-related workshops: fruit tree cultivating, grafting, and grain growing. They are also hosting a Local Food Breakfast this spring. Villeray, a neighbourhood in Montréal, made local food the subject of one of the many walking tours that make up the annual Promenades de Jane (in honour of Jane Jacobs). Transition Barrie is building a re-skilling workshop series around food: Kids in the Garden, Building Cold Frames, Sprouting, and many more ideas. Transitioners in Boucherville have launched a collective kitchen, Saveurs de Transition.
Films on food are another way of encouraging local food awareness. Polar Hill/Coldstream Resiliency Initiative has hosted the BBC documentary A Farm for the Future. Villeray en Transition culminated a film series with Coline Serreau's Solutions locales pour un désordre global. In Powell River they have launched a study project called, “Can Powell River Feed Itself?” and published an article on that topic, Food for Thought. In its entrepreneurial fashion, Transition Peterborough is also managing their local Slow Food Festival this year.
While not usually the result of a Transition Town effort, most of these communities have Farmers Markets. With the help of Les Amies de la Terre d'Estrie, Transition-Coaticook is planning to establish a virtual public market. More and more common are the smaller Pocket Markets which get set up regularly, or as a one-time event at City Hall, on a busy street corner, or at a block party, for example. Transition Towns are promoting and encouraging these markets.
Village Vancouver is experimenting with Urban Market Gardens, a type of community garden designed for maximum density and combined with a market to recover some of the costs. Think of them as the “Victory Gardens" of World War II revamped to meet the needs of peak oil and climate change.
Scale and financing are key factors in our ability to increase local food production. They are explored by Sean Connelly of Simon Fraser University in his article Scaling Up Local Food. His description of the Japanese Seikatsu Co-operatives suggests the magnitude of the effort it takes to really shift control of a food system to the growers and consumers. For more insights into what that shift will take and a discussion of the financial side of local food, see Regenerating Regional Food Systems by Sandra Mark and Frank Moreland.
Next month I’ll explore some of the tools and models being used to strengthen locally controlled economies – from local currency to time banks and barter.