Friday, 13 June 2008

Getting oil out of our food

In Transition Town Lewes we’ve been asking for a while how we will feed ourselves in a world after oil. Now it’s a relief to hear this question go mainstream. The answers that arise are varied and often exciting. The Food Programme last week featured communities growing their own food and ended with an interview with the eloquent Kath Dalmeny from Sustain. ‘We’ve got to have a vision of what we want to world to be like when the oil prices become too high,’ she said. ‘There are some examples of this already: there are park deparments who are allowing land to be used as community gardens, Crown Estates, training up small producers. There are community supported farms such as Tablehurst and Plawhatch in East Sussex issuing shares. We’ve got to get serious about this stuff if we’re going to grow enough food to make a difference.’

She pointed out that we cannot wait for government to take the lead and suspects a lot of initiatives will come from local people demanding them. ‘If you look at the carbon footprint of the food we eat, it makes most sense to grow our horticultural produce - perishable salad leaves and so on - very close to where they are consumed. That way you can take away the need for refrigeration. We need a growing policy for the UK, a kind of vision that would genuinely take oil out of the equation.’

Monbiot, too, writes about how small farms and smallholdings across the world are far more productive than broadscale agriculture. Almost all commentators, other than the Monsanto gang, are pointing in the same direction: in a world with less oil we will feed ourselves locally. It’s common sense. Last weekend a group of us planted a small urban edible garden in public view just opposite St John’s Sub-Castro. A quick covering of foraged cardboard, compost and straw excludes the weeds in this no-dig garden and provides a mulch for the pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, sweetcorn and marrows (by request of the owner).

Lewes must be at least 20% garden. And we’re blessed with a number of excellent local farmers and growers. We can feed ourselves, sooner by choice or later by necessity. I know what option I prefer.

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