At October's Transition Café, I presented a new collaborative Transition project that we're hoping to start up early next year. It's inspired by two things.First, one of the Transition ingredients, which used to be called 'Honouring the Elders', and is now simply referred to as 'oral histories'. The basic idea is that if we are looking for new ways of adapting to post-peak oil life, one important step is to ask older people how they used to live before the age of cheap oil. For example, how did they get around, what did they eat, what did they do for entertainment and what kind of energy systems did they use? This kind of information can then help feed into a Transition Initiative's Energy Descent Action Plan. There don't seem to be a lot of these kinds of projects around yet, though we did find ones in Bristol and right next door in West Kirkby. (You can see the great video they've recently produced here).

Second, I've been fascinated by a set of plaques on the side of the Liverpool One Tesco, which point out that a market garden used to be right where the Tesco is now. The garden was apparently owned by Thomas Seel (one of Liverpool's foremost slave traders) and so the area is called 'Mr Seel's Garden' on the plaque. Its a really striking juxtaposition of historic and modern food systems, and how Liverpool's global connections have changed over time.

So we've brought these two ideas together to develop a project called 'Memories of Mr Seel's Garden: historic and future food systems in Liverpool'. It's going to involve oral histories, looking at old maps and researching in the Merseyside Maritime Museum Archives. We're aiming to build up a multi-layered picture of how people used to eat in Liverpool and where they got their food from. There's a broad range of groups involved and Transition Liverpool will be working alongside the Friends of Everton Park and the Friends of Sudley Estate, as well as with academics from Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Once we've done our research we're hoping to develop a historical food walking tour in the form of a print map and an iphone app inspired by the Walking Through Time project.

If we do get the funding we'll be putting a call out for people who would like to be trained in the different research methods and contribute to the project. So if you are interested please let us know ( We'll find out about our application in Late December-early January, so keep your fingers crossed for us.....
Transition Liverpool hosted its 2nd Annual Symposium - Feeding Liverpool in a World in Energy Crisis - recently and we've now uploaded the photos and outcomes from the event to the website. You can check this out here.

Thanks to everyone for coming along and to the Liverpool Quakers and the Liverpool Primary Care Trust for supporting the event.

Things are gearing up for the 2nd Transition Liverpool Symposium: Feeding Liverpool in a World in Energy Crisis. Tickets are now all allocated and we're putting the finishing touches on the day's programme. It's going to be a great interactive day, with lots of time to discuss how we can support the development of more local food projects in Liverpool.

In the meantime I thought I'd share some photos from my latest attempt at preserving some of the bountiful harvest of local Liverpool damson's. How's your preserving going?
This concept needs no introduction, or at least it shouldn’t to us Transitioners, but it does deserve a credit, and in this case the honour is all Todmorden’s.

Todmorden, or Toddy as it is affectionately called, had the mad but brilliant idea to replace under-utilised local land with land used to grow food. Corn is grown on the grass verges of the police station. Pensioners are planting. Publicans are pickling (but they always did.) Doctors are digging. Walkers are weeding, and fireman fruit is abundant amidst the gleaming red engines of the Toddy Fire Brigade. The latter brings to mind the gleaming red fire engine of the children’s TV show Trumpton and its famous firemen’s song. So for Trumpton substitute Todmorden, and for “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grub”, substitute “Grew, Grew, Toddy did Grew; custard, rhubarb and grub!” Well that’s my take. The food is free; like all the best ideas are free.

Ideas like this motivate me, so too notions of free food. So starting with the latter, January 2011 saw a list of events advertised in the local Wirral press related to park ranger activities. I wondered if it included food foraging, so I asked the question by emailing all of the ranger teams referred to in the press. There was no such foraging activity, but my emails led to a personal link with West Kirby Transition Town; and from this evolved one memorable evening on the sands of the Mersey foraging for razor clams.

On a more structured level it also led to a relationship with a Wirral Councillor and an invitation to an event on 23 March called “Wirral Enviro Champs.” Guests of honour at the event were two of the Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) team, namely Alan McDonald and Debby McCaul.

The lunch was excellently provided by local catering firm Alley Cats. I’d never met them before so this is a genuine plug. After lunch IET were up and at it. It was the usual brilliant presentation, filled with wit and humility, albeit with some technology challenges.

Wirral were hosting this event as they too have a cunning plan; this being Incredible Edible Wirral. It's a good plan, but as yet it is still evolving. I can report that a trip is planned to Toddy, on an as yet undecided date and I can add that another meeting is planned on 10 July.

I can also report that a very senior Wirral councillor got very excited and invited IET to give a presentation to the full council. I don’t know if this has happened, or if it ever will, but I can email Nick Green to ask if others are interested. It's a nice gesture. I hope it comes off. In the last closing comment of the event, I made my one and only point. First that I admired Wirral initiatives to support local food; but second how did this complement other local policies that have seen several massive supermarkets built on Wirral in recent times, the latest being a huge ASDA, under construction, smack in the middle of Birkenhead, next to the market. The silence of the lambs was only equalled by the applause of the crowd.

by Colin Dyas

My copy of Victorian Farm arrived today, courtesy of a online film rental club, who shall remain nameless. I'm probably a little more excited about that than I should admit. Running a self-sufficient farm is something I've secretly dreamed of since I first found John Seymour's book on our family book shelves. Not too many other kids in primary school thought much of this idea, but now that I'm older it seems as though every third or fourth person's been secretly harbouring this dream too.

It may be that the time has come for a lot of us to starting putting our shovels where our mouths are (if you'll excuse the pun) and start farming.

As Rob Hopkins pointed out on his blog recently:
        It is often said that in Cuba, during the Special Period, the country went from needing 1% of its population working         in farming to 20%.  If the same thing is applied to the UK in the event of an energy famine, we would need around 8         million new farmers.
Sharon Astyk a farmer, blogger and author well known in peak oil circles, argued in her book A Nation of Farmers that the U.S. would need 100 million new farmers. If we apply the 20% figure to ourselves here, Liverpool would need a few less, maybe around 87,000.

In order to manage this, we’ll need to start thinking about farming quite differently and instead of hankering for idyllic Welsh farms like the one in the picture above, many in the U.S. and Canada are now turning to urban homesteading. I haven’t read anything yet about how this model might fit in the U.K., but the much smaller average backyard sizes already suggest that it can’t simply be copied here on a large scale.

Allotments still seem to be the most immediate way to go for those interested in growing their own food, but as Transition West Kirby have so wonderfully highlighted, allotment waiting lists are much too long. I haven’t found any data available for allotment waiting lists in Liverpool yet – please share if you know of any – but odds are they are as long.

It seems that a pressure group representing people on waiting lists, The Liverpool Area Federation of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, was set up. But, while it is still advertised by the Liverpool council, the website no longer exists, many individual allotment sites fail as well.

Another group set up to promote local food production Urbanag, which I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while now, did not have too much news about new projects in Liverpool in 2010, although the Greater Liverpool Food Alliance was launched. However, the Alliance’s Project Dirt page suggests that things could be changing, with a new agenda set for 2011.

Getting sustainable local food systems in place is an urgent task, but also an overwhelming one. 87,000 is a big number. But small steps lead to big changes, as they say and so in 2011 Transition Liverpool is hoping to develop a Liverpool Local Food Guide to raise awareness of the local food already available, and also gather and publicise data on the current state of allotment waiting lists. Don’t forget that our community allotment is also welcoming new volunteers, as is Jaz Jackson’s Dingle Growers project.

Do you know of any other local food projects in Liverpool, or have ideas for how to encourage farming in the city? If so, please let us know.

  • More on the University of Liverpool’s Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy, which we featured here, from the Liverpool Daily Post. Professor Tim Greenshaw from the Institute has kindly agreed to talk in the Summer session of our Sustainability Discussion series – stay tuned for dates.

  • In other energy news this week, the Cavernwalks are moving to 100% renewable energy, and there is talk of a new windfarm in Ince-Blundell.

  • There’s been lots in the news about shale gas exploration with worries about methane leaks – a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – and groundwater contamination – including ignitable drinking water in the U.S. But this has come closer to home with exploratory drilling going on near Blackpool.

  • The Greens have criticised plans to build an underground energy cable through the middle of the Wirral, in favour of focusing on energy efficiency. Interesting for TL in terms of local solutions vs large infrastructure projects.

  • With the devastating floods in Australia, home-owners here in the U.K may be thinking about flood insurance. However with the Coalition cutting funding for flood defence projects, insurance companies may refuse to cover homes in many places in the UK including Liverpool.

  • On a more positive note – Travelwise are offering all adults in Merseyside free bicycle maintenance and skills courses – available until the end of March. Some members of TL have already attended the Basic Skills course and highly recommend it!

  • We’re also all getting excited about smart energy meters – we have a couple doing the rounds so we can test out how they work. Wirral Council are currently giving them away for free for local residents – see here for more details.
  • Finally for those interested in Local Food, Co-operatives UK are offering free courses in Manchester for those involved in a local group. Check out the rest of the website for lots more support and information.
 That’s it for this week, let us know if there’s anything important we missed :)


Unicorn Food Co-op


On the 10th of March 2010 Unicorn Food co-op from Manchester gave a talk on growing your own food and running a food co-op. Adam York a founder at Unicorn Grocery Ltd and Glebelands Market Garden Ltd in Manchester spoke about how they sell £3.75M worth of grocery products to an essentially local market.
Wednesday 27 August 2008
Clare G and Karen introduced the topic of supermarkets in an entertaining role play between a supermarket-addict and an ethical consumer, before we were all invited to share our views on the pros and cons and the environmental aspects of supermarkets, consider the point of view of suppliers, as well as give our suggestions for alternatives, in the world cafe, complete with cookies and flowers!

The Café was arranged into four tables each of which had a discussion topic.

The topics were as follows:

1. Pros and cons 2. Alternatives 3. Environment 4. Suppliers

To begin, a role play discussion was held between Karen and Clare in order to provide background information for the ensuing discussions. Should you wish to have sight of this information, please contact Clare

Highly recommended reading:
  1. Not on the Label - What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence (Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN 0-141-01566-7 £8.99)
  2. Shopped – The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets by Joanna Blythman (Harper Perennial, 2005. ISBN 0-00-715804-1 £7.99)
  3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Bloomsbury, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7475-8683-8 £7.99)

1. Pros and cons

CONS • Over packaged foods • Highly processed foods • Food additives and preservatives used frequently to make sub-standard food taste and look better than it otherwise would. • Supermarkets are not accountable to the local communities in which they are located. • Destruction of the high street • Hyperactivity link to food additives • Food security issues – centralised distribution systems create vulnerability to rising fuel prices and conflicts • Convenience foods such as pre-washed bagged salads may have been through several processes such as frequent treatment with pesticides, irradiation and chlorine washes • Global markets hurt small scale suppliers • Food miles vastly increased by importing exotic and/or out-of-season fruit and vegetables • (Many more! See especially ‘Not on the Label...’ and ‘Shopped…’ for easy-to-read further information).

PROS • Loyalty cards • 1% cash back • Money saving vouchers • Loyalty cards contribute to supermarkets’ awareness of your tastes and preferences and thus lead to more appropriate provisions • Economies of scale • Market differentiation • Open more hours of the day • Range of prices – cheap, medium and luxury • Standard sizes • ‘Good’ quality • Market dominance leads to reduced prices

2. Alternatives • Farmers’ markets • Food co-operatives – bulk orders for local people and get local growers involved • Grow your own • Local shops • Don’t import/encourage importing unnecessarily • Community supported agriculture • Bartering • Sharing produce • Growing in the city • Seasonal food • Less packaging • Greater regulation of supermarkets • Teach cooking • Education of children • Growing food in school grounds • Inclusion of parents in children-centred addressing of the issue • Allotment Act 1929 – use it! (Find online) • Build relationships with local suppliers • Planting orchards • A lady on Avondale Road bakes and sells to local corner shops • ‘Windmill’ Wholefoods – use them! • ‘Kinsey’s’ bakers on Aigburth Road – use them too! The business is actually for sale – any takers? Unsocial hours but good money, apparently. • Community shared meals – similar to internet dating but for matching those who want to eat similar meals at similar times • Vegetarian cooking skills taught at school • System of locally produced convenience meals which are almost ready-to-cook. This idea would involve taking locally grown, seasonal produce to create dishes and/or ‘meal kits’ which could be supplemented by food items one may already have at home. Using specially designed software, the service would take into account your available items (if any) and seasonal availability before devising a meal suggestion and a subsequent meal kit. The kit could then be delivered to your door in a reusable (non-plastic?) container whereupon you would complete minor final preparation before cooking and eating. • Information, menu ideas and recipe cards at veg box schemes or community centres, for example, which make meal suggestions based on current availability and seasonality. • Sadly, it can be very difficult to completely avoid using supermarkets!

3. Environment • Supermarkets have a massive environmental impact in terms of energy use, waste, ecologically detrimental distribution systems etc. • Building on Greenfield sites • Energy wastage of 24 hr stores • Encourage monoculture which has an adverse effect on biodiversity • Excessive use of packaging • Excessive use of pesticides to meet ‘quality’ standards • Organic produce may be grown abroad. Local produce may be a better option than supermarket organic? • Local, small scale organic produce is best for the environment • Monoculture supported by artificial fertilisers (usually synthesised from oil) which impoverish the soil • Supermarkets divorce us from where our food comes from • Encourage local milk production delivered by low emission vehicles • Supermarkets promote excessive car use and car dependency

4. Suppliers • Suppliers are squeezed to the limit by supermarkets who have the clout to make increasing demands and dictate exacting terms • Suppliers in developing countries usually get a raw deal. They should be feeding themselves instead of exporting food to richer nations • Farmers bear the loss for produce which fails to meet exacting standards or late deliveries etc • Exclusive contracts • Distribution systems, for example, make it much more of a hassle for supermarkets to deal with small scale suppliers • Farmers’ co-ops may be a possibility to give them some control back and a better return for their produce • Centralisation – small producers have little choice but to grow bigger or face having no buyer for their produce • Unrealistic margins for farmers • Unseasonable food • Unrealistic standardisation • Separation of consumers from producers
and Organic Walk with Ruth at Ruth's garden Sunday 10 August 2008
15th July 2008

Ruth Jacobs and Don Headey from Liverpool Organic Gardeners gave an introduction to composting and wormeries, complete with slides, compost samples and worms!

Tom and Roisin introduced their plans to set up a charity that will collect household food waste in the Aigburth area, and compost it off-ste. Their plans are still in the early stages and they would really love to hear from you if you'd like to help them get it going!

The event was attended by all kinds of people ranging from the well-experienced composters to the complete beginners, which meant everyone was able to learn something new or share their knowledge with others. The event demonstrated just how much people in the group already know and are doing everyday that is so important in reducing both our impact on the environment and our energy dependence.

For anyone interested in starting their own wormery - or for those who want to make theirs work better, Ruth brought along a highly recommended book, 'Composting with Worms: Why waste your waste' by George Pilkington