books food transition towns

Local Food: How to make it happen in your community, by Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins

This is the third book out the Transition Towns stable, and it’s in keeping with its forbears – square and pretty, accessible, and packed with great ideas. The title will tell you how it differs. The Handbook and the Timeline lay the foundations but lacked specifics, offering a vision rather than concrete examples. The ‘but what does it look like?’ question still hung in the air. The Transition movement has progressed however, and there are more and more stories to tell. Local Food is the first of a series of books that will tell you ‘how to make it happen’.

The need for local food is pretty well established. Britain only grows a fraction of its own food, relying increasingly on imports to keep our shelves stocked and our bellies full. Unnecessary food miles and industrialised agriculture contribute to climate change, and food is a major component of our carbon footprint. Our dependence on fossil fuels is another compelling factor. The supermarket network only stocks three days’ worth of food. An oil shock, a major strike, and we are only 9 meals from anarchy.

We’re also a rather unhealthy bunch, and despite the government’s best efforts to make us eat our five a day, our diets are largely to blame. Getting people back in touch with where food comes from is a proven way to change perspectives and get people thinking more about what they eat. 93% of school children involved in growing food change the way they eat, and there’s a whole lot of fun to be had working together and getting your hands dirty.

In other words, local food projects aren’t “hair shirt responses to impending catastrophe,” as Rob Hopkins puts it, but “people finding out that they share ideals and vision with each other, and that they really enjoy working together to bring these visions to fruition.”

Local Food sets out some of those visions, from garden sharing and allotments to community orchards and co-ops. Each chapter introduces a concept or type of project, and then gives two or three real life examples. Each section closes with tips for setting up your own, contributed by people who have already done it. To the authors’ credit, not all the examples are successful, and there’s as much to learn from the ones that have struggled as there is from the ones that have taken off. It’s practical, inspiring, and while it never sounds easy, it does all sound very possible.

There are some rather robust projects here too. I was particularly impressed with Community Supported Agriculture, which really could throw a lifeline to Britain’s beleaguered farms. There’s a wealth of experience here, and it’s worth reading the book once for inspiration, and then filing it for reference.

Not that it feels complete quite yet – it’s mostly vegetables and fruit so far, with passing mention of chickens and sheep. Perhaps future editions will feature local egg projects, cheese making, fish farming, maybe even cereal growing and milling. I’d love to have read about a successful beekeeping initiative  – Luton used to be famous for honey, and I believe it could be again. Still, the principles of setting up and running a community food project are all here, and it would be a thick book indeed if you included every possible outworking.

Food is on the public agenda at the moment, and there hasn’t been a better time to start a local food project for decades. This book will show you how to do it.

Here’s four nice examples:


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