Archive for February, 2016

Transition: how to be a part of the solution

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized




It is many years since I have lived in a town, so while I have long appreciated the Transition Town movement in principle, I have not had the chance to get involved. Since I started teaching in Totnes, the town where this global movement was born, I have taken the opportunity to explore what transition means in practice.

Last night in the Civic Hall, Transition Town Totnes (TTT) held an event to showcase the many projects that are active in and around Totnes. And there are many. I was enthralled by the long stream of speakers talking about what they do in the community, and the invitation to get involved. Every corner of society is met with positive, citizen-led solutions to creating a more sustainable and resilient culture. Like the permaculture movement as a whole, Transition now embraces every facet of our human experience, from personal well-being, arts and social care, to local organic food, upcycling, housing and economics. Last night the journey of the movement was beautifully and comically acted out through the story of a metaphoric seed being sown. The metaphor has some serious mileage when you consider how the movement has grown since it’s conception in 2006.


Co-founder of the movement Rob Hopkins finished the evening with the launch of his new book, 21 Transition Stories which takes inspiring examples of Transition projects from around the world. Rob’s eloquence as a speaker has played no small part in spreading the idea of Transition, and it must be more than a little gratifying to see just how far and wide the seeds have travelled. These stories were taken to COP21 in Paris in November to demonstrate the power of positive community action.

It is worth reminding the Totnes community that they are a flagship for community action, and Rob Hopkins did so by sharing some of these international stories in his speech. The Totnes story is featured in the French film Demain, in which directors “Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent decided to [line] up known solutions [to today’s problems] in all spheres side-by-side to show what our society could look like tomorrow…” As a species we are pretty sure that we are intelligent and creative beings, but our current predicament would suggest otherwise. It is time to remind all of humankind how intelligent and creative we can be; this is what Demain does so beautifully. Many ideas which were born in Totnes, or made a success here have been adopted in towns far and wide, because ‘if it works there it could work here.’ This reminds me that the most powerful impact we can have is to walk our talk and live by our values.


Permaculture is all about positive solutions, found and implemented at a grass-roots level, and Transition is an urban manifestation of that principle. I sense a reinvention of the word activism – we can reclaim it to mean ‘positive action’ rather than meeting negative actions with negative actions. This may look like small steps on an individual level, but when we add up all of those small steps we see something moving pretty fast- there is no better example of this than Transition.


For more information about TTT projects go to and for information about the transition network as a whole go to where there is also an excellent blog.

European Permaculture Pioneers

Written by Caroline Aitken on . Posted in Uncategorized

When the concept of Permaculture arrived on our shores from Australia in the early eighties various converts, including Patrick went about adapting some of the techniques for our northern temperate climate. In Patrick’s case this resulted in The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and other Temperate Climates and others such as Martin Crawford (How To Create A Forest Garden), Graham Burnett (A beginners Guide to Permaculture) and Graham Bell (The Permaculture Garden) have made their own invaluable contributions.

European permaulture continues to evolve and grow as permaculturists experiment and share their discoveries via blogs, articles and books. Whatever form they take, these practitioners’ offerings contribute hugely to our collective wisdom and I am always grateful when teaching to be able to say: “here is a working example…”

permaculture market garden

Ferme du Bec Hellouin, Normandy

In April the book Miraculous Abundance by Perrine & Charles Herve-Gruyer will be released, adding another gem to the permaculture library. The authors run a market garden, Ferme du Bec Hellouin in Northern France, but not your usual market garden. They started their project with the intention of exploring ecologically sound food growing practices, despite neither of them having previous experience of farming. Untainted by knowledge of conventional western practices they took on the principles of permaculture and drew upon sources as varied as the practices of 19th century Parisian Market Gardener’s and Amazonian tribes people. Their faith in the principles carried them through the inevitable bumps of a new and ambitious project (while learning as they went and having the occasional baby!) and in the past 10 years they have created a garden so abundantly productive that they are now working with a French university to record and report their methods and yields. They have caught the attention of other institutions too, including European agencies responsible for planning food security strategies, and they have significantly raised interest in Permaculture in France.

Not only are their food yields incredibly high, but their garden is a haven of biodiversity and a place of real joy to live and work. Their exploration has led to something incredibly important for mankind – agriculture which is not just sustainable but restorative. This book chronicles their fascinating journey and unique approach.


Bob Mehew leading volunteers in planting the first trees at Huxhams Cross Farm.

Closer to home a new farm has been born close to Totnes in Devon. Huxhams Cross Farm was taken on by Marina Brown-O’Connell who, while running the Apricot Centre has acquired much experience of farming with a focus on local organic and biodynamic food, education and well-being. From her existing farm in Essex she now brings her expertise to Devon.

The farm was designed during a Permaculture Design Course laid on for the purpose at Dartington Hall last year. The group came up with a beautiful design which includes soil-building leys and windbreaks in phase one to be followed by agroforestry (fruit trees with alley rotations of grains, pulses and potatoes) and cows and turkeys grazed on green manure pastures. I look forward to seeing the design take shape and being able to refer to another great example of what is possible. I’m sure I will be writing more about Huxhams Cross in the future.

There are many more examples we can take inspiration and guidance from to enable all of us to put theory in the practice. Who knows, our own experimentation may lead to new breakthroughs in permaculture!

Here are some good blogs to check out:

Deano Martin’s The Sustainable Smallholding

Chris Smaje’s Small Farm Future

Kay Hebbourn’s This Week in The Garden

Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening Forum

Permaculture Design Course on Dartmoor