SOUTH DEVON, U.K. – On a bi-annual visit to both our families – my brother and my husband’s tribe – we step out of forested Maine into soft, green hills which meet the sea. On misted days, one cannot necessarily make out exactly where land and water define themselves. What is always noted when coming here is: the green stays all year, gardens grow within stone walls and barely take rests, and the swallows have just left for a few rainy, wintry months away from here, ( O what torture to endure …) returning by March. Sheep graze, cattle wander and bellow across fields.
We were on the tidal road this morning, driving into a nearby town, and the sea water had barely left the one way track on which two lanes of small (diesel cars) were trying to get through. There are a few hours each day to use this road to get to town the short way.
We watched swans sleeping on muddy flats, and egrets fishing in the marshes. My father-in-law sped along, as if on an American highway, while I leafed through the local newspaper to see what was “green” in this part of the U.K.
News over here is full of the U.S. economic woes, and a few of their own here. Newspaper editors don’t take out adjectives about U.S. politicians, especially at the top – no names mentioned – but we came over here for a rest from all that, so I turned to the environmental pages.
Describing only a few things to you: the town next to the one where we reach via tidal road, is called a “transition town.” It is a grassroots movement applying strategies and methodologies to wean communities off oil dependency. This movement hopes to be soon putting peak oil and issues of climate change at the heart of their forward planning.
Part of this initiative, including a town in Ireland, is attracting other towns to do likewise, and unlock funding for many transition goals. Lessening use of oil, and creating sustainable communities seems something that back in Maine, most everyone is thinking about now. Here in England the climate is hardly what you’d call cold enough to worry about having fuel for heating – but believe me, it can seem freezing with damp and rain and winds ( I went to school in Ireland when central heating didn’t exist there). Yet, this part of the country seems absolutely with it in terms of advancing great ideas.
Here are just a few of the ideas I’ve seen here:
• Towns and schools are encouraging students and families to grow gardens. The sale of seeds has risen 40 percent this year. Rocketing food prices have made this happen. Organic groups and the Royal Horticultural Society are encouraging people to plant their own food, and plan for next year’s garden now. Beside lettuce and salad greens, the easiest vegetables to grow, they say, are potatoes and beans. You do not need a garden to grow these. Pots and barrels will do.
• Members of Parliament expressed their view that allotments – like community gardens – can provide positive benefits for a community in healthy living, active aging, community cohesion, combating climate change, and enhancing community empowerment. People meet each other over tea, swap information and even form break-off groups to deal with other related issues.
• Schools are growing food for lunches. This initiative, called ‘Campaign for School Gardening’ teaches children about plants and gardening and provides sources to help schools make the most of outdoor space. In one infant school ( I haven’t learned how old that is) the school has turned their garden into a dynamic learning environment which teachers are using to deliver national curriculum subjects such as mathematics. Class groups have been cultivating seeds and growing vegetables, making their own compost, selling the produce and learning the skills of balancing spreadsheets as they go. Along with this, it is hoped that being out in the fresh air for part of their day, will stimulate and inspire the children’s minds and imaginations as they sense the depth of sustainability as a philosophy of life. A gardening and sustainability teacher also added, “Many of our planters once saw life as something else …” She noted that the children see objects to recycle, using them creatively, too. Washing machine drums, water tanks, tin cans, buckets, plastic bottles get turned into usable items.
• The last thing I will say today, is about another group of children who through an eco youth group, are getting involved in community projects, such as community gardens, helping the elderly with food growing and planting flowers through out their towns to brighten the streets.
As I walk the public footpaths over here and pass families and elderly people (we are almost considered this by our grandchildren), and note the closeness of nature one feels when tramping the countryside, I reflect on many things in Maine, not the least of which is this coming winter and fuel costs and wishing there could be a warmer sun as over here.
How will everyone manage heating? We return to dig into ideas for oil alternatives (Bio fuels are big here, as in cow poop) and ways to lower the food bills.