Friday 8 July 2011

Rogueing in the Wheat and Other Gatherings in Transition

Today as Charlotte goes up to Liverpool for the annual Transition Conference, carsharing with fellow transitioners Dan from Ipswich, Simeon from Norwich and Gary from Diss, I thought I’d take a look at a few Transition-related gatherings I’ve been to recently.

bloggers of TN unite

There were quite a few TN bloggers at Stefi’s birthday party last week in Norwich. As I climbed down from planting houseleeks on the sedum roof (hence soil on hands), I bumped into Helen(ofnorwich). “I love your bra,” I said. “It’s not my bra,” she laughed. “Is this the rainwater butt-fed toilet. I’ve been sent to look at it by Stefi...” Helen’s been a TN blogger from the beginning like me, in fact we met at the Arts, Culture and Well-Being table at Transition Norwich's Unleashing in October 2008. Now she co-organises the annual Magdalen Street Celebration (on 1st October this year) along with Karen and Stefi.

I hadn't seen Chris for ages, so we sat together and talked about everything from cycling, to Norwich FarmShare to more rainwater butts to the effects of the government cuts on adoption agencies. The food was good (Ethiopian vegetarian), the company was good, we sang some songs and later on there was dancing, though Charlotte and I had gone home by then.

bungay library community garden midsummer soiree

“What is that plant?” Lesley asked me.
“What the one that looks a bit like a chamomile-cum-feverfew?*” I said.
“No, that one,” she replied.

I could not believe that Lesley had escaped a conversation with me (well, broadcast from really, everybody gets one – you remember that, John) about anise hyssop aka licorice mint, fantastic smelling, sunshine loving member of the mint family, flowers forever during the summer, makes great tea, good for the heart and TOTALLY beloved by BEES! It’s an agastache so don’t grow it anywhere near any other agastache they cross-pollinate like mad, but the seeds are amazingly viable... would you like a few plants, Lesley?

The midsummer gathering in the Bungay library community garden, organised by Rita and Jenni, was a celebration of all the effort, hard work, joys and frustrations that have gone into transforming (transitioning?) the library courtyard from a dead, unvisited area into a vibrant, colourful space full of healthy blooming plants where anyone can come and sit during library hours. And all in the space of eighteen months.

We all brought food and drink (Margaret's buckwheat blinis topped with refried beans were particularly delicious) and Thane's group of Bungay musicians came and sang and played flute, dulcimer, mandolin, xylophone and accordeon.

This has been a true Transition initiative, a collaboration between the people who work at the library, Sustainable (aka Transition) Bungay and a sub-group of gardeners, builders, plant and library lovers who met at the original permaculture course in January 2010.

I'm off to see Charlotte now before she goes to Liverpool, but I'll be back later with some more gatherings...

last but not least...transition east

It's over two years since Transition Downham and Villages organised the first Transition East regional gathering, over a year and half since the second one in Diss and for the past three years we've had a stall at the Waveney Greenpeace Fair. On Saturday 25th June I went over to Framsden where Glenn and Jeannie were hosting a weekend at their no-tillage farm for fellow Transitioners from Suffolk and South Norfolk. The afternoon was both relaxed and intense as a small group of us from Ipswich, Bungay, Norwich, Framlingham, Badingham, Halesworth, Debenham, Hemingstone and Reydon sat together and spoke about our respective initiatives' projects and our experiences of being in Transition groups - both the successes and the challenges.

Food security was foremost in people's minds. It was in the framework of the bigger picture that the challenges really presented themselves. These included issues of land availability for growing food, and who indeed owns the land, along with regulatory constraints preventing that land from being freed up. Jeannie and Glenn are setting up a food growing social enterprise on an acre of their farm for vulnerable people with no land access.

Many of us felt a frustration at the lack of knowledge or even interest at a local government level about the potential breakdown in systems in the event of Peak Oil and Climate Change. Lucy mentioned in this context the coronal mass ejections from the sun expected in the coming year, which can have severe effects on satellites and the electrical grid. The neighbourhood Charlotte and I live in experienced a minor systems breakdown that very week after a storm. It took twelve days for our telephone line to be restored. Our neighbours were without their landline for nearly three weeks!

We also discussed the difficulty of engaging more people in these subjects in a climate (sic) where there is little receptivity to them and a lack of mainstream media interest. David from Badingham quoting Bill Mollison said we need to "go where we're invited," notice where the openings are and go with that rather than forcing the issue, exhausting ourselves in the process and not getting anywhere. Meanwhile we need to make sure there is space made in our own groups for these discussions and remember what we're meeting up for.

I didn't get to the barn dance that evening in the village, or to the second day. So I called Jeannie today and she told me that after dancing the night away, she was up at six the next morning "rogueing in the wheat," with the Transition campers. Whilst the eight of them went taking out a bad old wheat variety that had found its way into the good in one of their fields, they talked transition non-stop for four hours till breakfast at ten!

Funnily enough, one of the 'roguers' was the very Dan Charlotte is on the way to Liverpool with as I write.

*This plant from a wildflower seed mix, which none of us knew the name of is in fact a 'Silver Tansy' (Tanacetum niveum). I've seen it in gardens everywhere this year.

Pics Planting Houseleeks on Stefi's Sedum roof, Transition east/Suffolk gathering at Glenn and Jeannie's farm; me and Helen outside rainwater fed toilet, birthday party l to r Chris, Helen, Charlotte, Stefi, Hashim, Laura; Bungay community garden midsummer soiree, flowers blooming including anise hyssop, Thane and the musicians, listening, Margaret, Nick, Kate and Lesley; Jeannie and Glenn's no tillage veg plot


  1. I do remember the Anise Hyssop (known very locally as Mark's Plant) - I will send you a picture of the clump that is growing nicely this year and soon about to flower next to the teasels that bees also love.

    Self seeded vs carefully nurtured in seed compost = 6-1.

  2. Very impressive self-seeding there John. I wonder if the name "Mark's Plant" has spread. Oh dear, am I over-enthusiastic? That's not such a positive thing if you go by Chinese medicine!;-)

    PS Love teasels!