Mendo Island Transition: Local Jobs and Infrastructure

Transition Culture

The Challenge

The infrastructure required for a more localised and resilient future, the energy systems, the mills, the food systems and the abbatoirs, has been largely ripped out over the past 50 years as oil made it cheaper to work on an ever-increasingly large scale, and their reinstallation will not arise by accident. They will need to be economically viable, supported by their local communities, owned and operated by people with the appropriate skills, and linked together.

Core Text

“ The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

Winston Churchill.

The picture above shows the last working mill to close in Totnes. It was situated in the centre of the town, was powered by the river than runs past it, and deliveries were made to and from it using a horse drawn wagon. How’s that for a low-carbon local food enterprise? Now it is the town’s Tourist Information Office, and a very good one at that., but clearly it is much easier to turn a flour mill into a Tourist Information Office than it is to turn a Tourist Information Office into a mill again.

Much of the infrastructure that would have traditionally supported a more local food economy, and have generated much of the employment in our communities has since been dismantled, converted into flats, converted to other uses. Quite clearly, the infrastructure most settlements have today is completely unequipped for functioning in an energy-scarce context. We aren’t able to grow much of our own food, process the milk from our local fields, turn our local timber into useful things, process milk into cheese, apples into cider, wool into, well, wool (clean, useable wool that is). We will need to put it back, but it won’t look like it used to look, and it probably won’t work the way it used to either. It will be appropriate to now, based on the best way of doing things that we have figured out thus far, and it will be managed for the benefit of the community.

So what new businesses, buildings, livelihoods and infrastructure might a Transitioned community need? Here is a list I came up with in order to get your Transition initiative started with coming up with its own…. just a few initial thoughts… you will notice that actually there are lots of things, lots of opportunities for local economic development, that actually require very little in the way of infrastructure, or perhaps it shifts our thinking away from a nuts and bolts interpretation of the word ‘infrastructure’:

Employment Sector Industry Type Opportunities for Economic Development Infrastructure needed
Food Production/Land Use Organic Farming Farm workers, research and innovation, value adding and processing, retail, Community Supported Agriculture initiatives Farm buildings, packing houses,
Textile Production Farming, processing, manufacturing Factories with facilities for washing, scouring, retting, grading, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing
Organic Food Production Training, freshwater aquaculture, organic gourmet mushroom production for food and medicines, intensive market gardening, food preservation Glass houses for aquaponic fish production, sealable buildings for mushroom cultivation, greenhouses, composting,
Forestry Timber for construction and a variety of uses, sawdust for mushroom cultivation, charcoal, wood gasification, coppice products, saps, tannin, bark mulch, education, training, food crops, fibre Mobile sawmills, wood gasification equipment, shredders, drying kilns, covered working space, timber storage space
Urban Agriculture Co-ordination, land access provision, edible landscaping consultancy, online tools for linking growers and consumers, large potential for commercial production, plant nurseries and propagation Greenhouses, tools, access/deliveries by cycle, horse or electric vehicle, space for storage, packing and processing
Gleaning Apple harvesting and pressing, hedgerow drinks and other products, education
Agroforestry systems Design consultancy, planting and ongoing management, selling of wide range of produce, long term enhanced timber value, courses, publications, research Tree nursery beds, nut harvesting equipment, processing,
Schools Edible landscaping, teaching, Education for Sustainable Development, food growing training, apprenticeships, bespoke Transition training programmes Polytunnels, garden infrastructure, tools and equipment
Manufacturing and Processing Recycling Salvaging building materials, processing and reclaiming materials (bricks, timber etc), making insulation from waste paper, glass bottles into insulation A yard or industrial space with covered area, the various appropriate equipment for the relevant tasks
Sustainable Industry Renewable energy technologies manufacturing and installing, technology systems, Workshops with specialist equipment, office space
Repair Extending the life of machinery, building for durability Covered space for working on machinery, appropriate equipment
Scavenging Materials reuse, refurbishing, resale to low-income families
Services Healthcare Holistic healthcare, research into effective herbal medicines, local herb growing and processing, training for doctors, apothecaries, nutritional advice Glasshouses/polytunnels,, laboratory, bottling,
Energy Home insulation advice, energy monitoring, energy efficient devices, investment co-ordinators, sale of energy to grid or decentralised energy systems, producing wood chip/pellets for boilers, Energy Resilience Analyses for businesses
Compost Management Collecting, Managing, Training, Distribution, Education, potential links to urban food production
Information Technology Creation of effective software systems for energy management, carbon foot printing and much more Office space?
Hospice services / bereavement Hospice services, supporting families who keep relatives at home, green burials
Financial Investment Credit Unions, local currencies, mechanisms whereby people can invest with confidence into their community, Green Bonds, crowd funding
Government Councils Opportunity to organise efforts throughout region, and parishes
Researchers Opportunity to gather information from the many projects and enterprises underway.
Education and Design Educators Wide range of opportunities for supporting ‘The Great Reskilling’, developing Distance Learning programmes, training for professionals
Sustainable Designers Landscape architects specialising in edible landscaping, zero carbon buildings
The Arts Art projects documenting the Transition, installations, exhibitions, public art workshops, local recording studios, storytelling
Transition Consulting Working with businesses on energy audits, resilience plans, a range of future-proofing strategies
Personal / Group Support Counselling Personal ‘Transition Counselling’, group support, community processes
Citizens Advice Debt advice, housing advice, financial management skills, debt scheduling
Outplacement/Redundancy Support Support, retraining, ongoing support and training
Media Print media Local newspapers, small print run books on different aspects of the Transition
Internet Online retailing systems for local markets
Film media Online TV channels documenting inspiring examples of Transition in Action
Construction Reskilling Retraining builders to use local materials and green building techniques, improving awareness around energy efficiency in building, setting up local construction companies, rainwater harvesting systems, design and installation Demonstration site where people can learn by doing, storage for natural building materials, a shop where people can buy them,
Materials Creating local natural building materials, clay plasters, timber, lime, straw, hemp etc. Growing, processing, distribution, retail etc. Locally made wallpaper. Hemp processing equipment, sawmill, limekilns and roller mixer, yard and covered space, equipment for processing, bagging and storing clay plasters,
Architects Specialists in passivhaus building, local materials, retrofit advice
Transportation Low energy vehicle fleets Marketing, maintaining, renting, chauffeuring Garage space for repairs, recharging points
Bicycles Selling, servicing, maintenance training, rental Bicycle workshop for repairs
Rickshaws Importing, servicing, taxi service, weddings etc. Garage space for repairs, fuel processing
Biodiesel Sourcing, processing, selling, training and advice Simple equipment for processing biodiesel
Biomethane/Electric vehicles Fleet management, sales, leasing, car clubs

Looks to me like a huge range of opportunities for new livelihoods. In an interview I did with someone who grew up in Totnes in the early 1960s, he told me:

“…all of the little back streets had some kinds of artisans or builders yards or something going on in them. You didn’t have to go very far out of the High Street before you were in light industrial premises. All of the top of town, like Harris’s ironmongers, they had their big ironmongery shop, but on the other side they had … an agricultural machinery shop. Can you believe it?! There was agricultural machinery sitting there which was for sale! They sold harrows and seed drills and things to go on the back of tractors! They had a little showroom of all that sort of stuff. Then they had the blacksmiths forge just round the back there”.

This diversity of businesses, workshops and enterprises gives a place a far richer, more vibrant tapestry than most places have today, with our ‘Clone Town’ High Streets and out-of-town arcades and business parks. A more resilience community will surely be a richer and more nourishing place that what many of our towns and cities have become today.

The Solution

Make one of the key focuses of your Transition initiative’s work and thinking the practicalities of stimulating the infrastructure required by a more localised future. Ideas as to which will be the key pieces of infrastructure will emerge from the EDAP process. Ensure that thinking is strategic and connected, and that it is based on considering the viability of each enterprise. Where elements still exist, find innovative ways, such as the community support model (as in CSAs) to enable them to continue. Where they don’t exist, your Transition initiative might create some, some might be created by social entrepreneurs, some by private businesses, and some by the local authority.

Original article available here