Locavore – Ethical business Tour

In the south of Glasgow sits the grocery store and cafe Locavore which has been farming and supplying local produce for the last six years. I spoke to Kim from the social enterprise about the newly expanded shop and the range of goods they stock to keep packaging low whilst providing great environmentally responsible food and products.

Locavore organically grows much of its food at three sites, just 3 acres in total, within 10 miles of the city. They also run a scheme called Grow the Growers where they help growers gain experience and skills whilst supplying the shop. The founder Reuben started Locavore after working in community gardens around Glasgow and wanted to use a social enterprise to make a bigger difference for sustainable food.

We think at the root of all these big overwhelming global and local problems is the basic model of the big corporations who run the food system. They exist to extract as much money as possible from customers for the benefit of their shareholders. With supermarket chains in the UK holding 97% of the grocery market, it’s not much of a surprise that things are in such a dire state.

The shop stocks a great range of refillable goods including dry foods, spices, household cleaning products and even milk. At the cafe you can enjoy a seasonally grown organic menu with a good range of vegan dishes, salads, a stew, sandwiches and ploughmans. Locals can also enjoy the abundant vegbox scheme. With business in their new larger shop already three times what they expected it looks like the demand for more sustainable options in Glasgow is growing well. I also spotted some hemp tea on the shelves from our friends at Hempen 🙂

Locavore’s principles: Fairness, A healthy environment, Using money to do good, Honesty and Great food

Ethical business tour

Over the next year I’ll be visiting my amazing stockists around the country, to interview them about their businesses, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.

The first stop is Anything But Plastic, an online shop based in Glasgow, which as well as our Fit Pit deodorant also sells soap, laundry soap, toothbrushes, tooth tabs, floss, shampoo, makeup, containers, bags and cleaning products. In the beautiful setting of Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens I interviewed Jenny about her first and very successful year of Anything But Plastic.

ABP is here to help you cut down your plastic consumption. Plastic is the most pervasive man-made material ever, it doesn’t just go away when you throw it in the bin, it’s here to stay. So if you want to help contribute to a world with less plastic, you are in the right place!

nullMy sister Suzanne and I approached a local hotel a few years ago to use their waste jam jars for our business and Jenny told me that she also now reuses hotel jam jars for products. “You guys definitely inspired me and I’m looking for more hotels to get them from too.” When collecting from the hotel Suzanne used to encourage them to stop using single use jars all together. Week after week they would see the jars pile up in the buckets and we would take them away. Until one week they said that they were sorry but they would be stopping using the little disposable jars and were switching to refillable pots on the table. Far from being disappointed we were delighted at the reduction in waste, so it was really exciting for me to hear that Jenny too was influencing her local hotels.

Anything But Plastic has seen a great interest from customers as well as the media and is part of a growing trend of plastic-free businesses. It gives me hope that we can look forward to disposable plastic becoming history.

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Housing for our communities

Do you have that feeling that the housing market isn’t quite working? That developers are making money but communities don’t benefit much? Community land trusts are one way that communities are taking back the power over their housing. I spoke with Charlie from Oxfordshire Community Land Trust about their work and their latest campaign to create affordable housing in Oxford.

A community land trust protects land and property assets and makes them affordable for the community, whether it be for work, housing or leisure.

Their legal structures could be Industrial and Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community, Community Interest Companies, Charitable Trusts or Companies Limited by Guarantee, but the principles are the same – ensure that assets benefits the community and not outside companies.

In Oxford at the moment Homes for Oxford, another community group is working with the trust to fundraise for their own housing development. You can learn more and donate to the work here.

What are some of the ties that hold us down and prevent us from living a life that we believe in, a life that benefits those around us and makes us feel fulfilled? For many people the answer is simply needing to pay the bills, being caught in a cycle of work to pay the rent. If we can remove the wealth extractors from our housing market we have a chance to create housing that benefits our communities, and helps give people more freedom to do what they think is right.

 

Welcome to La ZAD

The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes.  During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.

Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.

ZAD map

 

The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.

Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”

To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.

I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.

Kindling social change

In Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester I wander in the sun amongst vegetables, families and education projects to meet Helen. Helen was one of the founders of MERCi (see A hive of possibilities) and founders of Kindling. I asked her what had lead her to become so active and to create these groups.

Kindling in Manchester runs practical projects to increase food sustainability and campaign for social change. Their projects include FarmStart which is an incubator farm to help new growers get started and scale up, Forgotten Fields a project about the history of Manchester’s food growing, as well as organising many events and resources to support local growers.

A hive of possibilities in Manchester

b5mNext to a canal in Manchester is a five story building, converted from a mill, where lots of different environmentally minded organisations live. It’s called Bridge 5 Mill, it”s run by MERCi and it’s a hive of possibilities. I’d like to share with you a little of the story of this building and a couple of the groups who use it, from hydrogen fuel to peace campaigns.

Back in 1995 two friends in their twenties dreamed of making a sustainability hub for Manchester.  After 6 months of consultation, gathering a team, and years of searching they succeeded in finding a building and gaining funding, purchasing the building in 1999. The old mill was renovated using trainees and volunteers as part of courses using reclaimed and recycled materials and won an award for it’s energy efficiency. It now has offices, conference space and a garden. Tenants include the International Coalition to ban uranium weapons, Black Environment Network, as well as bee keeping cooperative soap makers Three Bees, and Planet Hydrogen.acfdcd_5d91d7dcaf9743fd8657f26f0d1819d1.jpg_srz_p_435_301_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz I interviewed Tom from Three Bees last year and a year on they are now planning to add soap making courses to their services.

With hydrogen we can store renewable energy by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. When you want electricity they can recombine to form water again. Mike from Planet Hydrogen kindly demonstrated a hydrogen cell in action for me in a transparent container so we could watch the gases form.

Over the years spaces like MERCi provide so many positive groups with the basics they need to function. When a town has such a hub for a long time you can almost forget the importance of it. Once it’s built, everything slows down, it stops being so exciting, the four walls become a new norm. But most towns have no such space where groups can meet, grow and collaborate. It’s hard to imagine all the meetings, all the events, all the projects that have happened in that building so far. To speed up the social change we wish to see, one of the first things we need is to take care of the basics, to shelter these groups and give them a home. Long may MERCi continue to do so.

Entering the ‘desolate’ north

Like many people I find the description of the ‘desolate’ north deeply insulting and incorrect. Heading north from Durham to Newcastle the accents change (“Where’ you sittin’ Mam?”), there are old and new industrial areas, dramatic rivers and beautiful architecture. Heavy industry and exploiting the environment has been a part of the area’s long history, with people working hard in the jobs that fed the economy of the rest of the country. I’ve walked through some areas of Newcastle that are undeniable economically deprived but everywhere I go in the country there are people who care about the future; people who care about other human beings and about the ecosystem we share. People who devote their lives and energies to protecting the future of our communities. I could not be happier that this final week of the journey will finish in the North East and am really looking forward to walking the stunning North East coastline for the first time. Last but certainly not least.

 

 

Sheffield, the largest village in England

It appears that people in Sheffield know each other and I don’t just mean the odd neighbour. The impression I get is that all over the city there are people bumping into people they know. Sheffield has the honour of having one of the highest rates of graduates settling in the city after their studies, a low crime rate and has the most trees of any English city. If you picture Sheffield and an industrial wasteland, allow me to update you.

The centre of Sheffield has gleaming modern buildings next to historic beauty, fountain filled squares and tree lined public spaces. Don’t get me wrong,  hundreds of old industrial buildings remain, some derelict, some reclaimed and thriving, but the Sheffield of 2014 is a varied patchwork of life. There are many hills in Sheffield and each area has a distinctive character which helps you to feel orientated. Many of the old miners houses have a shared yard which means you have to get to know your neighbour, and chats over the laundry lines are frequent.

Barney from Regather is one of the many students who decided to stay on after their studies. An experimental archeologist, he told me of the importance to show people the work that goes into making an object. One project he’s involved with is to make a bicycle from scratch all the way from the iron ore.

I’m convinced it changes your perspective. It gives you more of an appreciation and you are less likely to throw it away. When people see all the effort that goes into making it, it reconnects people with the making. We’re so used to just picking something up that’s pre-made.

Another graduate I met who’s stayed in town is Joe from the center and local produce store New Roots. Many students volunteer at the shop, hold meetings in the ‘Speakeasy’, practice music there or help with the vege box scheme. Now in the summer with the students on holiday they are seeking more helping hands so if you’re in the area check them out.

 

 

The Sumac center and Peoples Kitchen

When asking ‘what should we visit in Nottingham?’ many people mentioned the Sumac center.

The center is a member of the Radical Routes cooperative network and has become an increasingly important part of the community. The events, activities and facilities provide the space for people to make positive changes. The popular Peoples Kitchen night was happening when we arrived. Volunteers cook up a feast and people can come and eat a delicious two course meal for just ÂŁ3.50! The money raised is then donated to a good cause. This feast was in aid of the free English lessons that are offered to women at the Sumac Center.

We got chatting to a fantastic couple over dinner and the hours flew by, I can’t think of a better way to enhance your community and have a wonderful night. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave their time to the benefit of all.

 

Saving nature for the future

Part of the essential work being done for a better future is to conserve wildlife and species. That way when we are able to change the system of our society to one that is less destructive, there will still be species left to return. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is protecting many such precious habitat areas which are vital refuges in this country. In Foxley Wood I saw some of the semi-natural habitat they are maintaining to encourage different species.

A major consideration is this islands role as a support for migratory species and no where is that more obvious than with our wetland birds. Cley Marshes was the first Wildlife Trust reserve in England and the trust’s recent purchase of a further part of land is ensuring that the area will be a reliable haven for birds for many years to come.

The new visitors center means that many people who couldn’t get out on to the reserve can now view birds from the long windows, learn about the habitat, all whilst enjoying a coffee from the cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Conservation Volunteers

Years ago at university I knew I wanted to volunteer to protect the environment in my spare time, and the first place I turned was The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) previously BTCV. The volunteers go out to do conservation work, meet friends and keep fit. I asked Debbie what it’s meant to work for them in Norwich and how she managed to make the change from her previous work in banking.

Using agri-environment schemes to help protect the environment

After an Open Farm Sunday, Julie was frazzled. Over 1000 people had come to view and enjoy Cavick House Farm and it’s animals, yet when I came seeking shelter for the night she kindly let me camp, and in the morning shared their story with me.



In the outskirts of Dereham I visited Nick, a farmer and conservation enthusiast. In the course of our chats he told me about dozens of plants and insects. The range of plants on the land was clearly a great joy and interest for him, and it was wonderful to have him as my guide.


Heathland

Healthland is a type of habitat with heather and low scrub plants. In Suffolk we walked through the gorgeous ‘Dead Mans Grave’ and heathland areas managed with light grazing by Natural England. A motorbike came across the heath and afterwards we could hear the distressed sheep bleating. We realised that two of the lambs had made a run for it from the motorbike and ended up on the wrong side of the fence, now unable to find their way back. Sama and I then had the very amusing and tricky job of herding them back. When the last one finally crossed the gate threshold back to it’s mum it did a little jump for joy. As someone once told me “lambs have more than their fair share of cute”.

The restoration of the fens

Did you know that the National Trust is the second biggest landowner after the Ministry of Defense? I didn’t. Why would an incomeless environmentalist like me decide to become a member of the National Trust?

I did not realise that the National Trust does a large amount of work to protect the environment, it turns out it’s not all about posh manor houses. When the National Trust staff kindly told us about the ambitious work happening at Wicken Fen, it was enough to stir me to part with the little money I have to support what they are doing.

Fens are wetlands that are fed by mineral rich waters. Wicken Fen is the oldest National Trust reserve in the country and one of the most important wetland habitats in Europe. Walking through the landscape of the fens the rivers are a lot higher than the surrounding land. Weird. You might think that perhaps they were built up that way? It turns out to be the other way around. When the fen ditches were dug and the land drained, the layers of organic matter that had been laid down over thousands of years were exposed to oxygen. With the oxygen the carbon started to break down and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Another surprise. It turns out that draining wetland is very bad for our climate as well as removing habitat. But what the National Trust have planned gave me a lift of excitement.

Most organisations and politicians seem to think a few years ahead, maybe a decade ahead, but the National Trust have a hundred year plan to restore fenland around Wicken Fen. By gradually buying up the land, they will restore  this vital habitat, lock up carbon and protect it for the benefit of all.

 

 

ACE cooperative in Glastonbury

Sometimes you ask and you find, other times you just have to relax and let things happen. As rain started the aptly named George and Pilgrim pub sheltered me, where by chance I met the amazing Earl at the bar. He’s been a long time member of the Green Party and has started a local energy cooperative called Avalon Community Energy (ACE Ltd). When I heard that I laughed and said “Wonderful! I’ve been looking for you all day, do  you want to sit down?”

Despite a long term disability, Earl has been working with others in his community to bring about a renewable energy park. The plan which they are currently seeking funding for is to combine a number of energy generating aspects that support each other. An anaerobic digestor (converting biological waste into gas), a wind turbine, solar panels and aquaponics (cultivating fish). The beauty of the system is that the different aspects support each other. A modern battery that we are all familiar with is made of acids and toxic chemicals, but a battery is really anything that will store energy. The approach ACE want to take is to use the wind turbine to pump water into a raised reservoir to store the energy. The water an then be released through a turbine when energy is needed. The fish tanks generate nutrients from the fish poo which then flows to feed a hydroponics (growing plants in water) area. Solar panels will be on the roofs of the chicken sheds, who’s waste will feed the anaerobic digestor. It may all sound a little complicated, but then if you tried to describe a foodchain it might sound a little complicated too. In natural systems one ‘waste’ becomes something else’s food, and it is these principles that ACE is trying to emulate.

The group was fortunate to be able to seek out local expertise in finance, energy and organising. There is a lot of support available at the moment for community groups who want to set up an energy cooperative, so if you are interested in the idea find a local energy cooperative to advise you and check out the Center for Sustainable Energy.

Oxford – city of spokes

On our practice walk this weekend we visited the biking co-operative Broken Spokes in Oxford. Co-founder Elle Smith tells us about forming the group.

One of the striking things about a visit to Oxford is the thousands of bikes, chained to everything. It’s common to see women in skirts and smartly dressed people cycling to work, as well as the thousands of students. Broken Spokes savages bike and helps people repair their own bikes by providing knowledge, space and tools. They also help people to take up  cycling, and provides a great community hub. We meet Owen who is cycling to Austrailia and Dave Thomas, Green Party Candidate for Holywell Ward Oxford.

Walk and Lush fundraiser this week in Oxford

This weekend the kind people at Oxford’s Lush store on Cornmarket Street are throwing the Buzz Tour a Charity Pot Party fundraiser! The store’s manager James Atherton explains.

All the weekend’s sales from their Charity Pot’s will be donated to The Buzz Tour! We’ll be at the store until 1pm on Saturday so you can come and ask us more about the tour.

Then at 1pm we’ll be leaving on our second practice walk and you are welcome to come with us! If you want to walk for a few hours, just turn up but if you’d like to walk the whole weekend let us know in advance to help us plan. 🙂

 

Latest climate change report released

The latest report from the IPCC (Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change) is out.

The summary can be viewed here.

Key points raised are the threat to human life and the widespread consequences that will effect everyone on the planet. We are in this boat together, and it is sinking. The message is loud and clear that business as usual will kill us.

It is time for culture change not climate change.

If you are taking action, share your experiences with us. If you’d like to join with others to help you act we’d love to help. There are solutions everywhere we look. Our generation has a closing window of opportunity to protect life.