Insulation for Transition: Routes to Community Supported Agriculture

Transition Town Llandeilo, interested in the idea of community supported agriculture, has been told about a block of farmland for sale, 29.37 acres of pasture at Golden Grove in the Tywi valley between Llandeilo and Carmarthen. The biggest barrier is the cost, £145,000, which works out at £4,937 an acre.

Even within the Transition Town movement, where money is concerned opinions range widely. For some, the prospect of adding to local food supplies has intrinsic merit, and profit is not important. For others, who are no less worried about the repercussions of peak oil and climate change, it would be folly to embark on any agricultural venture without a detailed, checked and monitored Business Plan. We agreed to dip a toe into community supported agriculture, cautiously, by doing a feasibility study into this and other options.

Community supported agriculture can mean a co-operatively owned or leased farm, or community subsidy  — maybe as work – on an existing farm, or community involvement in marketing. There are probably as many forms as there are ventures.  Searching for more information, I came across the Campaign for Real Farming (www.campaignforrealfarming.org), which was started by Colin Tudge and his wife Ruth West. Colin and Ruth believe that the UK needs ten times more farmers than at present, an injection of youthful enthusiasm, and a whole new food chain to link local producers to local customers. They argue that part-time farming will be at the heart of the sorely needed farming renaissance, and that such a renaissance should lead us to agro-forestry, farms where trees, livestock and crops are integrated into a sustainable whole.

This sounds like permaculture, which I think means landscapes designed in accordance with the natural environment. David Holmgren, who with Bill Mollison founded the modern concept of permaculture, sees it as “the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework” for implementing the vision of “consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy  for provision of local needs”.[1] Permaculture is simple and complex at the same time, demanding knowledge of the natural ecosystem and how to fit the sustainable harvesting of food, fibre and fuel into each ecosystem.

Big profits and sustainable production are rarely if ever companions. Colin Tudge points out in ‘Can Britain feed itself? Should Britain feed itself?’[2] that “farming can never be as instantly profitable as simple, urban, industrial pursuits – not unless it is itself turned into a simple industrial pursuit, as has been the ambition of the past 40 years”. To achieve “good farming”, he says, “we have to insulate the economy of agriculture by whatever means are necessary from the ups and downs of mere cash”.

I am starting to see community supported agriculture as a layer of insulation to protect sustainable production from freezing to death in the blizzards of the open market where only money matters, insulation that enables us to make the transition from oil-guzzling industrial farming to diverse, complex, tree-rich permaculture. What better venture for a Transition Town?


[1] Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren, p.xix. Ref: Holmgren 2002 reprinted 2009.

[2] www.campaignforrealfarming.org, June 29th 2010.

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