Free food? Yes please. But Transition is much more than just fruit and vegetables…

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Photo credit: Raphael Benros
Photo credit: Raphael Benros
Photo credit: Raphael Benros

Launched in 2009, the Transition St Andrews initiative has expanded significantly from its initial single garden. There are now 11 in fact, with three sites added last year alone at Gannochy House, University Hall and John Burnet Hall.

Maria Cooper, the coordinator of Transition St Andrews and a fourth- year student, has been involved in the group since she began at the University. She has done a lot of work with the gardens, and originally got involved because she was interested in growing food.

“I find it important to eat well,” she said. “That determines so much about how we feel, and this is the best way to ensure that you know what you’re eating. That’s my perspective on growing.”

The gardens are part of the Edible Campus part of the Transition St Andrews project. The goal of Edible Campus is to minimise the carbon footprint of the food we eat each day. The fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens are available for students and locals to pick and take home for free.

For Ms Cooper, though, it’s more than simply plying students with nutritious, locally grown food.

“It’s important to share the knowledge of growing, because things change in the world, and there are booms and busts, but people always need to eat. I think the richest people in the future will be farmers.”

It’s not all about growing food, either. Many students choose to help in the gardens with weeding, and school groups have been able to make use of the spaces.

The gardens are also a place for experimenting. Ms Cooper said: “I think this is a very wild garden. It’s almost turning into a forest garden, and we are using it a lot for experimental things as well, to try out more and less successful things of doing things.

[pullquote]there are booms and busts, but people always need to eat. I think the richest people in the future will be farmers[/pullquote]

“The pond is something that we have tried and has worked. It has the best mint I’ve ever had in my tea!”

There are failures too, of course.

“Something that didn’t work out so well was when we tried, a few years ago, to mulch it. That means we put down organic materials and cardboard on top to try to kill off all the weeds, and then put more organic materials on top, like manure, to grow new things in. The idea is to conquer the weeds with plants we actually want. But the weeds just came back.”

Transition St Andrews originally started as a permaculture project for sustainable development students but has quickly become much more. It has evolved from that single garden into a litany of projects and initiatives around the town.

Beyond St Andrews, the Transition Network connects several towns that have chosen to pursue Transition ideals. Founded in 2005 in Totnes, Devon, by 2010 (the last year data was made available) there were Transition towns in 14 countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Wales.

In addition to Edible Campus, Transition St Andrews runs many other programs. Among them is the upcoming Transition Roadshow.

Ms Cooper said: “That is the coolest thing that’s happening, for me at least… They are doing four different roadshows this year and giving workshops and exchanging ideas on how to develop Transition initiatives.

“We have one of these Transition roadshows! We are the only one in Scotland and also there aren’t any in northern England, so we are expecting a lot of Transition towns to come to St Andrews for the conference from all over the region.”

The conference is on Friday 10 October and continues through Saturday 11 October at several venues around St Andrews.

Ms Cooper is most excited about the discussion that will be had on the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum.

She said: “There is so much discussion in the debate about how much oil do we have, but there isn’t that much of a voice saying: ‘Is it a good idea to be so dependent on oil? Do we have any alternatives?’ We are identifying that there is a need for that voice in the debate.”

Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition Towns movement, will make an appearance at the roadshow. That event will be in the Byre on the Friday evening, where Mr Hopkins will speak about his movement and the idea of ‘REconomy’.

This is the concept of moving local economies towards a model that promotes the wellbeing of the participants rather than monetary success.

Transition St Andrews has other projects in the works as well. On 17 September there was a meeting to discuss the potential of a car club for St Andrews. Car clubs vary in format but usually involve either the club itself owning cars, which members can use, or single people owning cars that the car club rents. The idea is to allow members to utilise and share the vehicles.

Ms Cooper thought the idea of a car club would be particularly interesting for students: “That would be fun. If you were a student and wanted to take a trip to the Highlands for the weekend, you could do that.”

[pullquote]It’s almost turning into a forest garden, and we are using it a lot for experimental things as well, to try out more and less successful ways of doing things[/pullquote]

Saint Exchange is another programme that Transition St Andrews has worked on extensively. Now with about 80 users, the Exchange is a website on which locals and students can trade services without currency.

“It emphasises that what is most important is your time and your skills,” said Ms Cooper. “It’s a point system: if I bake a loaf of bread, I earn maybe three points.” She suggested that the Exchange had been helpful in bridging the gap between town and gown.

The Carbon Conversations programme has also been useful on that front. Carbon Conversations hosts a series of meetings where the group can discuss sustainability, energy in the home, travel, food and consumption. Miss Cooper likes them particularly because these conversations create “safe environments for people to discuss these issues.”

With lots of projects on the go, Transition St Andrews is a great way for the eco-minded to put their green fingers to good use. More than just gardening, Transition is a lifestyle. A growing force in St Andrews, it is sure to continue to develop and thrive.

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