Friday, 27 February 2009

Okehampton follows Todmorden on road to self-sufficency from the Daily Telegraph

Residents of the Devon town of Okehampton could be forgiven for thinking the Dartmoor pixies have come down off the moor for a bit of mischief.
All over the town plots of derelict land are being transformed into thriving gardens, and there are apple trees growing on a roundabout.
But the real cause is far from supernatural. A local group, Growing Our Future, has acquired 16 sites in the town and is using them to inspire locals to become more self-sufficient by growing their own food – and enjoying themselves in the process.
The group, based at the town's college, was founded by local artist Beth Hamer, who says she wanted to give something back to her community: "I think it's fair to say there wasn't much of a spark here. There's quite a low socio-economic background and high unemployment.
"Once it was a thriving market town, but now it's a supermarket town, with very few independent traders. It still has the frontage of a high street, with a butcher's shop on it. But behind it are three massive supermarkets."
Inspired by similar community projects such as the one at Todmorden, Beth wants to inspire the town and help it engage with the looming issues of the 21st century: climate change, sustainability and peak oil.
So far Growing our Future have a half-acre garden with raised beds and a polytunnel. They're planning a greenhouse made from recycled bottles. Another site is a forest garden with a large fire pit that people can gather around to socialise.
Recently the group printed a diagram of one plot, the Gateway Garden, in the local paper, inviting readers to submit their own designs.
But as well as reaching out to local people, Beth also works in the town's schools.
"One of the most exciting things for me is not what's happening now, but the kids I'm working with and thinking about what they will be doing," she says. "Some say to me they only come to school for gardening: they love it; they love digging. It's an obvious analogy, but Growing our Future has planted a seed in them, and who knows what that will grow into?"
Some school leavers have already become key organisers.
"It's been a lot of fun; it's inspiring," says recent graduate Dominie Hooper. "At careers day there is always the option to join the army or be a nurse. But there was never any encouragement to do something like this… the project adds another dimension, it really is what kids here need."
Dominie believes that her generation struggles with the weight of issues such as climate change, but that Growing our Future makes it easier to engage with solutions.
"People find it hard to be optimistic, but it's not about restricting yourself, it's just about shifting how you live."

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

puzzling with the link - school and community

I can’t believe that! Said Alice ‘…one can’t believe impossible things.’ ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half and hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’
Lewis Caroll, Through the looking glass

So far I have suggested that we are living through a period of considerable redefinition of the role, function and purpose of many of our previously cherished institutions.
In exploring the idea of a sustainable community, and the creative process that is required to nurture such an idea, I have struggled to reconcile one significant part of community that already exists and plays, or at least can play, a prominent role in leading and providing guidance as we move forward. I am referring to the school.
The school is not alone in being drawn into question in regard to role, function and purpose. It is however, perhaps alone in being an example of human community which can transcend existing boundaries with relative ease.
It is widely reported that the conventional model of school is now fully operationalised and in considerable need of reconceptualisation (see for example the current consultation exercise underway by the UK government DCSF 2009). In examining the possibilities of sustainable communities it seems eminently sensible to consider the transformation of school alongside the transition of commuity from oil to post oil existence. Many of the same messages of community change can be found in the discourse of school reform, and central to any action that has integrity is the relationships between people connected with school – parents, students, families, businesses, and teachers and other staff. They need to be involved not as onlookers, but as participants in the story, ‘not mere onlookers, watching the show’ (Clarke 2000) but players.
To achieve this goal, of establishing learning places that have meaning, resonance and are valued within communities as knowledge creating and knowledge using facilities people need to feel they are able to exercise real power. It is not enough to consult on what schools might be like for the 21st century. The process is meaningless when people are presented with a series of solutions and asked to state their preferences. Practical engagement with people as they create community is an exercise in connecting to real social capital, intellectual capital, cultural capital and knowledge capital. In any other way, for example through consultation processes that serve as little more than staff development sessions, participants are left deskilled and dependent on other people’s models. This inhibits, not enables progress. To fully operationalise community for learning and living sustainably we need to engage people in thinking about what they might like to see change, we need to explore their visions and aspirations and help them to tell their different stories in such a way that enables them to see how they might implement and sustain their ambitions. An ethos which permits innovation and stimulates individual and collective responsibility promotes continuous initiative, it provides a context for novelty - a place and a space for impossible things.

Monday, 23 February 2009


back to working on the methodological issues of the book, this has been exercising much of my time in the last weeks and as yet it is not cracked but the basic issues are coming clearer.

If the process of creating sustainable community is to succeed then it needs to be compelling enough for public support - and political weight to back it - to make its way through such tests then it is likely that at some point the question of measure will arise. Knowing what effect an initiative has had is a fair enough question to raise. The difficulty is that the existing measures do not necessarily provide an adequate way of framing the transition issues.

I have been looking again at the permaculture process headings and playing with them not as a sequenced process, but as a set of possible indicators through which we might examine different aspects of the sustainable community activity - this seems to be quite productive, as one can begin at any point along the range of themes, and I think, without any obvious impediment, jump about from theme to theme and begin to construct evidence around the themes to inform and substantiate particular lines of development.

As an earlier post indicated, the themes can generate sub-questions - these are linked below
observation: what is happening here?
boundaries: what are these? why?
resources: what will we retain, what will we leave?
evaluation: where are the connections being identified? Are values and principles being attended to in our development?
maintenance: what relationships do we need to support and nurture?
implementation: what structures will enhance the system?
design: what do we / are we creating?

By gathering data against each heading / theme it is possible to get a strong sense of the whole of the initiative without resorting to the routine ways that impede connection, emotion, values and principles.

more on eggs and things

Last weekend saw the first public stall in the market promoting the local egg production project. It was well supported and many people have signed up to provide and to purchase eggs from local growers.

Weekend before saw the first planting day of the season where a group of more than 100 people planted fruit trees and bushes on a piece of public land to create the first of what we hope will be many community orchards.

Further publicity on the programme came through an article in The Times on the project, mixed reception from local people on its tone, but all publicity is good publicity...

compelling narratives

We will be following on from the success of the Cuban night very shortly with an evening of story lines. Our intention is to explore what brings people to the table to our incredible edible meetings and events. Instead of going along the route of building a single narrative of the incredible edible story it seems much more sensible to see how diverse the story is, and so we will invite everyone that comes to the meeting to share their own personal journey with someone else in the room - and then we will build something of a collective map of these journeys together.
The outcomes will be posted later.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Obama is given climate warning

President Obama was told yesterday that he has four years to save the wold from climate change. Prof James McCarthy, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said major policy changes were needed in Mr Obama's first term. 'We have a moment of extraordinary opportunity with a new president positioned with scientific leadership that has known no equal in recent times. he said.

Source: Daily Telegraph page 16, 13th February 2009

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

green classes in schools

'Green' Classes Flourish in Schools
By Sean Cavanagh from ed week site

Solar-powered cars have barely begun to inch out of test laboratories onto the difficult road to commercial viability.

But miniature versions of that technology are already being churned out at Whitmore Lake High School.

Students at the Michigan school have designed shoebox-size cars, made of foam board, toothpicks, and solar panels, as part of a new class called Green Tech. It’s just one of the many courses focused on renewable and alternative energy that are taking hold across the country as educators seek to channel students’ concerns about the environment and conservation into classroom lessons.

Some schools are creating elective science courses on alternative energy, or expanding lessons on that topic within existing science courses. Others have launched applied-science or career-oriented classes, or those that focus mostly on technology, as is the case at Whitmore Lake, located in a 1,200-student district a half-hour west of Detroit.

The Green Tech class has drawn some of the school’s top students, as well as struggling learners, said Jen Taylor, who teaches the class. Some teenagers are intrigued by renewable technology; others are convinced it will become more important to society, and employers, in the years ahead.

“It’s really exciting to students, even those I never would have thought would be into it,” Ms. Taylor said. For some, “it’s a realization that this [area] is where there’s going to be a job,” she said. “I hope I’m preparing some of them for a line of work.”
Workers install solar panels on the roof of Walden III Middle and High School in Racine, Wis., in December. Some teachers tie lessons to environmentally friendly building designs.
—Mark Hertzberg/Journal times/AP

Jake Kerrigan, 16, said he was drawn in because of his overall interest in science and a curiosity about alternative power. He signed up for the elective around the time that gas prices in Michigan had soared to well over $3 a gallon. He has heard leaders in his state—the iconic heart of the United States’ struggling auto industry—talk about the need to invest in alternative energy. He believes them.

Green Tech offered the chance to look at “the direction we’re heading in the world,” the junior said, “and how we’re going to transition from our wasteful way of life.”
Sun, Wind, and T. Boone

The Green Tech class introduces students to the mechanics and economics of renewable technologies, including solar, wind, geothermal, and hydrogen fuel-cells. Hands-on activities are an integral part of those lessons. Mr. Kerrigan’s favorite task was the construction of models of solar-powered cars. That assignment ended with an all-class race in the school parking lot.

Working in groups, Mr. Kerrigan and his classmates spent four periods working on the car, which was about 9 inches long and 7 inches high. They used materials such as cardboard and straw, and small wheels, axles, and gears. Mr. Kerrigan and his team mounted a small solar panel on their car’s roof, experimenting with its angle so it would capture maximum light—a design issue they had studied in class. They used real solar panels that the school purchased from Solar World, a Colorado-based company.

Students in Green Tech also study carbon dioxide emissions and each technology’s potential to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They’ve examined energy proposals such as the “Pickens Plan,” oil magnate T. Boone Pickens’ proposal to expand greatly U.S. wind-power production and the use of natural gas to wean the country off foreign oil.

Whitmore Lake’s students are absorbing energy lessons in other ways, too. Their school has received recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmentally sound features, which include a geothermal heating system with 47 miles of underground tubing. Ms. Taylor talks about the school’s efficient features in her classes. Other teachers around the country, some of whom work in solar-powered schools, do the same.

Ms. Taylor created her class with help from Creative Learning Systems, a Longmont, Colo.-based company that helps schools design lessons. The company emphasizes hands-on activities and the in-class integration of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, topics. Creative Learning Systems piloted lesson plans at Whitmore Lake that it hopes to market to other schools, said Matt Dickstein, its chief executive officer.
In Search of Curriculum

Like many educators, however, Ms. Taylor has also been forced to track down many renewable-energy resources on her own, mostly because no single set of materials meets her needs. She has drawn from a number of Web sites, including that of the National Energy Education Development Project. That organization, located in Manassas, Va., devises curriculum on energy issues and supports teaching of those topics.

One likely reason teachers are searching for classroom resources on renewable energy is that the topic has not yet made it into many state academic standards, said Jo Ellen Roseman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington.

State standards, which guide teaching and tests, tend to set expectations for students to learn basic principles of energy. But guidelines about conservation and renewable energy are much less common, she said. Ms. Roseman helped write science standards at the AAAS that have served as models for many states. She now directs the AAAS’ Project 2061, an effort to improve science education and literacy.

In districts and schools where renewable-energy courses have taken hold, their popularity can be attributed not only to public concerns about climate change and the environment, but to a conviction that the number of “clean energy” jobs will increase, said Karen Heys, the senior director of education at the National Environmental Education Foundation, a Washington organization that promotes environmental awareness in schools and society.

“It’s one of the few growth industries right now,” Ms. Heys said.

As evidence, she pointed to a 2008 survey of 1,300 employers conducted by her organization. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they valued job applicants’ knowledge about “environment and sustainability,” and 78 percent said they believe it will increase as a hiring factor in the future.

Her organization has seen the number of visitors to its Web site seeking energy-related curricular materials rise sharply. In addition, when the organization made energy issues the theme of its annual National Environmental Education Week in 2007, it saw the number of its “partner” organizations—schools and other groups that agree to help promote environmental awareness—spike to more than 1,400, from 330 the previous year, Ms. Heys said.
Political Winds?

Despite rising interest in “green” curriculum, it is not unusual for teachers covering energy topics to draw criticism from students and parents who accuse them of promoting an environmentally oriented political agenda.

Ms. Taylor has heard those objections. When she first began teaching Green Tech, she heard students refer to it as “the hippie class” or the “tree-hugger class.” One of her students, she said, was adamant that global warming was a hoax, despite strong scientific evidence that it is occurring and that humans are contributing to it.

She says she tries to address those concerns by focusing on the science and the broader financial and economic realities of alternative energy. Renewable technologies, for example, are more expensive than fossil fuels in many applications despite renewables’ environmental benefits.

That teaching strategy makes sense, said Ms. Roseman of the AAAS. Renewable-energy technology may be “on the edge of science,” in the sense that it is changing quickly, she said. But educators still can have engaging and scientifically accurate discussions of those technologies, their benefits, and limitations, she said.

“Acknowledge what scientists know, and what they don’t know,” Ms. Roseman advises teachers.

The chance to study fast-emerging technologies—and the opportunity to try building one of them from scratch—was an easy sell to Jake Kerrigan at Whitmore Lake High School.

His team’s construction of a solar-powered car brought thrills and frustrations. While some of their classmates constructed box-shaped vehicles, Mr. Kerrigan’s team set out to build a relatively sleek model, with an “I” shape, which would operate on rear-wheel power.

“Lighter, longer, skinnier,” was how he described it.

One absolute necessity was to make sure the wheels were straight, for efficiency’s sake. They also had to overcome a major engineering glitch with the wiring. If it was too far from the solar panel to the wheels, they discovered, the car wouldn’t have enough power.

Until the day of the race, the car wasn’t working. But with a few final adjustments, it took off, powering forward at “about a jogging pace,” said Mr. Kerrigan. That was fast enough to claim first place.

“Everything just came together,” its co-creator said.

Coverage of mathematics, science, and technology education is supported by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, at

Sunday, 1 February 2009

centre for ecoliteracy

Recent browsing across the web has proved as productive as ever. In particular the links with the centre for ecoliteracy.

I am particularly taken by the simplicity of message in their four central principles of schooling for sustainability:

Nature is our teacher
Sustainability is a community practice
The real world is the optimal learning environment
Sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place