Part 2: Lessons From Transition Towns

In Part 1, we chatted about the origins and potentials of Transition Towns and used (probably) a few too many big words. So, we wanted to follow that article up with Part 2 to share two Transition Initiatives, in South Africa, and the practical lessons we can learn from them. First up, we have the Greyton Transition Town!

Greyton Transition Town

The Greyton Transition Town (GTT) is the first Transition Town in South Africa. Greyton is a small town in the Overberg with a population of 2780 people that became a Transition Town in 2012 and works together with four lower-income, outskirt areas (Genadendal, Bereaville, Voorstekraal and Bosmanskloof) to promote community localisation and resilience. Marshall Rinquest, an environmentalist from Bosmanskloof, is the Director of the GTT and oversees all the GTT initiatives.

The Valley Food Garden Project is an example of one of the GTT initiatives that encourages social integration towards a common goal of community resilience and a more sustainable future. The Valley Food Garden Project was born during the hard lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which amplified the issue of food insecurity in the area (Greyton Transition Town, n.d.). Local organisations began to create food parcels for vulnerable families, but they soon realised that this was only a short-term solution to the deeply entrenched issue of food insecurity (Greyton Transition Town, n.d.). So, the Valley Food Garden Project was launched, in Greyton and the three, lower-income, outskirt areas, to boost vegetable production in the valley by teaching households how to grow their own food, in their backyards. As the GTT website explains:

Home vegetable gardens increase people’s economic access to food, reduce family food bills, allow more spending on proteins, enable more diverse diets, boost their immune systems and potentially provide growers with a new source of income from the sale of surplus.”

So, this is about improving food security, and health, but it is also about creating an additional stream of income in these areas.

The Valley Food Gardens Project was established in a way that actively involves people within each of the outlying areas in the project. The Project established four community hubs – one in each area in the valley – and identified local experts who have existing experiential knowledge with growing and farming to lead the hubs. The hubs supply seedlings, compost, and permaculture information packs to households, and they also aim to provide coaching on how to create sustainable businesses based on permaculture principles. The eventual goal is to support local growers to boost their production, create more marketplace opportunities and a veggie-box subscription service as further income generation possibilities.

The Transition Town movement teaches us that small actions can have large impacts, and that we can all start where we are and with what we have. The most important lessons we can learn are about resilience, community and care.

What actions can we apply to our own communities?

The suburb that Masego lives in, in Cape Town, is an example of a neighbourhood Transition Initiative. Her mom and brother – Kyoko Kimura Morgan and Taiji Morgan – are very involved in this Transition Initiative. We are calling it a ‘Transition Initiative’, because while it is inspired by the values and principles of Transition Towns, it is not a fully-fledged Transition Town, just yet. As a way to close this article, we thought we’d ask Kyoko and Taiji a few questions, which will hopefully show us how this can be replicated in our own communities:

Can you please give us a bit of background about your neighbourhood Transition Initiative? When and why did your community decide to start it?

Taiji: Just a quick disclaimer: the only initiative that sprung from Transition Town and is continuing is the neighbourhood food market, and thus I would not call us a Transition Town (TT) since the idea of TT encompasses a lot more than just a market. 

The idea was born in 2019 by a resident who spends a lot of time in the UK. She is passionate about community and the environment, so when she heard about the Transition Movement, she decided to organize a meeting to introduce the idea to any of her neighbours who might be interested. About 15-20 people attended the meeting, and many were interested but not so many people were ready to drive the initiative (due to time constraints and other priorities). At the end of the meeting, we had decided that we would start three groups, each of which had a specific focus that we felt needed improving in our neighbourhood: waste, food, and energy. The goal of each group was to start creating projects in our neighbourhood to make us more sustainable.

What kinds of activities form a part of the Transition Initiative?

Taiji: Out of the three groups, only the food group took off. Our project idea was to start a neighbourhood market that would fulfil two main objectives: 1) bring neighbours together to build community and introduce them to TT, and 2) enable neighbours to sell their own locally made products, with the knowledge that locally made products are usually more ethically made and have less of a carbon footprint i.e. no transport emissions. We have had a total of 6 markets so far (we hold them monthly). Each time we see growth, more sellers and buyers.

What is something you have learnt from being involved, and what is something you would like other communities to learn from this Transition Initiative?

Kyoko: Something I have learnt is that we often talk a lot but end up doing very little. It is better to start with something small and create the opportunity for more people to meet and to do things together. This needs to be communicated to a wider community, and in our neighbourhood, we don’t have public space where we can all meet together. But, the more involved the people that live in the area are, the more a sense of community is created.

I have also learnt in order to tackle these big ideas of sustainability and climate change, we need to take grassroots action. So, the best way is to start doing things with neighbours: exchange things, try to reduce petrol, and share things with neighbours. That is also why we started the food market.

Taiji: Community initiatives are amazing vehicles for meeting neighbours that one has never met. It shows how separate we can be within each of our properties if we don’t make an effort. A community initiative takes time and requires a core group to lead and drive the movement, otherwise it will collapse. The other realization is that neighbours have many differences. We have different visions and values which can create conflict.

During these past two years, I realized that sustainability goes beyond just focusing on improving our middle-class community. Sustainability includes environmental and social justice. We need to figure out ways to use our resources and privilege to support less resourced and less privileged communities. It has been hard to get others to realize this and thus, I have felt less and less connected to being a part of our neighbourhood initiatives such as the food market that don’t do enough to achieve that aspect of sustainability.

If someone would like to start a Transition Initiative, in their own community, what would you recommend they start with and what advice would you give them?

Taiji: I would recommend that they find a group of people who have similar goals. From the start, I think there needs to be an agreement on what the core values of the movement are. The group should include youth as well as elders, and as much diversity as possible, racially, ethnically and gender wise. Start small, and slowly that will have a ripple effect.

Your actions matter, regardless of how small they might be. If you want to host a clothing swap in your community, or with your friends – do that! If are able to start a communal pavement garden – do that! If someone in your area sells grows veggies or bakes bread – buy that! If your neighbourhood has a CAN network – get involved in that! These may seem like small actions, but if you think about it, our current actions are what shape our images of the future.

With love,

Masego and Stella


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