An Onion, a Dandelion, a Loon, and a Magazine

By 4RG Admin

The Transition Town Peterborough Story and Legacy

By Cheryl Lyon

What do a purple onion, a loon, a dandelion and a magazine have in common? And what possible role could they play in surviving the climate crisis?

Sometime around 2011, grandfather and corporate world retiree Fred Irwin brought his business experience, boundless energy, and training in the Transition Town movement to Peterborough.

The world was changing radically due to the climate crisis. This growing movement was responding by bringing communities together “to reimagine and rebuild our world.” It based itself on “transition thinking” that centres on strengthening local community resilience in ways that people would both desire and enjoy.

A small band of volunteers, including Peterborough musician and local publisher Michael Bell, local entrepreneur Brooke Taylor, holistic health and business coach, Andrea Connell assembled and put Transition Town Peterborough (TTP) on the local scene in an explosion of activity to localize responses to the climate crisis. Where else do we experience climate change impacts but in our local natural environment, in our local businesses, food, energy and water resources, and our own inner ability to cope with radical change?

Localization means crafting an alternative to our deeply pervasive and destructive global economy. As someone put it: “You’ll never get people to build a system that takes so much effort to build and maintain when the superstore at the mall is only a ten-minute drive away.”  (Resilience Imperative – p328)

Resilience and permaculture

Resilience can be thought of as “the degree to which we can self-organize, learn and adapt” or as our ability to bounce forward out of crisis into a new state of being where some qualities and structures will endure and others fade according to what people value and agree upon – all embedded in an understanding of our life-giving human relationship with the natural world.

Permaculture sees the interconnection of all life and creating a sustainable balance between humans and nature as the basis of living through the climate crisis. It focuses on “care of the earth, care of people, and dispersal of surplus time, money and materials” (Mollison & Slay,1999). Permaculture priorizes local food and energy and human social systems that work with and mimic nature when thinking about how to adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts. Transition Town founder Rob Hopkins credits permaculture as a primary inspiration for the worldwide Transition Movement.

But back to Transition Town Peterborough (TTP.) It incorporated as a non-profit body and the fun began. Yes, fun. Responding to the climate crisis was not to be boring or dreary!

Enter the Onion

Transition Town Peterborough created the Purple Onion Festival – a free admission, family-friendly, community-building, autumn celebration of local food and culture, and the life-sustaining connections between local farms and cities, producers and eaters.

Local farmers, chefs and restaurateurs joined local musicians, crafters and organizations working in food justice, urban gardening and environmental education for a day of getting to know one another over food solely from local sources prepared by local chefs. The festival gave participants a feel for the economic and cultural relationship between farms and cities. Early Purple Onion Festivals started off the day with climate justice rallies led by youth – those who would in the near future bear the harshest effects of a global economy based on oil and hyper consumerism.

The Loon

The loon, a local, iconic bird of the Peterborough/Kawartha area, entered the scene at the first Purple Onion Festival. It was the symbol on the paper bills of TTP’s experimental local currency named the Kawartha Loon (KL). TTP modeled it on existing local currencies in other communities, like Bristol England and the Berkshire region of the United States.

The KL was the only medium of buying and selling at the Festival. Festival-goers exchanged their Canadian dollars for KLs, just like exchanging them when travelling abroad – with the bonus of a discount rate to make their purchasing from local vendors more attractive. The KL put a tangible object in your hand to help you think about how money does or can work in a community; to feel that immediate connection to fellow citizens who feed us; and to think what local policy or legislation might support a local economy.

A dandelion popped into local imagination when Transition Town created Dandelion Day, a spring festival to complement autumn’s Purple Onion. The bright, spring dandelion flower symbolized the newness and the joy found in making the transition into a stronger local community. This second economic localization event focused on local businesses supplying health and wellness services. They too used the KL for exchange of goods and services. At the end of both Festivals, people re-exchanged their KLs for Candian currency again or kept for them continued use throughout area businesses who accepted them.

As part of its economic thinking for the future, TTP also sponsored a study by local Trent University’s Community Research Centre students that found a 25% shift towards total production and purchase of food locally could be worth about $400M annually to the local economy within 10 years. The findings also put a regional and small business focus on local economic development.

TTP convinced the City and County of Peterborough to officially declare September “Local Food Month” and accompany that declaration with TTP’s Local Food Guide – a free directory of  local food suppliers.

The ever creative and energetic TTP volunteers knew that the constant realties of climate catastrophes reported from around the world were having an effect on people’s spirits. Inner resources, and well as Earth’s natural resources, were depleting. Undaunted, TTP began a series of small group gatherings to address what they called the Inner Transition of heart and soul to a different world.

The Magazine

And finally, where does a magazine enter the picture of climate change adaptation locally?

In 2011, TTP started up a local magazine – the Greenzine – as a means to further climate change education and the localization of climate crisis responses. Originally in paper format, TTP volunteers delivered it quarterly to drop points throughout Peterborough city and county.

Then the Covid19 pandemic struck. People stayed home, businesses restricted entry, and early fears of contagion from surfaces discouraged people from picking up the magazine at their supermarket or other locations. More than that though, prefiguring of what could happen in a prolonged, severe climate event, the magazine’s sole revenue source – local, small business advertisers’ – suffered greatly. Their Greenzine ads dried up. Undaunted, and in the spirit of necessary risk-taking and experimentation in times of crisis, volunteers resurrected the Greenzine online! The Greenzine was free. It still is but now online at thegreenzineonline.com.

Covid also prevented TTP from introducing its Transition Neighbourhoods Project. It aimed to encourage neighbourhood network-building, to host conversations that would end social isolation, and to empower groups to work on long-term environmental and social change together right in their local ‘hood.’

Leaving a legacy to the next generation

In our search for the right responses in these perilous times, we meet paradox, contradiction and irony. “There are simply no answers yet to some of the pressing questions. Yet “[we] continue to live them out, making [our] life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.” (Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams.) These words may resonate with what the “boomer” generation feels now in the face of climate breakdown and capture the desires of For Our Grandchildren members to actively “lean into the light” rather than give in to darkness.

Transition Town Peterborough has left a positive spirit of possibility and tangible models for adaptation and mitigation to sustain and strengthen community life as the climate crisis worsens. (SEE Transition Principles at end of this article.) For Our Grandchildren members are leading “lights” in their unique and local ways.

Perhaps climate expert and poet Susi Moser may sum up all our efforts to this moment:

“… if you ask me now
Well, if you ask me now what brought us together? – I would say “emergency.” The Great Emergency…
I’d say, we started to help each other through
even if we could barely imagine the ‘toward’.
We at least named how transformation hurts,
how continuity and stability are bloody lovely things …
how much love we will need
how the voices of the future are already among us.”

Source: Maybe by Susi Moser

Transition Principles

Respect resource limits and create resilience. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reliance on fossil fuels and use precious natural resources wisely.
Promote inclusivity and social justice. Increase the chances of all groups in society to live well, healthily and with sustainable livelihoods.
Adopt subsidiarity (self-organization and decision making at the appropriate level). Work with everyone to decentralize decision-making to the most appropriate, practical and empowering level
Pay attention to balance. In responding to urgent, global challenges, create space for reflection, celebration and rest to balance the times of activism. Engage our heads, hands and hearts in collaborative and trusting relationships.
Be part of a global experimental, learning network to create change more quickly and more effectively, drawing on each other’s experiences and insights. Be bold in finding new ways of living and working. Seek and respond positively to feedback.
Freely share ideas and power – Transition is a grassroots movement where ideas can be taken up rapidly, widely and effectively because each community takes ownership of the process themselves.
Collaborate and look for synergies. Unleash collective genius for greater impact together than as individuals. Build creative and powerful partnerships, designing events and activities that help people make connections.
Foster positive visioning and creativity. Encourage imagination and new stories about the future. Have fun and celebrating success.

Cheryl Lyon was a member of Transition Town Peterborough for many years. She now is a part of the team producing the Greenzine online magazine which welcomes new writers.

2 thoughts on “An Onion, a Dandelion, a Loon, and a Magazine”

  1. This is a welcome tribute to Transition Town Peterborough, not a requiem. Transition Town principles and mission live on in the thousands of folks who participated in, or were exposed to and internalized TTP messages, values and festivals.
    That enduring legacy is a tribute to Fred Irwin and the many Transition Town volunteers.

    Happily, the Greenzine still carries the torch.

  2. Congratulations to TTP for its great work.
    And Many Thanks to For our Grandchildren (4RG), the climate action group that never stops trying to save our children and grandchildren and our planet, from the existential disaster of global warming.

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