Small is Powerful I: Transition in Action
After 8 months of ever more hectic organisation, the summer gatherings - the Transition in Action Youth Exchange and the KÖRfeszt - all came together as we hoped. Now its time to collect the memories and anticipate the momentums that the two events will inspire. Pictures help, and here is a selection concentrating on how the Small Communities in Transition programme participants contributed to the 4 days of the summer university and KÖRfeszt shared with the Erasmus builders, and the Hungarian Community Developers Association.
Transition in Action
The 30 Erasmus funded Transition in Action youth exchange participants made a massive contribution to the local infrastructure in the village of Kunbábony, designing and building a wheelchair accessible double compost toilet over 2 weeks, in the grounds of the Civil College. Community development and organising trainings are held here all year round, so the presence of this wood-chip scented outside lavatory provides a permanent example of how to deal with human waste in water-free, low-energy way, converting it to nutrients as part of a closed ecological cycle.
Besides the compost toilet, a beautifully crafted, cob-built community rocket stove was created as part of the Rocket Kitchen, with capacity for a cauldron catering for 100 people as well as a side burner for a 60 litre pot: this will allow the social cooperative working in the Civil College to offer low-carbon, almost emission-free food at their regular community events. The building materials were 60% sourced locally, in most cases begged or borrowed, upcycled or harvested. 4 key building materials are available right on the spot - clay, coppiced mullberry, sand and straw - giving the potential for other sustainable building now these traditional materials have been 'remembered'.
Another key aspect of the camp was the food: this came partly from the direct locality. While locally produced food is widely available in Hungary in rural areas it is largely invisible, but "knocking on doors" around the village soon showed that free-range eggs, veg and dairy products were available, with smallholders happy to sell their surplus. This complemented the fresh organic veg harvested from the Civil College garden every day. This 1 hectare garden is based on Gertrude Frank's 'self-healing gardening" method, using mulches, rotation and companion planting, growing rare heritage varieties. This garden was 'mentored' by the Small Communities in Transition Programme, and the cooperative is already planning how to take the ideas and
experience further next year. Food cooked during the exchange was deliberately meat-free, which provoked both friction and useful debates, personal preferences and perceived nutritional needs coming up against the question of ethical eating and climate-friendly diets. We know that what we eat is political, but we could see during the camp how 'the need for meat' seems almost intimate to some people, the lack of it creating disquiet, sometimes hostility. On the other hand, sometimes confrontation creates change, and the participant who guiltily asked on the first day if it was ok for him to eat the liver paté he had brought just declared himself vegetarian on the groups facebook.
What did the participants take home? Without doubt, an amazing experience and a network of contacts from Macedonia to Turkey, Romania, Slovenia, Italy and Hungary. This was a multi-cultural group, with Mexican, French, Polish and Scottish people working as part of the Hungarian coordination team. The hands-on nature of the work was new to many, and the intensity of the two weeks was a challenge for the group. This went beyond saws and chisels, drills and spades. Issues crucial to running a community, such as how we share the monotone or repetitive work, fair input of time and effort, and the tension between the efficiency of expertise and the right of everyone to participate and learn became a test for this temporary community, one which it solved sensitively by using consensus, rethinking working practices and being flexible. The participants were well-selected; many had an amazing capacity for observation, constructive reflection and cooperative communication, bringing the best out of the group. Others were keen to take responsibility, helping to solve issues as they developed. Some felt the two weeks was something like an eco-Big Brother, a trial of personal resilience. The 'right to party' and the 'right to sleep' have probably been at loggerheads since we first shared the first cave...and during these two weeks the basic frictions of living together in a common space often brought mundane 'housekeeping' issues to the front.
The Transition in Action exchange aimed to pass on key transition ideas in a non-verbal way: being aware of your local resources and using them sustainably was one key idea to get across. This went beyond our evident use and access to useful natural materials to relationship with the local community network that made the actual event possible: the local cooperative solves everything through its mutually beneficial relationships in the community. This made access to materials easier, transport, repairs, sharing surplus, as well as dealing with leftover food or waste: this all went back to the cooperative workers homes to feed the goats, hence with the exception of packaging, most waste became a resource, closing the loop. Creating low-carbon infrastructure with which to meet our daily needs was the key aim of the collaborative work creating the kitchen and the loos. This involved relearning skills such as cobbing, weaving, coppicing, carving, growing and harvesting food, communual cooking and stoking a fire. Underlying all this was a determination to make things work, meet the deadlines, as well as have a good time. No-one needed to remind these people to celebrate their achievements!
There will be many more small reflections on what this first experience of practical transition means, can mean. At time of writing there has been not yet time to collect everyones thoughts, but to make this experience complete, we will find time for thoughtful evaluation, and share these insights.
Here you can read Small is Powerful II: KÖRfeszt
Photo album: Hajnal Fekete