Tuesday 31 July 2012

Low Carbon Cookbook - The Picnic

I think I could happily say that all my favourite meals have been picnics. Maybe it's because I was born at midsummer that the outside has always felt the most natural place to eat. I love that lack of formality, lunching and breakfasting in unexpected and temporary places, immersed in heather, surrounded by dragonflies, on the top of a cliff. When I was a child in the city it was a big treat to go into the countryside and sit in a field or in the woods with the picnic basket (with its lily of the valley china) and eat summer specials like cold chicken and sausages, strawberries and slices of melon, and a bottle of wine cooling in the stream or rockpool.

Even now, when I no longer go on holiday, or it rains too many days in a row, I like to go down to the seashore and sit among the dunes. I don't have a basket or eat classic al fresco fare anymore, but I do have the other essentials, a rug and a thermos and a picnic attitude. Which is: enjoy everything while you can! Picnics can be solitary - sitting eating a sandwich or an apple under a tree, along a trackway, up a mountain. On the train, en route somewhere. But there is nothing like having a picnic with a gang of your fellows.

One of the best ways to show that downshifting is not always a bad or difficult thing is to say: you can share more picnics! More time to enjoy the outside, less fuss indoors. Imagine no more awkward restaurant moments, no snobbery, no rules, no white tablecloths. Just simple fare, fresh bread and home-made dishes, under an open sky, or round a camp fire! And it's also a great way to explain resilience as you try to avoid the rain and celebrate meeting up come what may.

In Transition where bringing-to-share in recycled plastic boxes and tin plates is a default, practically all our summer meals can be eaten outdoors. Our first Transition Norwich Midsummer Party was held at the Ranger's House (in the pouring rain), accompanied by reskilling sessions, give-and-take and a peak oil info tent. Our Sustainable Bungay annual summer picnics are held with a rowdy and very unstructured rounders game under the lime trees on the Old Grammar School field (though this year's will take place in Cathy's orchard meadow with a more restrained game of boules). Elderflower champagne and allotment pickles are the star turns.

Our Dark Mountain Norwich crew held a garden lunch - polenta bake, lots of new potatoes and broad beans -and then went down to the sea in Kevin's wonderful campervan (soon to be turned into a mini film and storytelling theatre), where we had tea and wine and cake at the end of the day. Here the Low Carbon Cookbook crew are tucking into a tea under the London plane after a busy Bungay Beehive Day, including Great British Bean hummus made by Sophie, freegan bread (from Norwich Foodcycle), plus Erik's wonderful cous cous and garden leaf salad. Raspberry wine, plum jam and left over cake kindly supplied by Nick from Sustainable Bungay.

Meanwhile here is a staple of all our picnics: the tortilla, also known as frittata, which is the Italian version. Mark's is made with tomatoes, now finally in season (hurrah!) and home-grown herbs. We used to get our eggs from Sarah's stall down the road, but alas, the man who used to keep chickens on the Southwold allotments had to go to hospital (he is 86) and let them go. So these are made with eggs from Maple Farm. They are organic and very free range, but it's still a commercial operation, which means the hens are "replaced" every year. Transition food dilemma No. 146 . . .

Mark's Marvellous Tortilla

Serves 4

This tortilla or 'omlit' is quick to make from scratch and can be eaten at any time of the day as a snack or main meal, taken on picnics or prepared on the spot for surprise guests. Over the years I've simplified the recipe, but you can also add sliced or chopped red or green peppers (gently sweat at the same time as the onions), or use bottled tomatoes to add taste (a tablespoon will do). I used to add fresh tomatoes to the mixture but now prefer the drier texture without.

2 medium sized potatoes
1 onion
6-8 eggs
1 or 2 tomatoes (optional)
olive oil
fresh or dried thyme, oregano, rosemary or basil (or combination)
sea salt


Slice potatoes into rounds 1/2cm thick. Boil until just cooked. Drain.

Slice onions into rounds. Gently fry until transparent.

Add potatoes to pan. (At this point you can add the tablespoon of bottled tomatoes)

Beat eggs very lightly with a fork, adding herbs, salt and pepper and keeping the white and yolk slightly separate.

Fold egg mixture evenly into the potatoes and onions. Fry gently for a few minutes.

Place frying pan under medium grill (you can put sliced tomato rounds on top of the tortilla before it sets) to lightly brown.

The tortilla is cooked when it comes easily away from the pan and there is no liquid. You can test it with a knife. I sometimes need to place it back on the stove for a minute or two after the grill.

Turn out on wire rack. Eat hot or cold with fresh salad and bread. It often tastes even more delicious cold the next day (MW)

Kevin's campervan by Southwold marshes; Sustainable Bungay's Summer Picnic, old grammar school playing field, 2011; Diana and Mark, Dark Mountain Norwich picnic 2012; Low Carbon Cookbook picnic, July 2012, Bungay; Charlotte's birthday tortilla June 2011

Dog Days

Maybe it is because I was born on midsummer’s eve, at the zenith of the year, at the time of the greatest light, that I can now write of what it means to take the irrevocable step, the 52 steps along the downward path that lead us back toward the ancestral land, back down toward the sea. Maybe because the golden English oak stands so firmly behind me that I can embrace the dark holm, his brother, and let everything fall, as I step through the solstice door, as the mood of the great year shifts, as the key slips irrevocably from major to minor, from sweetness into bitterness, from pleasure into duty (Wormwood, 52 Flowers)
This week a book with a dark blue cover emerges into the light, officially published at last! It is, dear Reader, my own book, written during the course of 17 years travelling and exploring the world of medicine plants - the green beings that have shaped our destiny since we first emerged onto the planet.

It also appears, by happenstance, at the time of year the book ends - the beginning of August, the day some call Lughnasa, when people traditionally gathered together and celebrated the harvest. This past two weeks as the sun has finally shone I have taken to going down to the shoreline where the book ends. We have taken a thermos and a rug and gone swimming early in the morning in the calm sparkling sea. And though the sea is beautiful and the sound of it sighing against the shore, and it is lovely to feel all that expanse of sky and summertime, the taste in my mouth is of the bitter plant that now flowers at the sea's edge, wormwood. The plant that heralds the end of a certain world.

Another favourite shoreline plant, the sea holly, is bereft of its usual visitors: the small copper and the small blue. In the garden the huge buddleia now in full flower has yet to see a single painted lady or peacock or tortoiseshell. The apple and greengage trees in the orchard are without fruit. Down the lane I have seen no sloes either, or damsons. It's been a tough and topsy-turvy year for growers - battling with drought, heavy rain, cold, too few pollinators, and way way too many slugs. Abroad a rainless and unprecedented heat, from the grainbelt of America to the ricefields of India, is challenging crops everywhere.

The plants and pollinating insects we depend on for our lives are reflecting back the planetary crisis we now recognise as climate change. 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth, was written before I had heard about climate change or peak oil. And yet at its core is the key directive of Transition - downshift, relocalise and connect with the living systems. It follows the years as I leave the city and travel abroad with Mark, as I encounter a different way of being on the planet, as we begin what we call the Plant Practice in Oxford, as we work with medicine people in the desert of Arizona, as we return home to a different England.

Another thing history does not tell us: you do not return when you expect to, in the spring with the hawthorn flowers, or at midsummer, with the rose, but when the barley is being cut, the time of the fall, in the heat of the dog days, as the broad haze of sun burnishes the land. You arrive at the seashore, with wild carrot and valerian, when the harebell and the rowan berries shine in the heathlands.

When I went down to the shore to greet the sunrise that August day, the day of the losing throw, I repeated to myself a phrase that struck me as I had awoken at dawn:

"This time it will not be me that loses." (Sea Kale, 52 Flowers)

The book is centered around 52 Flowers, each with their own narrative
and their own medicine. Each show how physically, energetically, imaginatively, we can break out of a thousand years of conditioning by our "Empire" civilisation. The book is set in the mood of the dog days, as we realise we are no longer a people in the time of ascent, but of a descent that is unwritten and unknown. Descent is hard for our all-conquering, illusion-loving culture. We are still acting as though we still have the world to achieve and a planet to exploit, but the times are not telling us this. The droughts and the butterflies are not telling us this. Techno-fixes and building empires in space are not where we are going. Reconnecting with the planet and coming home to ourselves is where we are. Reality is where we are. There is an ordeal ahead, as Charles Eisenstein has gently pointed out, and a lot of loving to do.

Descent begins at Lughnasa with the harvest. Descent begins when we wake up to the times we are in and don't look for someone to blame. What are the narratives of descent? What knowledge have we gleaned in all these years? What do we hold dear at the end of the day?

There is an elegiac beauty in loss (or what we imagine is loss), to coming home, to realising your limits, to deepening your experience, to loving the neighbourhood, the people in the room, a humble dish of new potatoes, the small strip of seashore I go to each day, where once I could roam the world like Alexander. In fact when you look back and see the track you have made, the dance you have made with your fellows, that's when you understand everything, the beauty of it all - even the hard times. We're trying as a people to get back on track against all odds. We're not doing it because the government is telling us to, or any religion, or ideology, we're doing it because our hearts are telling us to, of our own free will. That's why these times taste bitter: bitterness is a quality of all heart medicine. We learn though experience and in this the earth, not our education system, is our great teacher. All her plants are books of knowledge, if we can learn to read them.

When I was young I ran away to Italy to try and write a novel. I read Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen, and I could never understand how someone who had loved Africa so much could bear to go back to the dark and cold of Scandinavia. Now I do. It's going back and treasuring what you have experienced that really matters. That's what writers do and inspire everyone else to. You treasure everything in your store cupboard. It's a certain stage, a time of making sense, a time of giving back. That's what writing my own book of return did later in my life, when I had given up ambition and success. It made sense of my own downshift and the collective downshift that Transition prepares us for, as small groups, in communities and towns everywhere.

I could never write that romantic novel in the beautiful Riviera garden. It wasn't the book I had to write. Many of us are not configured to be romantic heroines, conquerors and achievers, we're here to do another job entirely. It has a different narrative, one that is only just beginning. One we are creating together. I don't know the ending, none of us do. One thing I do know: love always turns the ship around. If you can still love the world, in spite of everything. The people, the places and the plants.

There will be a Plants for Life talk and reading from 52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radical Return to Earth (Two Ravens Press) this Sunday, 5 August at Bungay Library, 3pm. All welcome. Further details here. If you would like to buy copy of 52 Flowers (£10) do get in touch with me at theseakaleproject@hotmail. co.uk, or you can order directly from Two Ravens website.

Poster for Plants for Life; buddleia in the garden; sunflower from 52 Flowers That Shook My World; scythng workshop at Uncivilisation Festival; beside the sea holly, 2011; Lughnasa sunrise, 2011

Sunday 29 July 2012

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Zero Carbon Holiday

As the holiday season begins, we're re-
publishing a post written about not going away. Two years later the tent (rather more battered!) is up in the garden again and I'm sleeping outside, shelling peas and talking with visitors in its shade. Living by the sea brings the wind and damp, but also social advantages. People love to swing by, and you can go swimming any time you please!

“It’s an attitude,” I explained to Philip in the lane, talking about tents and The Holiday.
“Ah,” said Philip,” Bonnes vacances.

We're not-going on a zero-carbon holiday. We’ve put the tent up in the garden and are taking turns to sleep under the greengage tree, moored in the long grass sprinkled with wild carrot. It’s a good space inside. A mattress, a stool, a wooden box for a table, a candle, a coloured mat, a glass of water. In spaces like these you don’t need much. There is something magical about their containment. Yurt, shed, studio, tree house, den,cabanas with rooves of leaves and a communal kitchen down the hill. Thousands of tent-dwellers are having this experience right now in fields and festivals everywhere in England, as they listen to the wind move around their small shelters like the rigging of a ship, as they step out each morning, bare feet on dewy grass. Fresh air. Sunrise. Mist. Today it feels like everything will be all right.

Half of our diseases are in our heads, and half in our houses.

That’s what Andy told me. He was reading a quote from the writer and wildlife artist, Ernest Thompson Seton who inspired the Woodcraft Folk in 1912. Seton advocated living as much as possible outdoors in tune with the elements. When Andy came down last Friday with Ollie and Antony, we walked along the windy cliff edge and jumped in the rough sea, and then we came home and talked in the tent. The boys played cards and whittled sticks. I made tea. It started to rain, and though there were five of us and it’s only a three person tent, it felt just fine.

That’s what I mean about attitude. Everything gets pared down. You do what is necessary. And that simplicity brings out the best in everyone. You feel connected to the planet and to your fellows. Most of our lives we do what is unnecessary. We work to maintain an empire that creates massively complex earth-damaging, people-damaging systems - systems of technology, systems of commerce, of psychology, of addiction, power struggles. But, like our bodies, what we really need, is neither fancy dishes with extravagant ingredients, nor junk food with a hundred additives, what we hunger for is simple fare. What we long for are picnics and campfires, blackberries and wild greens, sitting under trees, swimming in the river, walking on the earth, sleeping outside with the stars above our heads.

And maybe for the odd weekend, maybe for two weeks of the year, if we are lucky, we get to live this life we were constructed to lead. We call it holiday. But maybe it should be recognised as sanity.

If we could get a taste of that simplicity, that outdoor existence, and value it above everything, our lives would be much happier, We would be less stressed and less conflicted. But we would have to look hard at this indoor life first: these houses and our heads full of complicated nonsense – and find ways to deconstruct them. The houses are demanding and expensive. They suck up energy and time, need constant cleaning and decorating. They are full of machines that need servicing and replacing. Sometimes in our Carbon Conversations a feeling of hopelessness would come into the room. It felt out of our hands. It did our heads in. As if the lifestyle were running our lives, rather than ourselves.

Big house, big head, small world.

Last August Andy and the boys came and put their tent up in the garden and their visit sparked off an idea. Maybe there was a way we could chart this carbon cutting journey we were embarking on together (then called Transition Norwich 2.0) that would treasure all our small independent moves. This Low-Carbon Life was born. My first regular blog post (The Reality Business) in November was written from this tent. Since then, like some of my fellow bloggers, I have completed a year of reducing my carbon emissions by half. Done a cycle of Carbon Conversations. We’ve looked at electricity bills and car logs, swapped stories and useful tips. Now some of us are moving outside: we’ve started to dig gardens, chop firewood, swap vegetables and clothes, organise wholefood co-ops – working to create a culture that is stronger than the allure of the energy-sucking pleasuredome.

Where do we go from here? One thing I’ve realised: this attitude is a good place to start, where life does not feel out of our hands, or hopeless or ignoble, the place the poet calls:

A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything

We have to start where we feel things are all right. Where we are valued for what we do.

Small tent, large universe.

Andy, Ollie and Mark (and Anthony) playing Go Fish in the Tent (rescued last year from Latitude Recycling point); Sustainable Bungay Summer Picnic; Mark taken by Andy at Covehithe.

Sunday 22 July 2012

The Fire Sermon - postcard from the City of London

St Mary Aldemary, EC4 Down the tiny streets of Watling and Bow, the young bankers in sharp suits and shiny shoes are robustly drinking beer. Everyone has spilled out of their offices onto the pavements into the warm evening. The traffic drones down Threadneedle Street where the Old Lady of the Banks presides stonily among the glass-fronted cathedrals of the financial district, the hub of the economic world, where last winter the Occupy movement changed the dance. Though you might not notice from the look of things.

In the 1920s a young American wrote a seminal poem set in London. It captured something of the unreal nature of the modern city, and the hidden mood of a people shaken by war, of a civilisation in crisis. It suggests we live in a fragmented time and only a robust spirituality will redeem us and bring our souls together.

In 2012 another American is standing in front of a packed City church and suggesting that bringing "the sacred" into the economics of our daily lives will prevent our falling into materialism and thus the destruction of the world against which every poet warns.

Datta: what have we given?

It is an eloquent and sure-footed talk and everything the man says about "living in the gift" makes perfect sense, and yet I find the true sermon downstairs in the ladies toilet at an Indian vegetarian restaurant near the Angel. Here you can eat as much as you like for under a fiver and there are lavish descriptions of the bad things that will befall you, if you don't dine on the kind of dishes they serve at the buffet. The walls are covered with visiting beauty Queens and strict admonitions to cut down on unholy meat-consumption. Or else!

I am here with Jo and our new fellow reporter, Sara. We are all knackered by the event for some reason which has yet to come to me. The whole Sacred Economics thing has yet to come to me. How do you get a black and white text to make sense within this brightly colourful fabric in which we are tightly enmeshed? In which we think of ourselves as the 99%, but in fact are amongst the most privileged?

How is it words Eisenstein uses like gratitude, service and bond feel trapping, but words like generosity and equality bring a sense of space and freedom?

Tomorrow I will go with Jo to Edible Landscapes London in Finsbury Park and find out how to graft an Asian pear on to an English apple tree. I'm en route to a conversation with Charles Eisenstein and other Transitioners on the gift economy, joining the crowd flowing across Charing Cross bridge towards the Festival Hall:

I had not thought death had undone so many.

This is not a winter dawn in the wasteland, the twilight hour in the cruel spring of post-WW1 London, it is the South Bank in summer time: a London full of people chattering on streets and lavish restaurants and glass towers, of African fusion bands and pleasure boats, a city about to split to the seams with its hosting of the Greatest Corporate Game Show on Earth. It is hard to see any fall or alienation with all this shiny matrix stuff going on. Is this the Titantic about to sink and the band playing to the max to distract us? Who are those people huddled in a windy corner outside the Hayward, listening intently for a new narrative amongst the fragments we are telling each other about our Transition lives. Are we the lifeboat, or are we fooling ourselves?

Is it our business to graft an alien spirituality onto a native tree? Or is something else going on we just haven't yet seen?

I did not come to a conclusion that day. I fell ill with a chill and have only now recovered. So this is a belated postcard. I'll let you know if I find any answers to those questions. Meanwhile enjoy this sun!

Images: with Sara in Islington: the sermon in the toilet; with Jo and the ELL crew in Finsbury Park; overlooking the demonstration bed. Lines from The Wasteland by T.S. ELiot (1922)

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen

Last night I was working with the kitchen crew at Sustainable Bungay's Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen. This monthly gathering has been running for over a year now and is always fully booked: 50+ people sitting down together at the Community Centre to enjoy a seasonal, local, low carbon (as poss) meal and everything cooked from scratch. You can read a write-up about the meals by one of the regular cooks, Lesley Hartley (right) for our last newsletter here.

Christine Smith, another regular cook and part of the Happy Mondays planning group, loves Greece and this month’s menu was inspired by her visits. She wrote the introduction to the menu (below) and talked between courses about solidarity with Greece in times of austerity, and living close to the land and to the seasons:

Our main dish is Σπανακοτυροπιττα (spanokotiropitta) a spinach and cheese pie popular across Greece where it makes great use of simple, readily available ingredients. We’ll be using feta cheese with local spinach and chard. Our pie will be served with Γιγαντεσ (gigantes), butter beans in a tomato and selino (Greek celery) sauce with oregano and a little cinnamon.

Our 3 side dishes are Μαρουλι σαλατα (marouli salata), a delicious lightly dressed shredded lettuce and spring onion salad; Παντζαρια σαλατα (pantzaria salata), a sliced cooked beetroot salad dressed with oil and wine vinegar and Τζατχικι (tzatziki), a cucumber and yoghurt dip.

Greek desserts are very simple - often meals are finished with apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon, slices of melon or a pastry. Equally common is home made yoghurt served with honey and walnuts. We’ve decided to make Ρυζιγαλο (rizogalo). Less often seen here than Greek pastries or yoghurt it’s a rice pudding served cold with cinnamon and honey, we’ll be making ours with
milk from Bungay.

These dishes, although found in some form all over Greece, are particular specialities from the Mani, the most southerly point of the Greek Mainland. Traditionally a very poor area, the cooking here makes good use of the simplest of ingredients, with many people still making their own cheese from sheep and goats milk and producing a wide variety of vegetables as well as harvesting their own olives for oil, eating and for soap.

This is an area of beautiful coastlines and rugged mountains, with dramatic foothill landscape in between. The few cattle are generally following a transhumance way of life, being taken to high pastures in the summer, and coming back down for the winter. Other crops still produced on a small scale include walnuts, figs, honey, beans for drying. Horta, the wild bitter greens eaten in large quantities by the locals is also collected from unsprayed olive groves. Fish is an important part of the diet, with meat playing a much smaller role for most, the exception being in tourist locations.

The twice-weekly main market in Kalamata is bursting with fresh produce, a riot of colour and tastes, 80% being fruits and vegetables, but with a very good range of very fresh fish, 60 plus varieties are often available at any one time.

You always see people walking away with huge bags packed with kilos of cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, lemons... The bakeries are excellent too, several making on a daily basis sourdough bread which is baked in wood fired ovens. With careful shopping it is possible to eat delicious meals for very little money, because the quality is so high - especially the local olive oil, a rich, peppery and
very green delight!

Enjoy your meal! Christine Smith

Each Tuesday the Low Carbon Cookbook crew selects a different topic from our work-in-progress. Next week: Off-grid pizza worskhop at Tin Village, Sunrise Festival, 2012

Images: Lewis, Lesley and Nick about to serve up at Happy Monday, Bungay Community Centre; shredding lettuce with Chrisitne; local unpasteurised milk from Flixton dairy sheds;cover of Patrick Leigh Fermor's classic travel book of the region ; sitting down to a Happy Monday meal (October).

Monday 16 July 2012

Postcards from the Edge

We are now officially on our summer break! The Social Reporting crew have been posting almost daily since the beginning of the year and so, as the holiday season arrives for some of us, we are going to kick back and slip into are more spontaneous post-when-you like rhythm for the next six weeks. We'll be sending you postcards though!

Where will these postcards be from? We'll from posting from our events, our gardens, our gatherings in Transition. Places we are visiting now, places we have visited in the past, abroad and at home. We'll be posting from the city and the country, from the backyard and the beach, on the road, on two wheels, as we walk, swim, picnic, celebrate and sing. I'll be reporting from the Sunrise Festival (Somerset) and the Sunrise Coast (Suffolk) and this week from London, as I head up by train to hear Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, speak in the City. Some of our postcards will be short, and others our usual length (more of a letter really) and we'll all take turns to write when the mood and the moment takes us. It's an experiment, a break from routine and gives us some space and time, a chance to do things differently for a while. A summer breather.

What will happen in the future? Last week on a very dodgy Skype line several reporters discussed the future shape of the blog. We decided to keep our style of working around a set theme for the week, with free weekends for news and one-off posts and now have a rota for this autumn, running until the end of the year. We have some ace subjects coming up including Flying, Deep Time, Harvest, Hierarchy, the role of the Network, Livelihoods and Trees in Transition. We'll be returning with a Back to School week starting on Monday 26 August, following by the third in our series of Transition Ingredients and Tools. Then we have a fortnight around the Transition Conference, including its companion events. Seven of us will be there taking part and also reporting live from the weekend's full-on activities. We hope to be setting up our own reporting and skill-share "desk", so do come and find us.

Meanwhile we hope you will keep travelling alongside us this summer. Bonnes vacances, dear Readers, and see you soon!

P.S. We welcome ideas and guest blogs on the Project. If you'd like to send your own postcard, please get in touch and for all things editorial via charlotteducann@transitionnetwork.org.

Images: speaking about wild flowers and bees at Bungay Beehive Day, reading from 52 Flowers That Shook My World (Heather); meeting on the beach with the Dark Mountain Norwich crew, Southwold.

Sunday 15 July 2012

FROM THE ARCHIVE: The Spirit of the Beehive

This is a report from the first Bungay Beehive Day last year. Today the Transition group, Bungay Community Bees are holding their second celebration of the honeybee and the plants they love, on Castle Meadow, Bungay, 10-30am-4.30. Talks, walks and workshops, children's activities, stalls, a film, refreshments, and of course honey. Hope to see you there!

In 1923 the philosopher and seer Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures on agriculture in which he predicted the future fate of the honeybee. Mechanical beekeeping practices were putting these creatures under high levels of stress and interfering with their natural cycles. In eighty years' time bees will face a crisis, he said, and because bees are inextricably linked with the human world, we will also.

The honeybee has worked her delicate symbiotic relationship with the plant world for millions of years and for as long as anyone can remember the sweet substance she makes from the nectar of flowers has attracted the attention of human beings. Still today men will climb trees in the deep forest to steal honey for the benefit of the tribe. It is a substance that no man can make himself - its flavour and density changing from flower to flower. From the light and delicate orange blossom to the deep resinous flavour of pine trees. Only when civilisation came did people begin to cultivate and control bees and provide them with hives. For hundreds of years people chased out or killed colonies from their skeps at the end of the honey season in autumn. Now they feed them with sugar to substitute their foraged winter stores and it is this practice, along with manipulating the queen and her colony and the damaging use of pesticides in our agricultural systems, that has precipatated our present world-wide collapse of honeybee populations.

It was in response to this crisis that we beganBungay Community Bees in 2009, a small Transition project that was the first Community Supported Apiculture in the UK and caught the imagination of bee and flower lovers everywhere. Last Sunday we held a Bungay Beehive Day in “celebration of the honeybee and other pollinators along with the plants they love”. We held it in the local festival marquee on Castle Meadow and though it was a first-of-its kind event it attracted the attention of people from all over East Anglia. Because, no matter how dark and difficult the times, there is something the honeybee colony has that brings people together in a certain spirit. And it is this spirit that Steiner referred to when he said that, in spite of the crisis, the evolution of people would follow along the lines of the honeybee.

It’s not personal, said Margie from the Natural Beekeeping Trustas she described the way bees work with each other and the world. The Trust promotes a move away from commercial beekeeping practices towards a harmonious relationship with the bees and a respect for nature. She was opening a series of talks we organised that ran along with our information stalls, bee and flower walk (conducted by Mark), display hives and children’s activities. And though there was respect for the scientific method the talks we gave that day were about something else.

People say they have done Transition for years, they don’t need to be part of a Transition group, or they try and hide the Transition word at all costs from their friends and community and pretend it is something else, something less challenging, less well . . . evolutionary. But the fact remains it is evolutionary. Not in the way Steiner or a scientist might describe evolution, but because it is effecting something people have not done collectively before, which is to live in harmony in nature and with each other, having spent millennia living against nature and against each other.

The two spheres – human and natural - are indivisible. Those that feel they don’t need to join the Transition movement because they have championed the environment for decades sometimes forget that this is a social movement. And those that feel it’s all about community and people also forget that it is based on permaculture and our right relationship with places and plants. Something has to bridge those two worlds in our imagination and in our actions and no creature does it more effectively, more elegantly, more beautifully than the bee.

The honeybee was first cultivated in ancient Egypt and has been used as a model for social organisation within civilisations, from kingship to socialism to Buddhism. Hive mind is something that is both sought by controllers and feared by the controlled. However this is to entirely misunderstand the organisational field bees operate in and what that feels like.

Imagine you are in hive, I said the schoolchildren as they sat by their computers in May. It’s warm and dark in there (20c) and scented with flowers and there is a hum that resonates inside your body. It is one of the cleanest and sweetest-scented built environments in the world. The bees fly out into the sunlit world and they return with the sweetness of the earth. The queen is like the sun in the solar system and everything in the hive is organised around her creative powers. Everyone has a role and knows what to do.

You don’t understand the field with your mind, you understand it with your heart and your physical form. It’s a different order of intelligence altogether.

It’s hard to talk about the organisational intelligence of the heart, because we are a cold-blooded mind culture, addicted to competition, fantasy and domination. We worship science and reason and champion our above-it-all powers of control and give little place to the warmth and beauty of our natural beings that love to work in co-operation. Publicly we do not acknowledge the effect of high or low vibration in the physical world, even though privately we respond in every moment to atmospheres in rooms and people.

Joseph Beuys the activist-artist, once set up an installation calledHoney Pump in the Workplace, inspired by the lectures Steiner gave. He contended that if you provided the right conditions people would naturally communicate and work together in harmony. You don’t have to explain anything people just "got it". The warmth and vibrancy of natural substances related to the warmth and movement of our blood and activated the higher centres of our consciousness: thought became imagination, feeling became inspiration, and will, intuition.

It's that natural harmony we are trying to get to in Transition. It’s a hard slog because the mechanical forces that keep us within the unnatural system of civilisation, that stop us swarming, that overwork us, seem stronger than our natural instincts. Our immune systems have been weakened by the chemicals we have been absorbing for decades, and the powers of the sun that emanate from all creative people within the collective have been routinely excluded or they have had their wings clipped.

And yet if we provide the right conditions people come together and things change quickly. Those sunny creative forces emerge from within and affect the whole. As soon as Bungay Community Bees was formed the whole initiative underwent a shift of mood and tempo, meetings suddenly got easier and more coherent. Other projects started up. Within the town council where there had once been mistrust and dismissal, there was interest and acceptance. The local newspapers ran full page stories, local radio and television interviewed our first beekeepers. On Sunday an estimated one thousand people came to the workshops, talks, walk and to visit the stands and stalls.

We’re doing everything we can to help the bees.
What we don’t know is that the bees are doing everything to help us.

Entrance to the Bungay Beehive; our first top bar hive; Margie's talk on Natural Beekeeping; children's workshops, making bee masks and puppets and bug hotels; Plants for Bees board; climbing Castle Meadow on Mark's walk; in the Bungay Library Community Garden; wild "weeds" in honey jars; on the way to the garden (photo by Muhammad Amin); Philip's talk on bumblebees and wild plants; Bungay Community Bees boards