New Economy Thinking Rippling Out

Small group seeding a local economic shift draws new interest

Yvonne Hollandy

Whether it’s introducing the concept of a public trust or co-ordinating research into the economic ramifications of boosting our local food production by 25 per cent, a small group in Peterborough has been working well below the mainstream radar to seed a local economic shift. Their years of hard work are now at the centre of new discussions on the new economy.

This is a group that has seen the future and has been actively working to change it.

At the heart of the group’s efforts is an awareness that we live in unprecedented times given the end of cheap fossil fuel, climate change and economic contraction.

Also known as Transition Town Peterborough, the non-profit consisting of all volunteers has made some startling headway — startling given its volunteer base — into enabling a new economic paradigm.

The Global Crossroads

Cheryl Lyon

Cheryl Lyon

“We are at a crossroads within the (global) context where our greenhouse gas emissions and control of our fossil fuels has not gone down. We’re headed for disaster,” says transitioner Cheryl Lyon.

“More than one person has said that the effort required to address climate change is as large or larger than what happened to address the Second World War,” she adds. “We saw how fast and how massive that was. Factories were retooled, the economy was rejigged, people, schools, all facets of society got involved in that mobilization — for a crisis that was over in four years.”

The Most Promising Response

Localizing is the word that captures the biggest and most promising response required now — localizing our food, culture, energy, health and water.

More than achieving sustainability as a community, the ultimate vision of Transition Town Peterborough is to create a resilient community — a community that, after an economic contraction, energy crisis or natural disaster, bounces not back but forward.

Part of a global network of Transition Towns, with which it shares a set of principles, the activities of Transition Town Peterborough have evolved along the lines of local members’ interests, resources available and Peterborough’s unique needs.

The group’s activities to date have centred on co-ordinating research, organizing events that give people an experience of a localized future — Dandelion Day ring a bell? — and publishing the Greenzine, a quarterly journal to inform and inspire Peterborough residents around local economy thinking. Reskilling in the gift economy is also well-anchored in Transition Town Peterborough’s DNA, says Transition Town Peterborough founder Fred Irwin.

Widening the Circle

Transition Town Peterborough is now at a crossroads, however, which has largely to do with widening its circle of engagement.

There are possibilities stirring on that front. Last month a conversation on the new economy stemming from the Peterborough Dialogues took place at Axiom News. Transition Town Peterborough and specifically Cheryl were at the centre of that discussion. (More on what’s emerging from that in this story: Getting the Goods on the New Economy)

Otherwise, there’s been a recognition by Axiom News that the Transition Town perspective is an important one. There is interest in exploring how the two organizations might work together to amplify that perspective in a way that generates real change.

Some of the possibilities Transition Town is highlighting:

If Peterborough increases the amount of food produced and consumed locally by 25 per cent from its current five per cent, the economic impact on the community would be well over $400 million a year for 10 years.

Increasing Local Food Production by 25 Per Cent

Fred, along with a Trent University graduate, worked over two years to produce Part 1 of an ongoing study called 25 Per Cent Shift: Local Food Peterborough.

This research investigates the ramifications of Peterborough increasing the amount of food produced and consumed locally by 25 per cent from its current five per cent. “By shifting 25 per cent of our food purchases to local food, we create an annual local market of over $400 million, supporting new local jobs and livelihoods,” Fred says. “The accumulative economic impact over the next 10 years as we build towards the 25 per cent shift would be, of course, much more than $400 million.”

Part 2 of the study, which yet requires researchers, is intended to investigate the job creation effect of localizing food expenditure by 25 per cent.

Even without the research, one can imagine the spillover effect — not just more farmers growing local food but new jobs created in transporting and marketing that food, as well as in product design, new product development, organic fertilizer development, teaching and real estate, to name a few possibilities.

A Public Trust — One of the Key Tools for Economic Localization

Currently Peterborough has nowhere near the required size of farming community to work the land to produce the food that would enable the area to feed itself.

Amongst the challenges on this front is the rate of existing farmers transitioning out of the sector — the average age is 57 — as well as the prodigious costs of entering and staying in this work.

A critical missing element is financing, particularly for young people seeking to get into farming.

But Transition Town is working on a solution to that too.

Another document produced by the group describes the economic infrastructure that’s needed to localize the economy. Among the key tools it puts forward is the concept of a public trust.

As a separate non-profit “community-guarded” entity, a public trust would be the vehicle to finance local economy initiatives such as farming, small business start-ups and retention, small business development research and so forth.

Transition Town’s intent is to have the reserve of the Peterborough local currency — the Kawartha Loon — seed the trust. Recognizing that that reserve will never be large to finance a farm mortgage as an example, Transition Town is also advocating for partial funding from the income earned from renewable energy in the city and county, plus funds from the tax base.

The Kawartha Loon — The Importance of a Local Currency

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One side of the Kawartha Loon.

Another critical tool for building the resilience of the local economy is Peterborough’s local currency — the Kawartha Loon.

Though already making its way through local businesses, there’s a significant need to increase the recognition of its importance, Cheryl says.

As soon as you pay for your gas, shop at a big-box store or eat at a multi-national franchise, a significant chunk of that money leaves the community, Cheryl points out. Yes, some stays in the form of wages, but that’s miniscule compared to what leaves, she says.

The Kawartha Loon, accepted on par with Canadian dollars, provides a way to ensure spending continues to happen locally, both between businesses and between residents and businesses.

Permaculture Design Practices

The deep philosophy of Transition Town is centred on permaculture design practices, which go well beyond gardening or even farming. These practices form the basis of Transition Town’s values and ethics and are a part of the organization’s charter.

The design principles of permaculture are as follows:

“A set of principles like this shows us that we’re united and that we have a similar operating system.”
— Cheryl Lyon

  • Observe and interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation
  • Accept feedback
  • Use and value renewable resources
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small-scale solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges and value the margin
  • Creatively use and respond to change.

“Because our cultures are so diverse and we come from different backgrounds and we’re at different ages and stages of life, you can’t have a cookie cutter approach to this huge transformation that we need,” Cheryl says.

“We have to come into it in different ways, but a set of principles like this shows us that we’re united and that we have a similar operating system.”

To learn more about Transition Town Peterborough, click here.

If you’re interested in seeing media that explores the topics introduced in this article further, please contact ptbodialogues@axiomnews.com.

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