In common or alone: how to grow your own food!

Climate Café #5 was last Tuesday evening and the topic was growing your own food. Growing food encourages community, healthy eating, and makes out society more resilient to climate change and changing weather patterns. We had three speakers: Alan Carter from the Powis Community Garden, Bob Donald from One Seed Forward, and Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall. Here’s my summary of the talks.

Alan Carter from Powis Community Garden

Alan Carter talked about how to transform a derelict and unloved space into a thriving community garden. How did he do it? There isn’t a formula for how to make these transformations a success, other than having one or two passionate people, but Alan shared some really great tips with us. For instance, he used the resilience of nature to build green space. Wildflowers, for example, are hardy and beautiful at the same time. Food crops like fruit trees and brambles can be dispersed to help mimic nature and avoid creating monocultures in one area. He also opted for plants that work well in a community setting like crops with high pickability and low nickability. For example, a lot of effort goes into growing cabbages but picking them is easy. Hence cabbages have high nickability and low pickability. Compare this with raspberries that don’t require much effort to grow but a lot of effort to pick and hence have a low nickability and high pickability. A low nickability is better for community gardens because you don’t want to make it easy for one person to take off with the entire crop in one night.

It’s also important to provide individuals with space of their own. The community space gives people new to gardening a way to dip their toes in and gather ideas. The individual space lets people take full control and thrive with their new hobby. The best community spaces have a combination of both.

The benefits of community food gardens are not just for the vegetables and the carbon savings. It’s also about getting people together, building relationships, and encouraging engagement with food which is particularly important at a time when 50% of the food in the UK is processed. There are also mental health benefits when people have agency/control over food production.

If you’d like to learn more then head over to Alan’s blog, Of Plums and Pignuts.

Bob Donald from One Seed Forward

Bob is the founder of a particularly inspiring community growing initiative called One Seed Forward. It was founded in December 2016 and targeted Aberdeen City and Shire. The aim is to get people growing their own crops and is based on the principles of the Slow Food Movement – good, clean, and fair. It’s good for them and the planet, clean – no pesticides, and fair for the producer and worker.

One Seed Forward gives away seeds for free to individuals and community groups. The idea is that for every free seed you get you give two back in return. These can be given to your neighbour, your school, anyone. It’s about getting involved in food growing and encouraging others to do the same.

In 2017 One Seed Forward gave away 400kg of seed potatoes and 50,000 spring onion seeds. These were given to 13 schools and 16 community groups. They generated approximately 4,000kg of potatoes grown locally as a direct result of the initiative. In 2018 Bob plans to give away 625kg of potatoes.

Every attendee of the Climate Café went home with a bag of potatoes from One Seed Forward. Mine are happily chitting away as I type this and I plan to bury them at my plot at the end of this month. If all goes well I’ll have some potatoes in about 18 weeks. We were all encouraged to share our progress and the Climate Café Community (CCC) of growers was born.

Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall

How many cabbages can you eat? This is the question that inspired Greg to start the Allotment Market Stall. One allotment gardener had a particularly prolific crop of cabbages one year and wasn’t sure what to do with them all. Greg then had the idea to gather all the excess produce from allotments around Aberdeen and sell it, thus reducing waste. At the same time he’d be able to promote growing your own food and a little bit of money would go back to the allotments.

They started in 2013 with a 5-week pilot during which they collected and sold excess produce for a total of £700. Since then they’ve done it every week over the summer, selling the food at Duthie Park. In 2017 1,664kg of produce was collected over 12 weeks. They sold 1,464kg, sent 116kg to food banks, and 80kg went to compost.

The Allotment Market Stall is run by 13 volunteers and in 2018 they’ll be selling produce at both Duthie and Seaton Parks in Aberdeen. They calculated the maximum and minimum food miles of the produce they sell and the largest is 23 miles while the shortest was 5 metres.


The next Climate Café is on the 3rd of April and the topic is Hydroponics and Permaculture. Please join us at Waterstones Bookstore in Aberdeen. The talks start at 7pm.

Renewable Energy: At Home & Work

If you missed Climate Café number 3, here’s a summary of the talks. The next café will be on the 6th February and the focus is on food and the impact our food choices have on the environment. Please join us!

pexels-photo-411592.jpeg

Neil Stuart from Home Energy Scotland

Home Energy Scotland has expert advisors who visit homes and provide free and impartial advice on how we can reduce our energy bills. They can advise on renewables, energy efficiency, waste prevention, and even transport. There are government incentives home owners can access to encourage the uptake of renewables and Home Energy Scotland can help explain how these work. They include feed-in tariffs and interest-free loans. If you can generate your own electricity then you can sell what you don’t use and people typically only use about 25% of what they generate. If you’re interested in investing in renewables then you can access interest-free loans of up to £17,500 per household for renewable energy systems. The Energy Saving Trust has a tool you can use to find out what technologies are suitable for your home. There’s also a green homes network which is a group of homes that have installed renewable energy or made energy efficiency improvements and are offering to share their experience with others who are curious to see how it all works.

Lauren Milton from Élan Hair Design

Lauren Milton shared her inspiring story of how the family-run hair salon in Inverurie went green and has become recognised in the UK as the most eco-friendly and sustainable hairdressing salon. It all started with a switch to LED lighting which not only reduced their CO2 emissions, but also saved them money. From there they went to PV panels, and implemented other measures which resulted in a 68% reduction in water use, a 95% reduction in CO2 emissions, and increased turnover every year. The sustainable business approach has led to lower costs, better PR, and increased customer loyalty.

Erik Dalhuijsen on living offgrid 

Erik lives on a boat which has two solar panels that power everything except for hot water and cooking. He advocates for changing behaviour to match circumstances. For example, when there’s ample supply (the sun is out or the wind is blowing) run the instruments that require power. When there’s no power, turn them off. It’s very feasible to live this way and doesn’t make life difficult.

Dave McGrath from Grampian Energy

Grampian Energy can provide advice for homes and businesses in the North East of Scotland on renewables and energy efficiency. The first thing Dave recommends to those interested in reducing energy costs is to understand your demand and then reduce it. This is the single, easiest thing you can do. Most homes use about 3,500 – 5,500 kWh (kilowatt hour) per year and of that heating consumes around 60-70%.

An easy way to reduce demand is to replace all incandescent bulbs with LED. An incandescent bulb uses around 60W which is £35/year. LED lights use 6W which is £3.50. This is a huge saving for a very small investment. When buying new appliances get ones with a triple-A rating. Also consider the impact of cooking. For example Chinese cooking (e.g., stir fries) consumes very little energy whereas a roast which sits in the oven for several hours uses a lot. Consumer electronics also consume a lot of energy so think twice before buying a huge LCD TV for the teenager’s bedroom.

For heating costs, the amount of heat required to heat a building is equal to the amount that leaves it. The EPC rating of the property is very important and will give you an indication of this heat loss. The biggest loss is through the walls especially in Aberdeen’s granite homes that often have a thin layer of plaster as their only insulation. Some insulation is harder and more expensive to install than others. Roof insulation and double glazing is pretty easy whereas underfloor is hard to do. You can also reduce heat loss by sealing off drafts, especially around doors. Having a timer can also reduce consumption by turning on heating only when it’s needed. You can also turn it off/on for specific rooms according to need. You can fit radiators with TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) which control the flow of hot water into the radiator allowing you to set the temperature of the room to the level you want.

In terms of renewable energy sources, free sources of power include solar PV, solar thermal, and wind. A solar PV system will set you back about £5200 for a 4KW system.  Micro wind works in rural settings but is not worthwhile in the city. A large system costs around 30k-35k. Other environmentally-friendly heating options are biomass boilers and heat pumps. A biomass boiler is good for people who have their own source of timber. Heat pumps are basically refrigerators in reverse but they’re very efficient producing around 3.5kWh for every 1kWh.


A big thank you to all our speakers for the inspiring and informative talks!

Tidal and wind power in Scotland, and adapting to a post-oil future

The second climate cafè last Tuesday evening was a great success. We heard two terrific talks. The first was on the future of tidal power in Scotland and was delivered by Dr Ian Davies of Marine Scotland Science. Then we heard from Dr Leslie Mabon from Robert Gordon University talking about the adaptation in the North East to a post oil future. Here’s my summary of the two talks.

The Future of Tidal Power in Scotland

Scotland is perfect for tidal and wind power with much of the Scottish coastline suitable. However before any project proceeds there are factors that must be considered. The Scottish coastline is also used by the fishing industry and there are ferry and shipping routes to take into account. There are also lots of protected animal species along the coastline such as birds and sea mammals. All these things are considered before a project is approved.

Stromness, which is in Orkney, is home to The European Marine Energy Centre. It’s a research and testing facility for wave and tidal power and is the only centre of its kind in the world. There are also a couple of offshore wind farms near Aberdeen. There’s one in Aberdeen Bay which is 2km offshore with 11 turbines, 176m high. There’s another just north of Stonehaven known as the Kincardine project which has 5 turbines. Just launched this year is Statoil’s Hywind project which is a floating wind farm and the first of its kind in the world. The cost of electricity generation from wind farms is falling rapidly and will continue to do so. The offshore wind farms are particularly good because there’s less concern from interaction with others. There’s also plenty of space.

Adaptation in the North East to a post oil future

For almost half a century Aberdeen’s fortune’s have been determined by North Sea oil. It created jobs and has made people rich. The average oil industry salary is £64,000, a substantially higher figure than the average wage in the UK which is £27,000. About 10% of all jobs here are in oil and gas. We have become dependent on one industry and this dependancy is a barrier to change. It has become a part of the fabric of the city. For instance, most airports have advertising for perfume, jewellery, or fashion but at Aberdeen airport you’ll see ads for drilling. You can even buy fridge magnets of oil platforms. For these reasons the people here will be resistant to change and maybe even defensive about the problem. What incentive does someone have to accept a much lower salary in a different industry?

What’s the solution?

We need to provide retraining schemes for workers as well as tax breaks and incentives for new industry. As individuals we can pressure politicians to support the transition.

Is it time to get rid of the family car?

We dispensed with the family car three years ago and I’ve never regretted it. We are a family of four: two adults and two primary school children and we found we were able to walk or cycle to most of the places we wanted to go. We are lucky to live in Aberdeen where there’s a fantastic car club, a good bus service, and it’s reasonably flat which makes it good for cycling, although the cycling infrastructure could be better.

The best thing about not owning a car is you’re not tempted to use it for short trips that don’t require a car. It’s too easy to form bad habits and drive 300m up the road when there’s a car sitting in the garage. I know because I used to do that. Now I walk or cycle and get exercise for free. I use the word free in a non-monetary sense: it’s exercise without having to find the time to do it because it happens as a consequence of going from A to B. We’re also producing less pollution which is good for air quality and have lowered our greenhouse gas emissions. Even better, we’re saving money as we no longer have car-related expenses like petrol, depreciation, insurance, maintenance, and MOTs.

One huge cost of car ownership which is often ignored is the space needed to park the millions of privately-owned vehicles. Each parking space is 2m x 5m which is 10m2. Multiply this number by the 31 million cars in the UK and that’s 310 million square metres of land set aside just to park cars. This doesn’t includes all the roads and motorways needed to move them around. It’s an enormous amount of space. Imagine if that space was instead reserved for people, for parks, for trees, or for homes.

Living car-free is liberating. You’ll spend more time outdoors talking to people. You’ll also never have to vacuum the inside of a car ever again. It’s worth it just for that.

Thoughts from our first Climate Café

The first of Aberdeen Climate Action’s (ACA’s) Climate Café series was fantastic. Over 85 people came along to Waterstones to listen and learn about local community renewable projects here in the North East. The speakers inspired us as they shared how their projects were created, and how the community energy schemes were just the first step in their communities’ journey to real sustainable living and also greater community empowerment.

We welcomed Donald Boyd from Greenmyres Community Energy speaking about the Huntly Community Wind Turbine.  Jim Currie from ACEnergy shared his experience with Donside Hydro, Aberdeen’s very own community hydroelectric power plant. Annabel Pinker from The James Hutton Institute highlighted a variety of fascinating community projects around Scotland. A common theme was one of empowerment of the individuals and communities involved in the creation and management of these projects. Having an independent stream of income means that these communities can develop more schemes to help their community and educate and inspire others.

The energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable and the feedback we received is that people felt inspired to start their own projects. This is exactly what the Climate Café series is all about. Waterstones were terrific and created a wonderful atmosphere. There was great coffee served by Sloth Coffee as well as delicious home baking. Everyone had a great time eating, drinking, chatting and connecting after the talks.

We’re looking forward to the next Café on Tuesday 5th December, Waterstones, 7-9pm – Fast Forward to the Future: New Energy Sources and Post Oil, where we will be hearing about Marine Energy and the North East Post Oil. Please join us.