The importance of “getting on with it”

Public herb garden at Todmorden railway station

John Robb is one of the most creative thinkers we’ve come across when it comes to thinking about and understanding the importance of resiliency. Earlier this week, he wrote a fascinating piece about an open source food movement in a small UK town called Todmorden. The movement is called Incredible Edible, and began about three years ago to help the town’s citizens to become self-sufficient in local food production.

According to Robb, the movement has grown rapidly since then, and the results can be seen all over town where food is now growing in yards, public spaces and every other conceivable nook-and-cranny.

What’s equally as interesting is how the Incredible Edible project got started… It was the financial crisis of 2008 that finally convinced the local townsfolk that the centralized institutions (business and government) they had relied on were not nearly as stable as they might have thought. In other words, the 2008 financial crisis was a wake up call that — as Robb points out — finally shook townspeople out of their stupor.

Interestingly, rather than protest the unfairness of it all or demand that the same institutions that caused the financial crisis to begin with (again, government and business) “do something… anything” to fix it, the townsfolk in Todmorden got together and took matters into their own hands. Robb makes a fantastic point in explaining the fundamental importance of what exactly Todmorden accomplished… They wanted to DO something, but didn’t know what to do. They very easily could have channeled that into wasteful, unproductive energy (anger, politics, protest), but they didn’t.

Instead, a few resilient citizens proposed changing their local community by growing local food and held a meeting. More than 60 people showed up. A simple local approach for food self-sufficiency was the spark, no leadership was needed, no formal plans, studies or white papers were solicited. The townspeople, in the charming parlance of British vernacular just “got on with it” — setting the achievable goal of food self-sufficiency through “cooking, sharing, and growing.”

I was involved recently in a discussion about the radical transformational power of “non-participation” — the notion that dropping out, or turning your back on the status quo is the most effective and liberating way to force change. Modern civilization has been brainwashed into believing that we are incapable of thinking, acting, creating and providing for ourselves. We’ve come to rely on inherently unstable and massive centralized institutions to decide what’s in our best interest, but even then, only after undertaking exhaustive feasibility studies, white papers, campaign plans, elections, bailouts, and the like. Look at where that has gotten Europe. Look where it’s gotten the U.S.

Multilateral lending institutions like the IMF, massive central governments, global food production and distribution networks and the rest of our highly centralized government and corporate institutions are just not capable to deal with today’s challenges. But the challenges we face can be overcome at the individual and local level, because decentralization is both flexible and nimble and doesn’t require lowest common denominator solutions that balance the demands of thousands of different competing interests. The citizens of Todmorden prove this: They simply “got on with it.”

I’m writing this today from a charming little town in Panama’s Azuero Peninsula called Pedasi… It’s a place where everyone still sits on the front porch waving at their neighbors as they pass by; where people still stop to chat with each other at the gas station or local restaurant; Where people still actually know one another. And just like Todmorden, Pedasi’s residents are also growing food in almost every yard; chickens, papaya trees, mango trees, avocados, a little corn or yucca perhaps. Only for them, it’s not revolutionary or even a novel new idea… It’s a completely normal way of life. My guess is that they aren’t paying much, if any attention to what’s happening in Europe, the U.S., Syria, or any of the other swirling hotspots around the globe. They aren’t glued to CNN, MSNBC, Fox or their Bloomberg terminals.

Nor do they have to be, because what’s happening on the world stage is largely irrelevant to them. For the most part they have the peace of mind that comes with self-sufficiency. Those “worst case scenarios” that us sophisticates in the first world stress about? They barely register a blip with folks here.

They are non-participants on the global stage who have been “getting on with it” for generations… And they wouldn’t have it any other way.



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