How One Community Took Advantage of a Crisis to Become Abundant

Today’s letter includes:

  • The global financial system is about to convulse again… here’s what you should and shouldn’t worry about.
  • How one community started a movement that produces an abundance of local food.  They have a simple formula for doing it, that you might be able to use in your community.
  • A short introduction to building DiY structures with ferrocement (it’s something you should definitely take a look at if you haven’t seen it before).

Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

Will a small group of Greek voters plunge the global financial system into a meltdown next week?  Nobody knows whether this will happen this week or not.   What’s worrying is the start of the next crisis seems to be only a question of timing.   The crisis appears inevitable.

Despite all of this doom and gloom, I’m not worried.  You shouldn’t be worried either.

Why?  We can’t do anything about it.  We can’t solve it.  The system is too large, too broken, and too corrupt to fix.

What should we be thinking about and focused on instead?  Finding ways to make our communities more productive and dynamic.  That’s a human scale problem we can solve.

Here’s an example of a resilient community that’s doing just exactly that.  They are on the path to abundant local food production.

How to Start Moving Towards Locally Abundant Food

Incredible Edible Todmorden (a town in the UK) is an open source movement that started about three years ago to help the town become self-sufficient in food.

Over that time, the movement has radically increased local food production.  You can see its impact all over town.  Food is growing in nearly every yard and public space.  On top of that, they accomplished it in a way that looks like fun.

How did the movement get its start?

This is a critical bit:  The financial crisis of  2008 provided an opportunity for the movement to get its start.  The crisis knocked townspeople out of their stupor.

Many people were upset and truly concerned about the future.  They wanted to do something, but didn’t know what to do.  We’re going to see lots of that in the near future as financial and economic systems unwind, don’t waste it (on anger/politics/protest).

In Todmorden, a couple of smart citizens put up a sign asking if anyone was interested in changing the world with local food.  They held a meeting and sixty people showed up.

The next step they took was also critical:  when it came to what they should do, the initial organizers rejected the idea of a formal plan or leadership.  All they provided was:

  • a simple goal:  food self-sufficiency for Todmorden
  • and a way to get there: to just get on with cooking, sharing, and growing.

That simple approach is exactly what was needed.  Ad hoc groups exploded and Todmorden was off to the races.

I’ll be covering Todmorden’s progress and innovation more in future letters.

Building DiY Structures with Ferrocement 

Here’s a problem you might have:  You want to capture rainwater, but cisterns cost too much to buy.

One approach: build your cistern in ferrocement.  Here’s the first part of a tutorial on how you easily (relative to alternatives) build structures with ferrocement by our generous reader, Federico.


Ferrocement is a building technique that allows for very flexible forms to be made with concrete. You can make vaults, walls, round tanks or differently-shaped ones, cisterns…

For a normal concrete pour, you need some kind of formwork that is difficult to build and awkward to remove later. Ferrocement generally lets you avoid most or all of the formwork, as what is built can support itself even as the concrete is curing.

I am not an expert in ferrocement, but I’ve had enough things in my house made with this technique that I can give a little introduction.

Building a bridge – a little example

For this example, we’ll build a small bridge to cross a ditch in the ground – a Permaculture-style swale for water catchment. The bridge is not designed to sustain big loads, or for a great span; it is just a little example.

You form a rebar mesh into the shape you want, overlay it with hexagonal wire mesh, and tie it all together with wire. The more taut the hexagonal mesh, the better. You can make the wire ties with pliers, or with an L-shaped tool that builders use to twist wire elegantly.


Pour a little concrete base on each end of the bridge, on which to seat the wire mesh. The basic recipe is:

  • Four 20-liter buckets of gravel.
  • Four 20-liter buckets of sand.
  • One 50 Kg bag of Portland cement.

Put the mesh over the concrete bases, seating it reasonably well.

Then you start pouring concrete over the bridge’s mesh. Do the lower ends first, and climb up to the center. You have to spread the concrete mixture with a trowel, but without tamping it down – that would cause it to spill through the mesh. Something will spill, but it is generally only the most liquid part of the mixture, and not the majority of the material that clings to the gravel.

Continue up. The mixture at the bottom holds what goes at the top, and you go like that until you reach the center.

The next day, the bridge is strong enough to walk on. The concrete is not fully cured yet, but it is strong enough. Then you can coat it and smooth it with a flat trowel to refine the surface.

Thanks much to Federico for the excellent introduction.  He’s also got an example of how to use it for home construction that I’ll include in a future letter.


Your always learning guide,




PS:  Here’s something interesting:  Greek debt, both public and private, is only 170% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  In the US, it’s 370%.  In other words: we’re all in trouble, not just the Greeks.

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  • andy

    You can buy a 1500 gallon plastic tank at farm supply stores for 700 bucks with a manhole and screw down lid on the top, and a 2″ pipe fitting on the bottom ready to connect. Tank is about 8′ in diameter, and 7′ tall. I use two of them plumbed together for water storage from my spring. Built a 10×20 block building back in a bank to keep the tanks in the dark ( prevent algae culture ), and protect from freezing.

    You’d be hard pressed to buy cement/sand/aggregate (for concrete), rebar and chicken wire enough to duplicate that for 700 bucks…..not to mention trying to fabricate a man hole ( for clean out ) and cast a fitting ( with water tight seal ) in the bottom….nor to mention the amount of time it would take to DO it. Also, unless you get a REALLY smooth inside finish (look at the texture of that bridge above), you’re building something ALL KINDS of crap is gonna cling to, and you’ll have a dickens of a time cleaning it out.

    Just saying…….

  • Jarred

    “The Transition” is an international group working on building communities similar to Todmorden all over the world ( I believe there are roughly 600 communities in various stages of movement toward greater resilience, local food production, local economy, local energy, and community. They have a cell-based leadership structure, similar to you’ve described previously in your writings on Resilient Communities and Global Guerrillas. Also interesting, their goal when working with other groups is not to change or envelope them, but rather learn from their expertise.

  • David Hammond

    I really like your blog. When I read about all the things going on with the world economy and the devastation being caused some of the corporate farming practices – it makes me want to do something, but I have not known what I could possibly do to make a difference. Now I have a direction. Thank you.

  • William RAISER

    Ferrocement: Interesting little project, but NOT ferrocement. Real ferrocement would have many more layers of chicken wire and much less cement. It’s a great building technique, but rather labor intensive. The end result is a light and strong structure.

  • Patrick

    You don’t make it all gloppy like that. You plaster it on in thinner layers. It’s good to cut the cement with lime to make it cheaper. If you’re making a cistern you should use stucco lathe instead of chicken wire. It’ll have much more tensile strength.

    Any if over looking some water quality issue with the poly tanks but he is correct in the the north it’s cheaper to tanks than make them. FC is cheaper if you don’t account for the labor. It’s much more versatile material. You can make it smooth.

    This is a great book.