INTENTION: TO CREATE A MORE AFFORDABLE, RESILIENT, HEALTHFUL, REGENERATIVE FOOD SYSTEM FOR OUR HOME
Date: First iteration 15 November 2022, second iteration 20 August – Early November 2023
Client: Personal project 
assessor: carla moss
Status: implementing
Principles: Holmgren
ETHICS: people care, Earth Care, Fair share
Framework: Appreciative Inquiry
Domain: Health and spiritual wellbeing, finances and economics
Tools/methods:

Client Interview, mood board, basemap, elements analysis, biotime diary, spreadsheet (in-depth financial analysis), SIMPLE Action Plan, PNI, reflections, SIMPLE Decisions, word map, SWOC, plan for weight loss, Four Questions.

resources/support:

Winter Salad Garden design Liz shared on PDC (used as a model/template to help me keep things simple), Penarth Nutrition – Karen’s emails and support, Belly Dancing and Nutrition for Menopause course with Urban-Vertical, Looby’s Cultural Emergence book.

CONTEXT:

Since January 2020 I have been on a mission to find ways to feed our family as much as possible on local organic food. We have a food buying group and aim to shop locally where possible, and reduce our dependence on supermarkets.

Now, the cost of living crisis is starting to impact on our household economy. Since I had my baby in 2018, we have been living off one income. The rise in costs of everything now means that this is becoming unviable.

I have to find ways of saving money in other areas so that I can keep buying local organic food, and not have to resort to getting our weekly shop in Aldi!

This is an exercise in welcoming in frugal hedonism and elegant simplicity, doing more with less, reducing consumption and increasing production and creation, towards a regenerative, resilient  and healthful food system for our home.

I started the first iteration of this design in November 2022, framing it around loosing weight. That wasn’t working for me. I hope that this, the second iteration with a frame around saving money, realigns me to my sense of direction.

CLIENT INTERVIEW

From the client interview, I gleaned that:

What I want to achieve is clear –

  • develop a range of actions to reduce spending so we have enough for me to keep buying my organic food
  • make more home cooked food
  • reduce packaging
  • eat less ultra processed food to be healthier
  • stop shopping in expensive local supermarkets

Food is a big part of my permaculture story. It’s important to me, and is intricately tied into the ethics.

MOOD BOARD
Mood board, created using Canva.
SENSE OF DIRECTION (Aims)

By the end of the design I would like to have:

  • Identified areas in our outgoings where we can reduce spending 
  • Made time to make homemade food
  • Identified more food I can make from scratch
  • Reduced nipping to the supermarkets
  • Reduced the emotional labour involved in decisions around what we are going to eat for tea everyday
Where we are now

I created a mind map, a basemap of sorts, in which I plot the landscape of our food as it is at the beginning of this endeavour. 

Mind map, created using Coggle
Elements analysis

Analysing context using the elements as a starting point.

Created using Canva.
Ethics – People care, earth care, fair share

I have used the ethics early on in the design, as a way to identify how the choices I explore reflect the ethics. In this early phase, it’s really about setting ethical intentions. 

Biotime diary

Images of my biotime diary.

I started keeping a biotime diary to record my consumption and patterns around food in November 2022, because I wanted to really start listening to my body and bring awareness to my food habits as a way to lose weight, sleep better and feel more healthy. My efforts to lose weight have failed. I have let it go, coming to place of acceptance with my body.

I hope that flipping the frame on food to one of saving money so I can keep buying organic food will open up a new space of possibility. I am hoping that an emergent quality of this design will be weight loss! It’s about letting go of control.

I reviewed my biotime diary and made a  collection of recordings, respondings and reflections and conclude that it would be a good idea to:

  • make a SIMPLE Action plan
  • do a schedule/timetable for life (to make space for all the things I’d like to do with my days, cooking, drawing, gardening, writing, walking)
  • make a weekly meal planner
In-depth financial Analysis

The base map and elements analysis gave me a good over view of where we are at, but I wanted to dig deeper to really become aware of where our money is going every month. I made a spreadsheet in which I plotted all our incomings and outgoings for the last four months (Jun-Sep 2023). I’m just showing the grand totals here:

From this analysis I discerned that:

  • I’d like to see less money being spent in Sainsbury’s and Tesco, and more money spent in Coop (it’s not so bad, hey) Windsor Fruit and other local shops and ethical sources.
  • It’s clear that our outgoings are higher than our incomings, each month we are eating in to our saving to cover costs. 
  • I spend a lot of money on food, most of this comes from nipping to the shops locally and our bulk buy from Essential Trading.
  • A big expenditure during school holidays is childcare.
  • We don’t spend much on petrol or toiletries, so that’s good!
  • I buy Arthur’s clothes in the supermarket, as I find it hard to get them second hand easily. 
Making design Decisions

I designed a SIMPLE Action Plan which included all the ideas for saving money. Using a PNI tool, I identified the actions I would commit to taking.

I asked Dad, Drew and Arthur for their ideas on how we could save money:

Dad’s ideas: watch less TV to save on the electricity, sell stuff we have but don’t need. Dad was interested to see how much we spend on childcare, he couldn’t understand why we do this, so I explained the benefits for Arthur of spending time with other children playing in the hols.

Drew’s ideas: change energy supplier, change internet supplier, swap from maple syrup to honey.

Arthur’s idea: when I asked Arthur what we could do to save money in our home he said ‘not buying anything’. I can hold him to this next time he wants some unnecessary thing.

I also made some reflections, which turned out to be a bit of a useful reality check.

Finalising design Decisions

I reviewed all of the meanderings up to this point in the design and decided that we need to settle on a series of small changes we could make in a variety of food and non-food related aspects of our lives to reduce our spending. It turns out that many of these small things also help us live more regeneratively.

I arranged these into my SIMPLE framework to help make them more memorable, and took into consideration how they incorporate the principles and if the ethics apply:

Now, above is a list of lots of things I have to stop doing. It feels important to reframe it to show the abundances I would like to welcome into our life. I identified the abundances and made a word map to put on the wall in the kitchen.

My wordmap in situ in the kitchen.
The Little things

This idea of getting a job really showed up as a viable option, so I did a SWOC to compare the choices of either getting a job, or trying to get grant funds and having to buy Aldi food:

Unbelievably, I spotted a job on the Permaculture Association website, 12 hours a week, doing online engagement. So I spent the next few days making a CV (multiple function as I have to do one for my diploma portfolio anyway) and filling in a job application. I haven’t done such a thing since 2017!

I made a plan for weight loss
My plan in situ, in the spot where I write my biotime diary every morning.
Making Progress

Over the coming weeks we made some changes, see progressions. I wrote down all the ideas I have for small swaps to food, and lists of food we like to eat, drawn from my biotime diary. The proof of the pudding will be in my planned analysis of spending when we get the bill for October, in early November. Lots of small adjustments will hopefully get us in the direction of our dreams!

BIG things:

  • I stopped drinking alcohol, applied for a job and lost 3lbs!
  • Drew changed our energy supplier, he’s looking at changing the internet too.

As I am writing this (20 Oct) I see that I could have been documenting my spending during October on a day to day basis, so I could see more easily where the money is going, without having to wait for the credit card bill. We do, we learn!

Drew is going to send me the login details for the credit card so I can see spending so far. I’ve downloaded a spending tracker on my phone to use from now on. Coming into greater awareness of my day-to-day spending habits can only be a good thing.

New spending widget on my phone.

Reviewing the spending on the card so far this month revealed:

  • I have spent £275.62 so far this month on food, none of it in Sainsbury’s or Tesco.
  • The Essential order was much less than previous months at £191.
  • I managed to find my favourite shampoo and conditioner from Essential, buying in 5 litres means we get it for £2.70 a bottle, rather than nearly £6. 
  • I’m making the bread rolls for the beetroot burgers (home made) we are having this eve (20 Oct).

I have got an interview for the Permaculture Association job! They said in the email that ‘There was an extremely strong pool of candidates so well done on making it to the next stage!’…..

UPDATE Nov 7: I didn’t get the job, but I’m fine with that. I have a plan!

The full analysis of October’s spending (Nov 3rd) revealed: 

  • Much less spending on nipping to the supermarket – the plans are working! 
  • We halved spending on the internet by shifting onto an 18 mth contract with the same provider.
  • More spent on eating out, I’ll need to become more conscious of my choices.
  • I tried finding trousers for Arthur on FB market place and searched in all the charity shops, found nothing, so bought them in Peacocks. Will try Vinted next.
  • I needed new DM boots as mine had cracked soles and were no longer waterproof. I found a pair secondhand on Vinted for £50, a huge saving, new they are £179!

All the food we have had for tea in October has been home made, apart from one celebratory takeaway, as recorded in my biotime diary.

On 7 Nov, reflecting on the previous month, we were able to identify a maximum spend for the month, a sum that’s doable for our income. A budget emerged – I can spend a maximum of £1300 on the card each month, for our spending to be sustainable. I can now use my app to record all my spending and keep myself within this limit. This feels like breaking new ground somehow, so useful! 

Evaluating the content

Were your project aims met through the design solution created?

In the DREAM phase of the design the following aims emerged.

 By the end of the design I would like to have:

  • Identified areas in our outgoings where we can reduce spendingyes, the in-depth financial analysis helped me see exactly where our money is going. We identified lots of small changes we can make to reduce spending in the process of the design. 
  • Made time to make homemade foodyes, my recordings in my biotime diary show that since I started to be more intentional around making more food from scratch, I have indeed done this. 
  • Identified more food I can make from scratchyes, in Food ideas, I’ve been playing with making more bread, pizza, breaded fish. 
  • Reduced nipping to the supermarkets – I’ve become extremely conscious of when I shop and for what, far more rigorous now than I was, using and sticking to my list, and really thinking hard about where I source food.  
  • Reduced the emotional labour involved in decisions around what we are going to eat for tea everyday making more time by moving tea to 6pm has made a real difference for me when it comes to deciding what to have for tea. It’s easier now as I know there’s an allocated time to think about it. I’m enjoying the creative act of making food more now, it feels like a radical act, and it feels like a privilege.

Did the design work? How do you know that it worked?

It’s worked for me. Many things have come into my awareness as a result of the inquiries I undertook during the process of using the tools. I won’t know it’s worked for sure until we get the food bill for October, in early November. 

In the client interview what I was hoping to achieve became clear: 

  • develop a range of actions to reduce spending so we have enough for me keep buying my organic food – I have done this through my SIMPLE Decisions. We are now working on enacting those decisions. 
  • make more home cooked food – changing tea time to 6pm made more time, which also reduced my perception of the emotional labour involved in deciding what to have for tea everyday, the shift in perspective turned the perceived labour into a joy.
  • reduce packaging – this happened almost as an emergent result of the shifts I planned, implicit in the aim to stop supermarket shopping and buy more local comes less packaging.
  • eat less ultra processed food to be healthier – my new focus on making more home made food means that I am eating less UPF, there’s still some way to go for Arthur.
  • stop shopping in expensive local supermarkets – there are still some things I have to get, but I am focusing on only using Coop, as it feels more ethical somehow. 

What went well?

  • I’ve come into awareness of where the money is leaking out of our system.
  • The frequency of the conversations we have had and the solutions we have generated in the sparking of ideas.
  • Using Liz’s model design for a framework really helped the design flow into being. 

What was challenging?

Facing up to the reality of my overspending.

Reflecting on the process

Framework

I enjoyed the appreciative Inquiry framework . It flowed as I moved from phase to phase, it didn’t feel linear, it felt like there was room to expand my thinking out in all directions, which is what I enjoy doing. I always prefer a framework with less phases. This one is on parr with James Chapman’s Simplest Design framework for me, a favourite. Appreciative Inquiry comes with its own set of principles, which I haven’t explored here. Perhaps it would have added a richness and more depth if I had, but I was trying to keep this design simple… 

Appreciative Inquiry is designed to be a process that facilitates change. For me, in this design it has done that, many small changes have been identified, which move us closer to our sense of direction. 

Tools/Methods

Client Interview – A useful method for bringing clarity around what I was hoping to achieve. This is the best model for a client interview I have found, thanks to Liz. I’ve made a modified  template from it now, so I have the questions available when I go for meetings with people about prospective projects, an aim I identified in previous designs. 

Mood board – I enjoyed using Canva to make this collection of images. It shows the abundance I’d like to create around food, it’s visually appealing. Imaging in this way feels like it sets the intention. 

Mindmap/Basemap – useful use of a Coggle mindmap to see where we are now. I’ve not used a digital mindmap tool like this before. 

Elements Analysis – The most useful part of this was the Fire/Energy analysis – where I saw the many small things that have the capacity to change. 

Biotime diary – Fundamental to the success of the design, this long observation helped me see patterns that keep me stuck and also helped me identify what we like to eat. 

Spreadsheet (in-depth financial analysis) – A crucial tool, it offered real specificity, I could then hone in on where I could reduce spending. A real eye-opener. 

SIMPLE Action Plan – As the first layer of decision making, where I jotted down a range of ideas. Using the PNI within this helped me focus on what felt possible and important. I was pleased with myself for what I perceive as tool stacking here. 

Reflection – Writing always brings huge insights for me, it’s become a go to method of inquiry for me. In reflections I was able to see clearly what’s really going on for me, identifying my perceived failures, contradictions and aspirations. Plus a big reality check around my need to get a job.

SIMPLE Decisions – The second layer in my decision making process, where I really honed in on the specifics, identifying the actions I would take and how they are in alignment with the ethics and principles.

Word map – With a list of things to not do, focusing on the abundance felt important. A word map worked well for this, it’s a good daily reminder that helps me stay on track. 

SWOC – A useful tool for digging into the details of my predicament. I do wonder now, after so much energy has gone into saving money, if it would be possible for me to keep my self-employed project lifestyle AND my organic food? November’s cost savings analysis will give me the information I need.

Plan for weight loss – I have put this up in the kitchen in the spot where I write in my biotime diary everyday. A useful daily reminder. 

Principles

I aligned the decisions I made to the principles by ascribing a principle to each decision as a felt response – I just put them where they felt right. I was interested to note I couldn’t settle on a principle that expresses the notion of divestment (conscious choice to put your money where your ethics are) well for me. Perhaps if I’d looked in a set aside from Holmgren’s I would have found one. Maybe its ‘use your energy where it can affect the most change’, from Colleen Stephenson. 

I noticed that the decisions seemed to fall into alignment with 6 principles: 

  • small and slow solutions
  • creatively use and respond to change
  • produce no waste
  • use and value renewable resources and services
  • obtain a yield
  • apply self-regulation and accept feedback

Ethics

I used the ethics as a planning tool, so early on in the design. I then reflected on how they relate to the SIMPLE Decisions I made. The whole design is really about making ethical choices. I feel it’s ethical underpinnings as a design are strong, the ethics are reflected in the whole of the design.

A note on trans-contextuality – My designs are always complex, many layered and deep. In my listening to Nora Bateson podcasts I happened upon her uptaking of her father’s (Gregory Bateson) notion of trans-contextuality. This is the idea that in order to create effective change in living systems, you can’t work on just one part of the system at a time, because they exist in many contexts simultaneously. She works with this concept in her warm data labs, where people look at the system they are trying to affect from a range of perspectives. As such, I see that my designs work on this trans-contextual level of the whole system. I find this insight nourishing.

Four Questions

What’s going well? Making progress and plans towards being ready to come up to FPA. CV done. I watched a diploma presentation, so I have a sense of what’s needed for that. I’ve been thinking about what I might do, it’ll most likely involve a poem, and a musical interlude. I’ve summed up an articulation of my portfolio, as being about ‘becoming indigenous’, I’m in the middle of writing an inquiry on this.

What’s been challenging? Settling on an idea for design 10. 

What’s the long-term vision? Generate a good livelihood from all this work – the idea to get a job moves this on a pace. This design has been all about a deep connection with ourselves, it’s brought vital awareness into our lives, helping us live more intentionally. It’s about less consumption, more creativity and relocalisation. It contributes to us ‘living in the city of villages’. It bring us home to our village. I like that.

I find myself drawn to inhabiting the world of ideas, because the real world doesn’t live up to my expectations. I perceive the world outside as a hostile environment, with all the cars everywhere. By inhabiting the world of ideas, I get to live in the world I’m dreaming of.

There’s no doubt I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would take to move our lives to a farm on the train line in Pontypridd. I’m feeling a bit fed up with the city. Dreaming of a tree change (An aussie term for escaping to the country). Arthur has this little story book called The Black and White Cat, in it the cat, who feels grey in the city, goes out exploring and finds an idyllic cottage in the country, and settles in. This story moves me hugely emotionally, it feels worth reflecting on why, as I feel this will inform my next right step.

The learning I am welcoming as I listen to and read Bayo Akomalafe, Dougald Hine, and Gordon White draw me further into this world of ideas. I reflect now that I probably should have done a Phd, rather than a Diploma. I’ve completed the Children in Permaculture Intro with Nim and Lusi, which just me feel sad for the concrete jungle Arthur has to go to school in. Next I’ve signed up for Doughald Hine’s ‘ Regrowing a Living Culture‘ course.

Another opportunity for a poem has come up from my going along to the Urban-Vertical belly dancing – I’ve been invited to write a poem as part of the evaluation of that programme, so that’s something to look forward to. Performance poetry is really becoming a thing I do now, love that!

What are your next steps? I need to make a list of books that have informed the work in my portfolio, and summarise my reflections. Plus, design 10 will likely emerge now as I come to completion here. I’m clear that 10 will be a design web, and that I’d like to try out holistic decision making, Principle 0 and 8 forms of wealth as tools. 

Images from ‘The Black and White Cat’ by Deborah King (1999, Mini Treasures: Red Fox)