It's grim up north?
Not if you live in Todmorden, where a quiet revolution with slogans like,"if you eat you are in" and "you can't join it - you are it", aims to make the town “self sufficient in food by 2018”. In just three and a half years “Incredible Edible", started by Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear in February 2008, has transformed the Pennine town. Nick Green's first “guerilla garden”, planting rhubarb and cabbages in the grounds of a disused town centre health clinic was chosen to get maximum attention. Described by Pam Warhurst as “propaganda planting”, it was a tactic that has yielded incredible results.
The project has grown from a handful of friends who funded the first gardens from their own pockets to a network of 282 volunteers. They've planted 700 fruit trees, and have another 300 home grafted trees in nursery beds. All 7 schools in Todmorden run their own kitchen gardens, one keeps chickens and another is going to become home to a fish farm.
500 hundred edible gardens have sprung up around the town in a collaboration that's involved everyone from residents and the local housing association to the police and fire service and the Todmorden in Bloom Society.
The project sparkles with life, humour and enthusiasm. It bubbles through in their brochure – no apologies for quoting the projects own words:
- In IET we have a bunch of people with more creativity than is normally healthy....”
- There have been times when we have stepped right out of our comfort zones because there simply was not time to be scared.
- pride is not a big enough word for this”
And helpful tips for activists
- Harness your passion but be calm,reasonable, and appear sane
- apply the thin end of the wedge first
- be lucky and think huge
Following their own advice, the community gardens were “the thin end of the wedge”.
It all started from of a love of food and quickly expanded into promoting the link between local produce and great food – with “food inspirers” and cook-ins featuring regularly. Next,local produce was put on the map, literally in some cases – with on-line egg and orchard maps and on-line listings to help local producers develop local markets - helping put the town in touch with the food around them and creating awareness of where food comes from.
The project is hands in the ground and practical but its underpinned by a clear understanding of what it takes to be sustainable. That vision and sense of purpose has allowed them to become an inspiration, to the local community and to other towns across the country, 20“incredible edibles” have sprung up since the Todmorden project began.
Now it's taken them to a brand new lottery funded “Food Hub” at the local high school. It was due to open in September 2011 but planning delays have pushed back the opening date. The good news is that as I write the bulldozers are moving in and this amazing project is becoming a reality. The centre will feature an organic fish farm linked to organic gardens that will use the nutrient rich water from the fishery and a learning centre offering a Diploma in Environment and Land Based Studies. From a community garden to a £700,000 project in three and a half years - that's inspiration!
Thanks to Incredible Edible for images