Imagine a place where you can grow and pick your own food anywhere you please. It already exists and its ideas are spreading. Ross McGuinness (from Metro in focus) talks to the two ‘old birds’ behind the Incredible Edible phenomenon.
Something extraordinary is growing in a small West Yorkshire town. Food.
In Todmorden, it is growing at the health centre, the church, along paths and at the police, bus and fire stations. It is everywhere.
From plums and pears to cauliflowers and cabbages, the town has got it covered. And it is all completely free.
Incredible Edible, founded by two residents four years ago, began with a few herb gardens here and there. Now it is a social movement.
Hundreds of trees and vegetable patches have been dug and are available for residents to pick what they want when they want.
The scheme is now so integrated into the community that local schools have put it in their curricula. The goal is to teach children basic skills such as preparing soil, nurturing seeds and growing their own.
Food campaigners such as Bob Geldof have long argued that there is more than enough land in the world to feed the world’s population, if people act ‘coherently and cooperatively’.
The irony is that food prices continue to rise in western Europe while famine returns annually in Africa.
So it’s not surprising the Incredible Edible idea is catching on.
More than 30 other areas in Britain have taken on the name and similar schemes are running all over the world.
Hundreds of foreign visitors have been to Todmorden to see how the idea works.
Incredible Edible was founded by Pamela Warhurst and Mary Clear, who wanted to cut through all the red tape that often comes with community projects and just get out there and grow.
That is precisely what they did. Passers-by can lift herbs, vegetables and fruit from trees, shrubs and beds throughout the town. That includes apples, apricots, gooseberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, leeks and rhubarb.
‘Incredible Edible was created to help everyone do something positive about their future using the universal medium of food,’ said Mrs Warhurst, 61, who spoke at last week’s Thinking Digital Conference in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Her speech was given a standing ovation.
‘For some it’s about self-sufficiency, but the truth is, it’s about something bigger,’ she said.
‘We believe in people and the power of small actions. We are not prepared to wait on the off chance a leader somewhere will twig that we are creating huge resource problems for our children and their children.
‘We are not prepared to moan that it’s all too complicated. Food is the language we use to inspire people to act differently and it just works.’
Mrs Warhurst has worked in the environment sphere for several years and is also the chairwoman of the Forestry Commission Board.
Incredible Edible relies on volunteers and donations.
‘Believe it or not, the movement has reached every continent,’ she said. ‘Not because we have a huge marketing budget but because there is a simple truth at the heart of what we do. We can all do something positive about our future and we can start with food.’
Mrs Clear, 56, Incredible Edible’s co-founder, said: ‘It started with ordinary people wanting to make a difference, to reconnect people with food, farming, the land, community.
‘We never envisaged that four years later it would become a world movement. We have no staff, no office, no filing cabinet or telephone number other than our own, and yet a world movement has happened.
‘Most of the time we’re running on empty because we are inundated with requests for inspiration and information. We had the balls to stick with it and carry it through, without referring to the usual models – consultants and bureaucracy.
‘We don’t take too much notice of bureaucracy and rules. We say ‘‘just do it’’. If you don’t harm anybody just do it, get on with it. I don’t think I’m going to go to prison for changing an ugly space into a beautiful space.’
Mrs Clear said it was hard to believe their idea had sparked ‘vegetable tourism’ with tours booked to the town.
‘It’s not an empire, we just say: ‘‘If you agree to our principles, do the same’’.
‘We started it four years ago just before the doom and gloom so the winds have been with us.
‘This economic doom and gloom has really underlined our thoughts about the future. Money is useless. Passion is everything.
‘We don’t want to be victims. It’s totally pointless blaming government. Just crack on with it. If you really want to make a difference in the world, be the change you want to see. I think Gandhi said that.
‘It’s just so simple and so right. Be that change. It’s infectious.
‘For two old birds I think we’ve done a good job.’
For more information about Incledible Edible: www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/