Vegetable gardens at Todmorden Community College

Vegetable gardens at Todmorden Community College

Five years ago a couple of grandmothers decided to start a project in Todmorden, a Victorian mill town of 15,000 in West Yorkshire.

The project is called Incredible Edible and it has resulted in thousands of vegetables being planted in 70 large beds around the town. And get this: locals are encouraged to help themselves. A few tomatoes here, a handful of broccoli there. If they’re in season, they’re yours. Free.

There are carrots in front of the police station, raspberries, apricots and apples on the canal towpath; blackcurrants, redcurrants and strawberries beside the doctor’s surgery; beans and peas outside the college; cherries in the supermarket car park; and mint, rosemary, thyme and fennel by the health centre.

Edibles in the cemetery.

Edibles in the cemetery.

Incredible Edible is about more than plots of veg. It’s about educating people about food, and stimulating the local economy. Realistically, the thousands of town centre vegetable plants are not going to feed a community of 15,000 by themselves. But the publicly visible beds are designed to encourage residents to grow their own food at home.

And this is precisely what has happened. Today, hundreds of townspeople who began by helping themselves to the communal vegetables are now well on the way to self-sufficiency.

The police of Todmorden indicate that, year on year, there has been a reduction in vandalism since the project started. Why? One of the founding grandmothers, Pam Warhurst’s response: ‘If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalise it. I think we are hard-wired not to damage food.’

Incredible Edible is a project clearly based on trust and I sometimes wonder if we could make something like this work here. A while back a group planted some mandarin trees on a small roadside reserve in Mill Bay. The trees disappeared overnight. Not long ago a group of us planted some natives by the car park in Taumarumaru Reserve in Coopers Beach. The more unusual native trees disappeared within days. The manuka and flax were left. Reserve volunteers replanted and those trees too vanished. Obviously attitudes will have to change in order to get a project like Incredible Edible to work in our communities.

Taipa Coast Care at work

Taipa Coast Care at work

How can we do this? Why not follow the example of the folks upgrading the verge adjacent the beach at Taipa. They’ve engaged the young people of Taipa Area School and there has been remarkably little vandalism. The students have taken ownership of the project and feel disinclined to damage it. Could we engage beneficiaries even one day a week to plant and tend public food gardens? I wonder. I wonder. Maybe one of the solutions to local crime and unemployment could be as simple as this. What do you think?

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

Advertisements