Going to town with self-sufficiency – Todmorden

2008 was not a good year for the economy but one town in Yorkshire stood firm in the face of adversity and turned its unused public spaces into community gardens, offering free food and encouraging residents to get involved. That town was Todmorden and it didn’t take long for the idea to spread not only through the local community but nationally and internationally as well.

The movement, known as Incredible Edible, was started by former member of Todmorden’s council Pam Warhurst and a group of like-minded people. Their aim was simple – use the growing of food to bring the community together and change people’s attitude towards the environment.

It didn’t take long before the idea took off and a workforce of hundreds of volunteers got involved, and not just home owners. Even the local police force turned the flowerbeds outside their station into an area to grow vegetables, and gardens have sprung up in places as unlikely as graveyards.

Not only has the movement benefited the community economically in terms of producing free food but it’s also boosted the sales of local fruit & veg sellers and “vegetable tourists” from all over the globe come to visit the town. With those tourists in mind the Incredible Edible green route was created, a route which takes them through key sites around the town showing off the best that the community has to offer.

Now in its fifth year Incredible Edible is still going strong. Support continues to grow within the town, with the newly expanded Bear Cafe aiming to source even more of its produce from Todmorden and the surrounding area.

This year will also see the opening of the group’s Aqua Garden, which has been built behind Todmorden High School. The state of the art aquaponics, hydroponics and permaculture centre will be run by representatives from Incredible Edible and the High School and the vegetables grown there are going to form part of the school’s dinners.

In addition to the local interest over 50 groups in the UK have now joined the movement. Beyond the UK communities in places as far flung as Canada and New Zealand are getting involved.

Incredible Edible has been the subject of two inspiring and popular TED talks which offer advice on how to get started. The beauty of the approach used in Todd Morden is that it didn’t require funding, or permission from the council. Just a group of willing people and a place to plant vegetables.

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