Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Vegetable Tourism: A Surprising Project Outcome

Last year, we learnt a little about Incredible Edible Todmorden and the crowdfunded book which Joanna Dobson and her partner are writing to help spread the word. I'm delighted that with your help, the fundraising target was met and work has commenced on the final stages of publishing.

Joanna has kindly kept her promise to return to Veg Plotting as my guest to tell us more about the project and how it's grown ('scuse pun) into more than just one town...

A few of the "vegetable tourists" who've made their way to Todmorden.
Picture credit: Estelle Brown of Incredible Edible Todmorden

When the founders of Incredible Edible Todmorden began sneaking vegetable plants into public spaces six years ago, they had no idea that they would attract attention from all over the world.

But when word got out that a town in west Yorkshire was growing food for everyone to share, the interest began to snowball.

The Incredible Edible pioneers wanted to create a stronger, kinder, greener town by bringing people together around local food.

In just a short space of time they have seen all the town’s schools become involved in growing, created an edible walking route, planted the health centre car park with fruit trees, started two social enterprises that train apprentices in market gardening, and encouraged local farmers to bring out new products.

They have also brought an unexpected spin-off to the town: vegetable tourists.

Every year an increasing number of people arrive in Todmorden wanting to see for themselves how the town is being transformed.

What’s more, some of them go back home and start their very own Incredible Edible projects where they live. There are now more than 50 of them in the UK, over 300 in France and others in places as far apart as Mexico and Mali.

Here are a couple of examples of Incredible Edible's expansion

One of the first places to join the Incredible Edible movement was Wilmslow in Cheshire. Local mum Helen Yates visited Todmorden after seeing a report on the television news. She went back determined to start an Incredible Edible project herself, mainly because she wanted to help strengthen her community in a place where most residents commute to work.

In just two years she and a small group of volunteers established sharing beds in the town centre, built links around growing with local schools and won enormous support from Wilmslow’s many independent businesses, whose edible displays helped the town scoop silver medals in the two most recent Britain in Bloom competitions.

Cloughmills in Northern Ireland is a village with only 2,500 inhabitants, a third of whom are under 16 – very different from both Wilmslow and Todmorden. But it too has a thriving Incredible Edible project, set up in 2009 with an initial aim of combating antisocial behaviour.

Now they have a community allotment and are also converting a derelict mill site into a permaculture project with two large polytunnels, raised beds, edible hedges, a composting toilet, a reed bed system for grey water, and a yurt. On top of that, they have just opened a community owned microbrewery.

The Incredible Edible philosophy

Incredible Edible is about much more than growing, as important as that is. It’s a way of helping all kinds of places become more self reliant at a time when economic upheaval, unpredictable weather patterns and rising fuel prices are making our food supplies increasingly insecure.

It begins with growing food in public spaces, which attracts attention and brings people together; spreads into learning as people of all ages recover lost arts like grafting and preserving; and also affects independent businesses as people start to understand the importance of contributing to their local economy.

One of the main reasons it works is that it’s so easy to get involved. There are no strategy documents or forms to fill in - the Incredible Edible motto is ‘if you eat you’re in’. And as they’ve shown in Todmorden, the important thing is just to get started, no matter how small your first steps might be.

Interested in taking this further? Here are some links to help you get started

For more information, visit the website of the Incredible Edible Network. Set up last year with the aid of community development organisation Locality, the network is the first port of call for anyone wanting to find out where their nearest Incredible project is, or to learn more about setting one up. There’s also a regularly updated news section, and forums where members can exchange information about everything from the best plants to grow in town centres to how to attract more volunteers.

Recently the network appointed its first paid co-ordinator, making it even easier to get support to make the place where you live Incredible.

Thanks Joanna for a fab post explaining how global the Incredible Edible project has become. It's amazing to hear how such a simple idea of growing food in a public space has proved important to so many communities.

Joanna’s book about Incredible Edible Todmorden will be published in the spring 2014. She blogs about food, faith and environment at joannadobson.com

3 comments:

  1. Such a pleasure to see the success of Joanna's crowdfunding exercise. Really looking forward to seeing the book when it comes out.

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  2. So glad this amazing project has grown and spread. Thank goodness for people who have the energy and vision and confidence to make things happen.

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  3. I was so delighted to see that the book for the funding required to go ahead, can't wait to see it. I was caught up in other things to post about it at the time but there was an edible border in the village high street last year, and as they plan to enter the "In Bloom" competition again this year I am hoping there will be even more. Another incentive for me to get my front garden a little more presentable - if I can get enough cleared in time I plant to use the cleared space for some temporary edible and pollinator-friendly native flower plants while I save up for what I want to use there longer term.

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