Incredible Edible: Communal urban gardens
This time, our journey takes us to Todmorden, a small town on the very western edge of Yorkshire and the Humber region of northern England. Todmorden is home to a local initiative which caught our attention: Incredible Edible. It’s been a huge success, and some of you may have already heard of it. It has spread to many other parts of England and people in other European countries -especially France- are also getting involved. As the name Incredible Edible suggests, the initiative revolves around healthy eating and many other things.
Mary Claire, the lady we were interviewing and who was going to show us the project, had arranged to meet us in a café. While we waited , we ate a delicious brunch of vegetarian paninis made with top-quality and organic ingredients. As we were reading the menu, we realized that the cafe she had agreed to meet us in was closely linked to Incredible Edible. We later discovered that the project, far from involving only a few people, had brought the whole town together.
The initiative was launched in 2008 by Pamela Warhurst, a Todmorden resident. Pamela was determined to improve the town by creating a friendlier atmosphere and helping its residents improve their lives, based on one simple idea: cooperation between neighbors. She found that food was the perfect way of doing just that, and healthy eating became the focal point of the project. “Anybody who eats is welcome to join in, and everybody eats!” said Mary Claire. So, the idea was to work together to create something beneficial and valuable for the town that didn’t exclude anybody. That is exactly what happened. It was all hands on deck for the people of Todmorden to create ecological and communal gardens to grow food in the town’s public spaces.
That being said, ‘Incredible Edible’ is about more than encouraging teamwork in the community. Based on other important principles, it’s also a social transformation initiative – It promotes sustainability, respect for the environment and is a clear attempt to encourage health lifestyles.
Walking through the streets of Todmorden, you can find vegetables planted in the unlikeliest places. They adorned the doorways of public buildings like the police station, the fire station and the municipal library like ornamental plants. Anybody walking through the streets can pick the fruits, vegetables and aromatic plants which brighten the town with their color. The residents plant and maintain the gardens in their free time and anybody can take anything that is ready to be picked. As we were speaking with Mary Claire, the most obvious question came to mind. Do people respect the gardens? Is there any vandalism? Do some people take more than their fair share? Her answer was always the same: “No”. She explained that people were proud of the communal gardens, and that they had never had that kind of problem.
The project has been evolving since it began, and it is now about more than planting and maintaining the gardens. It’s about working with schools and holding an annual festival with a sustainable food theme. It’s about giving the town a push through the creation of businesses which develop other sustainable food projects like the Incredible Aqua Gardens which we’ll talk about in another article. The project has even boosted tourism and led to more produce from local farms being consumed.
In just a few years, ‘Incredible Edible’ has spread to other parts of England and crossed national and European borders. It has given people all over the world the chance to improve their communities by promoting healthy and ecological eating habits which also promote good relations between neighbors.
On top of all that, Incredible Edible brings different kinds of people together to reach a common goal. As Mary Claire told us: “The common language of food cuts across barriers of culture, race, class, and age”. At the same time, it is an initiative which brings people closer to nature and shows the value of agriculture and of making the effort to grow your own food.
As we were walking through the city of Leeds after leaving Todmorden, we were surprised to see one of the gardens. There was a small vegetable patch in the middle of one of the city streets. We grabbed some spinach and ate it later on. It was delicious!
Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that this project is an example of how people at the bottom of the pyramid can help a town become more sustainable without the need for grants.
- A TED talk from Pam Warhust, the founder: http://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes.html
- Article in The Guardian newspaper: http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2012/feb/18/50-new-radicals-incredible-edible
Wrote by Cristina Bajet
See the pictures oh this initiative below:
Learn more about this initiative: