Apart from growing about six small carrots and a couple of sickly tomato plants over the last few decades I’ve generally left growing food to the experts.
But reading a newspaper article earlier this year has drawn me back to my old seed packets and made me see how our local community here could benefit from a bit more of ‘The Good Life’.
It described how four years ago a group of people in Todmorden, West Yorkshire had become fed up with all the doom and gloom and decided to do something positive:..... with food! They reasoned that it was crazy to ship food in from far away places when fresh produce could be produced locally. It also made sense to support local businesses and jobs. Looking around their community they could also see an educational need regarding sustainability, nutrition and business knowledge. This naturally led to the involvement of the local schools and colleges. They decided to call themselves Incredible Edible Tormorden; IET for short.
Some interesting developments followed. IET established raised beds for growing food all around the town; outside the Police Station, Health Centre, Community College, Hippodrome Theatre, the Firestation and the Railway Station.
All the food in produced these beds is free for anyone to take. They totally replaced all the vegetation around their new health centre so everything was edible. Today all the local schools are involved in Incredible Edible, from raised beds, to chickens and eggs, to bees and honey, to hydroponics (plants without soil) and aquaponics (water plants with aquatic animals). A Food Hub is being created which will sell produce and link into book keeping and finance education. One school has no free land, they have an old rowing boat on the roof looked after by the teachers; the pupils get to dig in the local graveyard..... but only within the raised beds that sit above ground level!
Reading the Daily Mail article and taking a quick peak at the IET website ….. and my being close to the redneck end of the spectrum ….. I concluded that there were some pretty whacky people here of the left wing tendency who in former times would probably be camped outside Greenham Common! And there I left it.
…....But there was more to this, a little worm was now burrowing in my brain and I found myself being drawn back to the website of Incredible Edible www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk. They were and continue to get a lot of attention. Besides the Daily Mail, articles have appeared in The Guardian and the Yorkshire Post. Several BBC radio and TV programmes have featured IET. Last summer IET received a visit from HRH Prince Charles; and Mary Clear one of the co-founders was awarded an MBE.
IET now has over 70 plots around Tomorden. As a part of IET, Todmorden High School has secured £500,000 of lottery funding for an aquaponics unit and fish farm with hydroponics and permaculture being added also.
Scores of projects modelled on IET have sprung up both in the UK and around the world.
This was all getting too much, with some time on my hands it was time for my good friend and neighbour Steve and myself to have a boys trip away with a difference. Yes! we would sample the beer (more on that later). But we would also find out first hand what was going on up in Todmorden.
There is only one place to start - at the top! So I e-mailed Mary Clear..... waited a few days... nothing.... well she clearly is a high powered woman with an MBE and lots going on.... and goes under the name of “Busy Woman”. So I e-mailed her again, within a couple of minutes she replied saying “call me”... she had indeed been busy! Just take look at the website on what she has been upto......
Within no time at all we had been put in touch with several members of the IET team and in late March travelled up to meet with Sally a Food Inspirer and Estelle who is pretty much full time showing groups around Todmorden then Nick who is developing a research and training centre at Walsden just outside Todmorden. We were given a terrifically warm welcome with everyone giving freely of their time.
The three main “spinning plates” to IET are: Community, Business and Education. The free food from the raised beds engenders a community spirit amongst the people and organisations involved. Twice a month on a Sunday for two hours groups will ensure the major work is done whilst having fun together. By encouraging local restaurants and schools to source food locally the local economy benefits. Todmorden is pretty much self sufficient in egg production - a direct result of the Every Egg Matters campaign. In education people are learning about aquaponics, hydroponics, bee keeping, graphics design, bakery and bread skills, book keeping, finance, cookery. There is also a teaching unit on a local farm.
Steve and I compared notes and thoughts each evening over several beers in a pub in Todmorden; well, the Ruddles was £1.45 a pint! £1.45 a pint mind you!! (Explaining why a Suffolk beer can be bought at this price in Yorkshire when similar ales in North Hampshire are more than £1 more requires another visit to check on the raised beds in Todmorden!)
We both came away mightily impressed with what has been achieved in Todmorden. Much of what IET is doing could help improve communities, businesses and education here locally. There is something uniquely unifying about food when it can bring together a pair of rednecks with radical activists! Our first free-to-all raised beds are in place and we have applied for a council grant to plant fruit trees!
If you also are inspired by Incredible Edible and think it could make a difference here and be fun at the same time too, get in touch!
PS: You could also take an educational trip to Todmorden, take in the Bronte’s at Haworth, and hopefully of course, sample the Ruddles….. it might still be £1.45 a pint!