Eight years ago, community members in Todmorden — a small town in West Yorkshire — gathered for an informal meeting. They wanted to take action to make the world a better place, and they knew they wanted local food to be a part of it.
Incredible Edible Todmorden was born. The original idea was simple: plant fruit, vegetables and herbs in public spaces around the village — in schoolyards, beside railway platforms, in front of the police station. Encourage the public and kids in local schools to help plant, weed and water. Encourage everyone — whether they volunteered or not — to harvest and eat the bounty.
These public gardens are still flourishing, and the organization still runs entirely on volunteer labor. As it turns out, volunteers can get a lot done. In addition to tending the gardens, Incredible Edible volunteers host community events throughout the year — cooking demonstrations and free tastings, conferences and workshops, a Kidfest and a Harvest Festival, an agricultural show and The Todmorden Incredible Foodie Fortnight. Looking through the group’s photo gallery or watching one of their short films makes it clear that food can indeed bring a whole town together — just as the Incredible Edible founders hoped it would.
To help spread the Incredible Edible model the group created a tool-kit — with sections on everything from insurance and licenses, to sowing your vegetable patch, to what to do if your bees swarm — and now more than 700 Incredible Edible projects have been launched in the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. Growing beyond what even the founders imagined, the project draws thousands of visitors every year to tour Todmorden.
For these reasons the project might be seen as the wave of the future, but the people of Todmorden acknowledge that they must also look to the past. Historical survey papers, photographs, recipes, and written and recorded first-hand accounts from residents detailing the region’s food history have been gathered on the Incredible Edible Todmorden website. These materials document the villagers’ turn from subsistence farming to industrial livelihoods, and now slowly back again, over the course of the last two centuries. As Incredible Edible points out: “… former generations have much to teach us about how to use resources creatively and with great ingenuity, how to avoid waste, and also about simple neighbourliness.”
The notion of “simple neighbourliness” seems to be at the core of Incredible Edible’s philosophy. Perhaps that, more than anything, is why their model has spread so rapidly. Even if you will never visit Yorkshire, you can get a sense of the community support underpinning the project by visiting the group’s website. Perhaps you may even be inspired to start an Incredible Edible project of your own.
For more information, visit: http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/home