‘This is a revolution,’ she says. ‘But we are gentle revolutionaries.

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu Jun 21 11:30:52 BST 2012

Carrots in the car park. Radishes on the 
roundabout. The deliciously eccentric story of the town growing ALL its own veg
By Vincent Graff - Daily Mail  UPDATED: 16:31, 10 December 2011

Admittedly, it sounds like the most foolhardy of 
criminal capers, and one of the cheekiest, too.
Outside the police station in the small Victorian 
mill town of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, there are 
three large raised flower beds.
If you’d visited a few months ago, you’d have 
found them overflowing with curly kale, carrot 
plants, lettuces, spring onions — all manner of vegetables and salad leaves.
Today the beds are bare. Why? Because people have 
been wandering up to the police station forecourt 
in broad daylight and digging up the vegetables. 
And what are the cops doing about this brazen 
theft from right under their noses? Nothing.


Food for thought: Todmorden resident Estelle 
Brown, a former interior designer, with a basket of home-grown veg

Well, that’s not quite correct.
‘I watch ’em on camera as they come up and pick 
them,’ says desk officer Janet Scott, with a huge 
grin. It’s the smile that explains everything.
For the vegetable-swipers are not thieves. The 
police station carrots — and thousands of 
vegetables in 70 large beds around the town — are 
there for the taking. Locals are encouraged to 
help themselves. A few tomatoes here, a handful 
of broccoli there. If they’re in season, they’re yours. Free.
So there are (or were) raspberries, apricots and 
apples on the canal towpath; blackcurrants, 
redcurrants and strawberries beside the doctor’s 
surgery; beans and peas outside the college; 
cherries in the supermarket car park; and mint, 
rosemary, thyme and fennel by the health centre.
The vegetable plots are the most visible sign of 
an amazing plan: to make Todmorden the first town 
in the country that is self-sufficient in food.
‘And we want to do it by 2018,’ says Mary Clear, 
56, a grandmother of ten and co-founder of 
Incredible Edible, as the scheme is called.
‘It’s a very ambitious aim. But if you don’t aim 
high, you might as well stay in bed, mightn’t you?’
So what’s to stop me turning up with a huge 
carrier bag and grabbing all the rosemary in the town?
‘Nothing,’ says Mary.
What’s to stop me nabbing all the apples?
All your raspberries?
It just doesn’t happen like that, she says. ‘We 
trust people. We truly believe — we are witness 
to it — that people are decent.’
When she sees the Big Issue seller gathering 
fruit for his lunch, she feels only pleasure. 
What does it matter, argues Mary, if once in a 
while she turns up with her margarine tub to find 
that all the strawberries are gone?
‘This is a revolution,’ she says. ‘But we are 
gentle revolutionaries. Everything we do is underpinned by kindness.’
The idea came about after she and co-founder Pam 
Warhurst, the former owner of the town’s Bear 
Cafe, began fretting about the state of the world 
and wondered what they could do.
They reasoned that all they could do is start 
locally, so they got a group of people, mostly women, together in the cafe.
‘Wars come about by men having drinks in bars, 
good things come about when women drink coffee together,’ says Mary.
‘Our thinking was: there’s so much blame in the 
world — blame local government, blame 
politicians, blame bankers, blame technology — we 
thought, let’s just do something positive instead.’
We’re standing by a car park in the town centre. 
Mary points to a housing estate up the hill. Her face lights up.
‘The children walk past here on the way to 
school. We’ve filled the flower beds with fennel 
and they’ve all been taught that if you bite 
fennel, it tastes like a liquorice gobstopper. 
When I see the children popping little bits of 
herb into their mouths, I just think it’s brilliant.’
She takes me over to the front garden of her own house, a few yards away.
Three years ago, when Incredible Edible was 
launched, she did a very unusual thing: she 
lowered her front wall, in order to encourage 
passers-by to walk into her garden and help 
themselves to whatever vegetables took their fancy.
There were signs asking people to take something 
but it took six months for folk to ‘get it’, she says.
They get it now. Obviously a few town-centre 
vegetable plants — even thousands of them — are 
not going to feed a community of 15,000 by themselves.
But the police station potatoes act as a 
recruiting sergeant — to encourage residents to grow their own food at home.
Today, hundreds of townspeople who began by 
helping themselves to the communal veg are now 
well on the way to self-sufficiency.
But out on the street, what gets planted where? There’s kindness even in that.
‘The ticket man at the railway station, who was 
very much loved, was unwell. Before he died, we 
asked him: “What’s your favourite vegetable, 
Reg?” It was broccoli. So we planted memorial 
beds with broccoli at the station. One stop up 
the line, at Hebden Bridge, they loved Reg, too — 
and they’ve also planted broccoli in his memory.’
Not that all the plots are — how does one put this delicately? — ‘official’.
Take the herb bushes by the canal. Owners British 
Waterways had no idea locals had been sowing 
plants there until an official inspected the area 
ahead of a visit by the Prince of Wales last year 
(Charles is a huge Incredible Edible fan).
Estelle Brown, a 67-year-old former interior 
designer who tended the plot, received an email from British Waterways.
‘I was a bit worried to open it,’ she says. ‘But 
it said: “How do you build a raised bed? Because 
my boss wants one outside his office window.”’
Incredible Edible is also about much more than 
plots of veg. It’s about educating people about 
food, and stimulating the local economy.
There are lessons in pickling and preserving 
fruits, courses on bread-making, and the local 
college is to offer a BTEC in horticulture. The 
thinking is that young people who have grown up 
among the street veg may make a career in food.
Crucially, the scheme is also about helping local 
businesses. The Bear, a wonderful shop and cafe 
with a magnificent original Victorian frontage, 
sources all its ingredients from farmers within a 30-mile radius.
There’s a brilliant daily market. People here can 
eat well on local produce, and thousands now do.
Meanwhile, the local school was recently awarded 
a £500,000 Lottery grant to set up a fish farm in 
order to provide food for the locals and to teach 
useful skills to young people.
Jenny Coleman, 62, who retired here from London, 
explains: ‘We need something for our young people 
to do. If you’re an 18-year-old, there’s got to 
be a good answer to the question: why would I want to stay in Todmorden?’
The day I visit, the town is battered by a 
bitterly-cold rain storm.  Yet the place radiates 
warmth. People speak to each other in the street, 
wave as neighbours drive past, smile.
If the phrase hadn’t been hijacked, the words 
‘we’re all in this together’ would spring to mind.
So what sort of place is Todmorden (known 
locally, without exception, as ‘Tod’)? If you’re 
assuming it’s largely peopled by middle-class 
grandmothers, think again. Nor is this place a 
mecca for the gin-and-Jag golf club set.
Set in a Pennine valley — once, the road through 
the town served as the border between Yorkshire 
and Lancashire — it is a vibrant mix of age, class and ethnicity.
A third of households do not own a car; a fifth do not have central heating.
You can snap up a terrace house for £50,000 — or 
spend close to £1 million on a handsome stone villa with seven bedrooms.
And the scheme has brought this varied community 
closer together, according to Pam Warhurst.
Take one example. ‘The police have told us that, 
year on year, there has been a reduction in 
vandalism since we started,’ she says. ‘We weren’t expecting this.’
So why has it happened?
Pam says: ‘If you take a grass verge that was 
used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it 
into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, 
people won’t vandalise it. I think we are hard-wired not to damage food.’
Pam reckons a project like Incredible Edible 
could thrive in all sorts of places. ‘If the 
population is very transient, it’s difficult. But 
if you’ve got schools, shops, back gardens and verges, you can do it.’
Similar schemes are being piloted in 21 other 
towns in the UK, and there’s been interest shown 
from as far afield as Spain, Germany, Hong Kong 
and Canada. And, this week, Mary Clear gave a 
talk to an all-party group of MPs at Westminster.
Todmorden was visited by a planner from New 
Zealand, working on the rebuilding of his country after February’s earthquake.
Mary says: ‘He went back saying: “Why wouldn’t we 
rebuild the railway station with pick-your-own 
herbs? Why wouldn’t we rebuild the health centre with apple trees?”
‘What we’ve done is not clever. It just wasn’t being done.’
The final word goes to an outsider. Joe Strachan 
is a wealthy U.S. former sales director who 
decided to settle in Tod with his Scottish wife, 
after many years in California.
He is 61 but looks 41. He became active with 
Incredible Edible six months ago, and couldn’t be 
happier digging, sowing and juicing fruit.
I find myself next to him, sheltering from the 
driving rain. Why, I ask, would someone forsake 
the sunshine of California for all this?
His answer sums up what the people around here have achieved.
‘There’s a nobility to growing food and allowing 
people to share it. There’s a feeling we’re doing 
something significant rather than just moaning 
that the state can’t take care of us.
‘Maybe we all need to learn to take care of ourselves.’
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20120621/56f06976/attachment.html>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: application/x-ygp-stripped
Size: 209 bytes
Desc: not available
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20120621/56f06976/attachment.bin>
-------------- next part --------------
+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which 
alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered that shall not be 
revealed; and nothing hid that shall not be made known. What I tell 
you in darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye hear in the 
ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://mailman.gn.apc.org/mailman/private/diggers350/attachments/20120621/56f06976/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list