Incredible Edible Todmorden
By Martin Oliver
During the past few years, a food-growing revolution has been taking place in a town in the North of England. Todmorden, or “Tod”, as locals call it, is in Lancashire, near the Yorkshire border, and about 27 kilometres from Manchester. The town is set among high moors and valleys, and most houses are built of grey stone. Traditionally, locals tended to live in the upland areas, where they braved harsh winters and were largely self-sufficient in food. Following the Industrial Revolution, Todmorden became a centre for the textile industry, with several grim-looking cotton mills in operation. By the end of the 20th century, nearly all the industry had disappeared, and food had become something bought from a shop.
LOCAL FOOD PROJECT
In 2007, two local women who were concerned about a lack of local and national leadership on environmental issues decided take action. They called a public meeting, which attracted 60 people who were motivated to start a local food project that they named Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET).
Starting with small herb plantings, cultivation was scaled up, and now involves 40 plots in and around town, which can be found with the help of a handy Google Map. Among these plots are one in a local school, one in front of a police station, and one on the edge of a graveyard. Difficult terrain, including a steep sided valley, prompted these creative choices of locations.
The grassroots group, IET, is focused on maximising local food production, and achieving a high level of food security. Most of the food produced in the town is freely available to anybody who wants to take it.
FREE FOOD BENEFIT
In a British economic climate where government policies are causing the poor to become poorer, obtaining free food is a great benefit. Getting this far has been possible only through generous volunteer labour, and grant funding.
Since its inception, IET has branched off in several directions, including:
- Planting of local apple orchards.
- The Every Eggs Matters campaign, in which locals are encouraged to raise backyard chickens and eat local eggs, with a view towards self-sufficiency.
- Community Beekeeping, with the Bee Credible program aiming to treble the number of local hives.
- A hilltop-farming project at nearby Gorpley.
- Incredible Aqua Garden, a business based on aquaponics, where fish and plants are raised and grown in the same environment, and hydroponics.
- Incredible Farm, a not-for-profit company operating on a one-acre (0.4-hectare) site. It features three large polytunnel greenhouses, one of which has a passive solar design, plus ponds, ducks, and a fruit tree nursery.
EDUCATING THE YOUNG
A key goal is to be an education centre showing young people how to set up food production businesses, in turn creating land-based employment.
Aside from food production, other benefits are improved aesthetics, a reduction in vandalism, boosted civic pride, and community building.
Every September, the town’s food-growing achievements are celebrated with a Harvest Festival. Beyond vegetables and fruit, other local produce sold includes honey, dairy products, ice cream, eggs and meat.
Much of IET’s success springs from the project’s momentum continuing to build rather than dwindle, with increasing numbers of locals making hands-on contributions.
Visitors come, some from far afield, and most leave with a vision of starting a similar project in their own communities. In order to help replicate the idea, the Incredible Edible Network (IEN) was recently launched.
NETWORK OF 200 GROUPS
The network now includes more than 200 local food production groups, most of which are located in the UK and France. Recently a group of Todmorden locals visited Romania, a country with deep unbroken agricultural roots, in order to look for ideas and inspiration.
The local food movement is one whose time has come.
In Australia, the number of farmers’ markets has shot up from zero in the mid 1990s to more than 160 today.
Community gardens and backyard food plots are becoming increasingly popular. Much discussion today revolves around local “food hubs” that can become alternative distribution and marketing systems, replacing the highly centralised supermarket model.
Incredible Edible Todmorden, www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk
Incredible Edible Network, www.incredibleediblenetwork.org.uk
Incredible Farm, www.incrediblefarm.co.uk
Incredible Aqua Garden, www.incredibleaquagarden.co.uk
Martin Oliver is a writer and researcher based in Lismore (Northern NSW.)
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