In April 2013, a motley crew of community gardeners, organisers, smallholders, mums and council members made our way to visit Incredible Edible Todmorden in Yorkshire. Funded by the Big Lottery, the visit was to share and exchange learning, which meant we had a chance to learn from the incredible community action taken in Todmorden as well as have the opportunity to swoon over vegetable beds.
En route we also dropped in at Ryton Gardens, home of Garden Organic, see a brief write up and some pics of that visit here.
Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) is a more than a single community food project, it is an ecology of diverse projects, activities and enterprises, nestling in a small town in a Yorkshire valley. For over 7 years, a small but growing group of volunteers have been involved in public 'propaganda' gardening, transforming stations and high streets with vegetable beds, leading land-based education, working with schools, organising events, grafting thousands of trees, developing a half a million pound food hub, Incredible Edible demonstration Farm and more.
A number of us were inspired by Mary Clear, a core community catalyst, who spoke at the Incredible Edible Somerset Summer Conference in 2012, and knew the time was now to visit Todmorden for ourselves.
What did we do?
Aside from motoring up the motorway for hours and crashing out at a local hostel, we did get a whole day in 'Tod' to nose around, ask questions and learn everything we could able this model or organising. We met at the local church and were greeted by tea and a presentation about what Incredible Edible Todmorden's efforts have been to date.
Some of the key notes from that presentation are that:
They have a diverse range of projects and approaches including:
Their ultimate aim is to increase the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town. But its clear they have other agendas too - mainly kindness and social justice.
We then were taken on a tour of the town and all the edible spaces within. Unfortunately we were visiting in April so we knew we may have to rely on our imaginations a little as to how the harvests would be looking midsummer!
So what did we learn?
Each of us who made the trip came away with something different in our hearts, and there was no shortage of stimulation of feedback, with the trip inviting as many questions as answers.
Some of our key learnings were:
What was infectious about Mary, Estelle and other volunteers were met were there attitudes, mainly that IET runs on and values: passion, love, kindness, determination, hospitality, the desire to share not only food but information, overlooking outdated obstacles, focusing on making immediate positive changes and the power of small actions and challenging society's fear of the 'other'. They clearly love what they do and aren't afraid of the long haul, they take a long term view 'this story is still being written'. They value inclusion 'if you eat, you're in' and create lots of opportunities for action.
Attendees could see the power of visibility - for example, the Green route signs was a beautiful mixture of art, growing and education, the banner and chalkboards for local producers in the market, all make local food and the IET 'brand' visible.
We also picked up good tips like which plants have been successful in public spaces. Learning that edible landscapes are just as ambient as conventional one. We saw the power of having gardens in town, on the high street, in public places, in a way that is different to distant market gardens or farms.
Strategies for working with councils
We learnt from Mary, Estelle and others about their experiences in gaining support from, or at least neutralising the opposition, from local authorities. As one trip attendee described it "A rottweiler with a smile"
We could witness that IET has inspired thousands of relationships and conversations around food growing locally, nationally and internationally. Starting small with a clear focus, has had all these unexpected effects and positive impacts worldwide.
Skill & Privilege
Its clear there are huge opportunities for community engagement in Todmorden, and a real sense of ownership in the town. The group are visibility making a difference and working with diverse groups of people. However it is clear there is a skilled core group driving IET, who have a background in community organising, awareness of existing networks, knowledge of how to access grants and blag money (!) and the privilege of time, through being retired or embracingly unemployed. No doubt these driving members invest a huge amount of time, love and energy into IET and it really shows.
Why did we need to visit and travel all those miles, can't we just watch videos on the internet?
The physical act of visiting was really beneficial for a number of reasons. Firstly, we could network on the minibus, bond as a group and spend time together. We could ask questions of organisers and hear the experiences and views of those directly involved in the project, and finally we could feel the tangible nature of all this work and pick up tips and ideas to accelerate our own community work.
Nicole & Louise are in the midsts of designing and dreaming for Feed Avalon, an emerging project inspired by Todmorden, as a way to build resilience in Glastonbury, Street and surrounding areas. Lovely Linda from Somerset Community Food has departed to Dorset to work on a three year local food project there and will almost certainly be taking away the many inspiring examples of community action in Yorkshire.
Ingrid has been busy planting up Glastonbury, with more containers appearing on the high street every week. Fiona from Pilton Road Community Garden has taken back new ideas and already contacted Mendip District Council about tree planting.
Caroline from Incredible Edible Frome is making headway with her group, propagating plants and accessing land in town. Her Mum Ruth, who joined as a babysitter, will no doubt be doing more babysitting in the future as Caroline gets busier! And will continue container gardening and inspiring others. Little Asha will without a doubt grow up eating delicious home grown veg and pick up the skills by osmosis to feed her community. Jane will build her learning into her Crew HQ resilience-related work and Andrew, who came from South Somerset District Council is most likely scheming in the halls of power, while keeping his fingers in the ground at local growing project, Tatworth Growing Together. And Peter, hardworking trustee of Somerset Community Food, will no doubt invest his inspiration in all of the community projects he is engaged with.
For more information about Incredible Edible Todmorden visit: http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/
Fancy attending or organising a visit to a growing project? Contact Nicole at Somerset Community Food - firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see if together we can make it happen.
Thanks again to the Big Lottery and everyone at Incredible Edible Todmorden for their warmth and hospitality.
All photos by Ingrid Crawford.
See more photos from our visit below:
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