I spent a little over a year of my life living in England, travelling from coast to coast, getting acquainted with the different accents and the different ways of living. I had tea in Bath. I ate fresh seafood by the water in Whitstable. I danced until the sun came up in Brighton.
I had never heard of, nor been to, Todmorden.
Now I wish that I had, as a modern day earth child who wants to hear from creative sources on how to get more local, more environmental and more connected.
Todmorden is an old industrial mill town located in the West Yorkshire region of England. It has a population of just over 15,000. It also represents what might be possible in the future of local food.
Unpaid volunteers come together to grow fruits, herbs and vegetables for everyone to share. The interest in gardening for this town started as early as the early 20th century. The war years led to food shortages and an interest in using marginal land for growing vegetables or keeping a few hens. Former generations were the catalyst for the present-day ingenuity on how to avoid waste and be neighborly at the same time.
Imagine carrots in the parking lot. Curly kale growing outside the police station. Strawberries by the doctor’s office. It is the ultimate in the honor system. Help yourself to what you need, without being greedy.
The amazing thing is that trust works: people don’t take all of the apples or blackberries, but they are reasonable with their personal rations. The town began finding more and more places to literally plant its generosity, some taking down their front walls to make room for sharing. Edible landscapes began showing up on the periphery of schools and offices.
This small town has a high goal to become the first town that is entirely self-sufficient in food. Co-founder of this movement (also known as The Incredible Edible), Mary Clear says, “If you don’t aim high, you might as well stay in bed, mightn’t you?’
How did such an amazing idea, er, sprout? Mary Clear and Pam Warhurst were wondering one day what they could do about the state of the world and decided to start locally. “What are you going to do?” asked Pam at her 2013 TedTalk. “The one thing you are not going to do is nothing. It’s time for action. Not words.”
The women call their project an “experiment” of volunteers. Passionate people come together to share responsibility “for the future wellbeing of the planet and ourselves,” according to The Incredible Edible website.
It seems to be working. Environmental damage has dropped by 80% because of this one community wanting to love unloved spaces. It certainly requires a change of mindset, thinking about what a community can be and what people can become through tending to it.
It’s quite a mission.
The membership requirements in Todmorden are that you have to be someone who eats. That’s it. No one is turned away and people give one another advice for how to keep these community gardens thriving. Donations help to fuel this radical community movement and they are always looking for people to help with planting, weeding and watering.
They never seem to be lacking, and this movement, perhaps unsurprisingly, has spread across the globe. How do you start this sort of project in your own town or city? “Think about food,” says Pam. “Do something about it.”
Well, when she puts it that way…
She has other advice:
- Realize that people are part of the solution, not the problem.
- Recognize that we all want to live kinder lives.
- Start with one plot at a time without expecting a cheque to drop from the sky.
- Goodwill is contagious but it doesn’t happen overnight.
What is our excuse behind not moving in this direction?