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The Incredible Edible Story - "Food to Share. Help Yourself!"

Earlier this week I heard Joanna Dobson tell the story of Incredible Edible. It’s a story that needs to be told! Incredible Edible is a the food growing movement that started in Todmorden in west Yorkshire in 2007. It shows what difference a small number of people with creativity and generosity can make.

Joanna tells the story best herself “Todmorden used to be like a lot of towns up and down this country. It flourished when manufacturing was at its peak but in the second half of the 20th century it went into decline – in fact, so many people moved out in search of work in places like Leeds and Manchester that the population halved in the space of 30 years.

Two women in the town, Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear, were really worried about this and also about the terrible state of the environment. They both had grown up children and they could see that something urgently needed to change if their grandchildren were going to have any kind of future. However, they knew that the authorities were slow moving and that lots of people felt powerless about the environment.  

So Pam and Mary decided they needed to do something that would catch people’s imaginations, get them asking questions and then get them taking action together to create a greener, stronger, more resilient town.

They decided that what they should do was grow food. So Mary, whose garden is in quite a prominent place in the town, dug up all her roses and replaced them with vegetables and a sign that said ‘Food to Share. Help Yourself’.

Meanwhile Pam had gathered some more supporters and within a few months, vegetables began to pop up in some rather unusual places. Runner beans in the cemetery, for example. Sweetcorn outside the police station. Cabbages beside the main road. And every plot had a sign saying ‘Food to share. Help yourself.’

They started a lot of conversations. People started to ask questions about their food, about why it was being air freighted from poor countries, about what kind of chemicals were being used to produce it.  They started to look at land differently. Most importantly, they started to see themselves not as passive consumers but as people who could take action and change things.

Incredible Edible isn’t just a growing project; it’s a model for helping a place to thrive. You would have to read the book to find out about all the things that came out of this but here are some of the things that have changed in Todmorden since Incredible Edible started:

  • People have begun to move into the town because they are attracted by what they have heard about Incredible Edible
  • The secondary school is sourcing 90 per cent of its food from within a 30-mile radius
  • People have started to use the market more because they want to buy local food and because they understand that money spent in the local economy tends to stay in the local economy.
  • Literally thousands of people have come to visit Todmorden to see what is happening and then gone back to their own towns to start incredible edible projects. As a result there are now more than 120 Incredible Edible groups in the UK, more than 500 in France and others across the world.”

Find out more and learn how to set up your own Incredible Edible group:

And to read the inspiring story of Incredible Edible, why not buy a copy of Pam Warhurst’s award-winning book


Sam and the Streetbank Team