The remarkable project that is Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) raises the question of food self-sufficiency for Todmorden – and by extension, for the rest of Europe.
In March 2008 a public meeting was held in Todmorden. The topic was food – and the premise was “we need to talk”. That meeting attracted about sixty people, it was a local response to the growing awareness that Britain needs to have a conversation about food.
It was a meeting against the tide of the Americanisation of the British diet with fizz and fat, of the supermarket dominance of food retailing, of the dissociation of food from its agricultural and geographic provenance, as well as of a centuries-late response to the offshoring of British agro-biodiversity and of food production. From that meeting, Incredible Edible Todmorden was born.
The town of 17,000 inhabitants was scoured for land and space that could be re-purposed for food growing. Permission gardens and guerrilla gardens appeared around town planted out with cabbage and carrots, rhubarb and radishes, chard and chives. These gardens are ‘propaganda gardens’ – their very presence, publicly and prominently placed as they are, is designed to precipitate public and private discourse on the subject of food. They serve as ‘Trojan horses’ to smuggle food issues into public awareness. A message on IET boards reads: “Go on, take some. It’s all free”.
The concept of open source food, of picking and eating something that someone else had planted and nurtured took some time to catch on, and it represents a cultural change in Todmorden. Informative signage presents pictures and names of planted produce, and suggests when it is ready to pick and how it may be cooked. The novelty of IET’s produce is that this is help-yourself food where passers-by are invited and encouraged to pick this fresh localproduce.
The local and immediate outcome of IET is the transformation of the commons with edible townscaping. IET has raised the profile of food in general and local food in particular. There are at least seven lessons that can be drawn from the successes of the IET project. These lessons can be characterised as: champions; actions; visibility; engagement; media & message; replication; and contagion.
Adapted from Paull, John (2013). “Please Pick Me” – How Incredible Edible Todmorden is repurposing the commons for open source food and agricultural biodiversity. In J. Franzo, D. Hunter, T. Borelli & F. Mattei (Eds.). Diversifying Foods and Diets: Using Agricultural Biodiversity to Improve Nutrition and Health. Oxford: Earthscan, Routledge, pp.336-345.