How a Community Garden Project Spread Across the United Kingdom

Incredible Edible signage in Todmorden
Incredible Edible signage in Todmorden | © Donald Judge / Wikicommons
Photo of Emma Lavelle
27 April 2018

Do you ever wonder where the food that you buy in the supermarket actually comes from? A humble project launched in the small market town of Todmorden back in 2007 has now spread all around the world, encouraging local communities to grow their own fruit and vegetables that can be shared with their neighbours. Incredible Edible now has over 700 groups, from Canada to New Zealand, but its story starts in West Yorkshire.

Years before people began to flock to Todmorden for ‘vegetable tourism’, a local woman planted vegetables in her front garden, knocked down her front wall, and erected a sign encouraging people to help themselves. Pam Warhurst then joined with other locals to put together a simple plan that would become known as Incredible Edible.

Incredible Edible in Todmorden | © Pfauenauge *work/school...on and off* / Flickr

Pam’s plan was to help people think differently about their way of living by planting fruit, vegetables, and herbs in public spaces where locals and visitors could help themselves. She began with a strip of land along the side of the main road, turning it into a herb garden where people could forage for ingredients on their way home from work.

Todmorden is now thriving with greenery. Vegetables grow in raised beds in the train station car park, fruit trees flourish on the land outside the health centre, there are bee friendly sites along the canal towpath and even the police station has herbs and vegetables planted outside.

Vegetables growing | © Lukas Langrock / Unsplash

Local artists teamed up with the project to educate people about what was going on, creating fun and colourful signage that explained everything, telling the story of Incredible Edible, encouraging people to help themselves, and sharing what was growing in each specific spot.

A team of volunteers share the maintenance of the various fruit and vegetable patches, planting new crops and weeding when necessary. The team even occasionally cook up dishes using freshly picked ingredients, presenting their offers in various public spaces around the town.

A pumpkin patch | © Steffi Pereira / Unsplash

The volunteer-led programme is based around three simple ‘plates’ that imagined a town focused on community, learning, and business. The community aspect focuses on growing produce that can be consumed by everyone, by working together. The learning plate provides education around growing the vegetables, partnering with the local high school which is now teaching agriculture. Meanwhile, the business plate supports local commerce by promoting farmers and producers of food. The team even created a map showing where local residents were selling eggs from honesty boxes in their gardens. There’s also the Incredible Edible green route, leading visitors to the town along edible towpaths and participating gardens, changing the way that people move around the town.

The project has now spread all around the U.K., from Wigan to Bristol, as well as to communities as far away as New Zealand. The original group behind the Todmorden project created a tool kit which talked about everything from licenses to how to sow your own vegetable patch, also offering advice to communities wishing to imitate the project themselves. The Incredible Edible Network helps with everything from sending out starter kits to offering advice for how to recruit volunteers and even assistance with making a website. There’s also a handy map to help you to locate your nearest Incredible Edible community.

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