How one woman’s idea to grow food on public wasteland has taken root in a Yorkshire town – and is spreading fast.
In 2008, as the economy was going downhill and fears about climate change were on the rise, Pam Warhurst, a businesswoman and former council leader in Todmorden, Yorkshire, decided to do something positive in her community. Her bright idea involved food and the use of public spaces and it quickly caught her neighbours’ imagination. Now the seed Warhurst planted in Todmorden is not only bearing fruit – it’s taking root in other towns across the UK and as far away as New Zealand.
The idea was beautifully simple. All over town, green areas of public land were going to waste. Even cultivated areas were not being used to their potential. Meanwhile, people were buying their food from far-flung places. Why not put these public spaces to more productive use? Before long, edible things were cropping up all over town in green spaces the organisation refers to as “propaganda gardens“.
“At first, we had trouble getting people to help themselves,” says Mary Clear, “because we’re from a country where people say, ‘Get off my land’, so we had to tell people it was OK.” Now, locals are volunteering as well as picking: there are 273 people on Incredible Edible’s “muck-in” list. Local food shops have come around to the idea and, says Warhurst, “nearly 50% said it had had a positive impact on their income”. “It’s not all about free food,” Clear stresses. The propaganda gardens exist to remind people that food can be grown close to home.
The project has been welcomed by the local authority and has also attracted outside interest. “People came from New Zealand and are now adopting edible spaces in the rebuilding of Christchurch,” says Warhurst. The Incredible Edible movement has now spread to 30 other towns around the UK and beyond.