Three years ago, Mary Clear planted her front garden with vegetables and put up a notice. ‘Grow your own,’ it said. ‘Or share this stuff.’ Meanwhile Nik Green started filling neglected bits of public land with herbs and vegetables.
Mary’s ‘propaganda garden’ and Nik’s guerilla gardening could have stopped there. They could have been like many other local growing projects that bloom in a burst of enthusiasm and turn into a grind. Instead, they’ve turned Todmorden, at the far end of Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, into a town with a new sense of life and a magnet for ‘vegetable tourists’, from celebrity chefs to Prince Charles.
Much has been said and written about Incredible Edible Todmorden, to the extent that it has become a bit of a byword for local growing. And it has been extraordinarily successful in its colonisation of unusual spaces, from the front yard of the police station to the sides of the Rochdale Canal towpath.
Much less has been written about why this really matters. What’s happening in Todmorden and, to differing degrees, in many other places, is the beginning of a survival strategy for towns and neighbourhoods in the 21st century. It shows how we can bring together the huge global issues of resource constraints and environmental change with the quest for local empowerment and responsibility and a recreation of community.