From PAM WARHURST
Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK
What should a community do with its unused land? Plant food, of course. With energy and humor, Pam Warhurst tells at the TEDSalon the story of how she and a growing team of volunteers came together to turn plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens, and to change the narrative of food in their community.
Can you imagine planting potatoes, beans, peas and carrots in front of a police station?
I spent a delightful few hours this week in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, a town recently ravaged by floods.
It’s gorgeous, olde worlde without being twee, surrounded by beautiful scenery.
There’s a river, a canal and a magnificent railway viaduct.
In short, it’s a very pleasant place to be, and only 16 miles from the centre of Manchester.
I can already hear some readers grumbling: “But what’s this to do with practical gardening tips?”
Well, if you are interested in community, interested in plants and if you’re interested in growing fruit and veg and herbs, visit this town and be inspired about what has happened and is happening elsewhere when people band together armed with their spades, forks and rakes.
It started out as a simple idea about four years ago when Pam Warhurst, decided to seek out like-minded people who might be interested in a little bit of guerrilla gardening.
A group was set up – Incredible Edibles – with the aim of colonising space with plants that can be eaten.
It was as simple as that. And they decided not to ask for permission or look for grants, but just go and do it.
They reckoned it would be easier to show people the fruits of their labour and encourage others to join in, rather than wasting their time getting approval from the authorities.
And they are definitely on to something.
I was frogmarched under bridges and over canals, up steps and down through tunnels as I was shown just a small percentage of the 70 different projects undertaken in this smallish town by Incredible Edibles.
Can you imagine building some raised beds in front of the police station and planting them with potatoes, beans, peas and carrots?
And getting children in the Scouts, Beavers and Guides to help you under the friendly and welcoming gaze of the long arm of the law?
Scouts are even developing a special badge which members can earn by joining the guerrilla gardeners.
A route down a canal towpath – an area once covered in boring municipal type shrub planting – is now an edible garden full of lettuces, tomatoes, sun flowers, sage, calendula and nasturtium, all looked after by members of the community.
Within days a newly-built health centre planted with the usual boring green moundy shrubs was transformed.
The group whipped out all this typical car park planting and replaced it with pear trees, apple trees, aromatic herbs and acres of strawberries which are now ripening beautifully.
Outside pubs and cafes there is mint grown for your Mojito cocktails.
Abandoned plots have been greened over and where a building has been recently demolished the site is no longer left to become a weed-strewn mess while the council waits to find a buyer, but turned into a mini park where home grown organic produce is soon ripening.
And anybody is allowed to harvest what has been planted.
Children come and dig up potatoes, apples are plucked from trees and hopefully the plums planted by the canal will ripen before the autumn.
I met an enthusiastic bunch of Incredibles for coffee.
They beamed with glee as they recounted stories of their successes over the past few years and told how what they started has spread to other communities either locally across the country or even further afield.
We were joined at our table by a charismatic Frenchman who only needed a beret, a striped T-shirt and string of garlic to fully look the part.
He’d arrived into town to tell the Todmorden Incredibles how he had pioneered their idea in his town in Alsace and how every day similar groups were springing up in France.
I couldn’t understand a word of what he said but his enthusiasm was unbridled.
Indeed a few hours later I was to spot him on a park bench regaling some startled visitors with the same passionate story.
So three cheers to the founder of Incredible Edibles, Pam Warhurst, and well done to the town of Todmorden.
If you’d like to know about community gardening and how you can set it up in your area, you’d do no better than to pay a visit to this thriving horticultural haven.
It has demonstrated how gardening can create a centre of excellence, a new identity and firmly put a willing community back on the map.