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That’s Incredible that is!

April 23, 2014

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Joanna Dobson introduces Incredible Edible, the local food movement that’s spreading across the world.

Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days; Hosea took an unfaithful wife, and in the west Yorkshire town of Todmorden, Mary Clear ripped out her rose bushes and replaced them with vegetables and a sign saying ‘Help Yourself’.

Sometimes when you urgently need to get people’s attention, it’s better to act than talk. And you don’t have to inhabit the Hebrew scriptures to be a prophet.

Not that Mary Clear, mother of four, grandmother of twelve and co-founder of the Incredible Edible movement, would ever call herself that. But in keeping with the best prophetic tradition, this simple act of planting food for a whole community to share has given people a new way of looking at the world and brought hope to places where it was often in short supply.

Incredible Edible Todmorden was born when a few local residents got fed up with waiting for the powers that be to do something about the challenges facing their town – challenges it shares with many places up and down the country, such as a shortage of jobs, dwindling community spirit, and independent producers struggling to survive in a supermarket culture.

Another Incredible Edible co-founder, Pam Warhurst, was particularly worried about climate change. A seasoned campaigner, she could see that most people find the current environmental crisis overwhelming.  When you hear, for example, that we would need up to five Earths to sustain the Western lifestyle, it’s easy to despair – and despair never leads to engagement.

Mary, Pam and the other early Incredibles realised that what they needed was a common interest that would unite people regardless of their background or beliefs, and enable them to work together to create a stronger, greener, kinder town.

It turned out that common interest was food.

Soon vegetables began springing up in some very surprising places in Todmorden. Broccoli beside a bus stop, runner beans in a cemetery and some kale in the corner of the station car park. All of it was free for anyone to take. They called it propaganda planting and it started some conversations that have led to enormous changes in the town.

In the six years since Incredible Edible Todmorden began, volunteers have planted more than 1,000 fruit trees and created over 150 new growing spaces. Every school is involved in producing food and two social enterprises are training the market gardeners of the future. Families have started moving into the town because of the Incredible Edible effect.

Anyone can still help themselves to the fruit and vegetables but this isn’t about free food. It’s about changing mindsets.

The culture of consumerism needs us to be constantly anxious about not having enough because otherwise we might stop buying things. It works to make us fearful of one another and determined to hold on to our own possessions because that way we need more of them.

The Incredible Edible movement poses a direct challenge to the notion that security lies in accumulating ever greater quantities of stuff. It helps people to recognise the assets that they already have.

People visit Todmorden and see, for example, a health centre car park brimming with strawberries and apple trees and ask why we don’t do this everywhere. They learn that in the first year of sharing food, all the rhubarb got picked – and that the Incredible Edible solution was simply to plant more of it the next year.

They go away wondering if land is perhaps more abundant than we thought. They start asking questions about the way food is produced and how we can regain control of what goes on our plates.

The Incredible Edible movement is spreading across the world. There are now more than sixty groups in the UK and over 300 in France alone.

Incredible Edible won’t make those communities self sufficient in fruit and veg. But if it brings an understanding that ordinary people can work together to create change and that no action is too small to make a difference, then it may have sparked something even more powerful.

Lots more information about Incredible Edible Todmorden, can be found on their website.

To find your nearest Incredible Edible project, go to the Incredible Edible Network.

To pre-order a copy of Incredible!, a book about Incredible Edible Todmorden written by Pam Warhurst and Joanna Dobson, go to the Urban Pollinators website here.

Joanna Dobson is a writer with an interest in food, environment and Christian discipleship. She blogs at joannadobson.com

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