Ethan A. Huff
When the small British mill town of Todmorden, tucked in between Yorkshire and Lancashire, first began installing fruit and vegetable gardens all around the area as part of the Incredible Edible program, it likely had no idea that the novel, yet simple, concept would make the town a foremost inspirational and self-sustaining model of the future.
Fresh herbs, succulent greens, and tasty fruits can be found growing near civic buildings, college campuses, supermarket parking lots, and various other places. Small garden plots, raised planting beds, and even small soil strips in these areas can be found brimming with fresh produce, all of which are free to anyone who want it, and at any time.
It is all part of a program called Incredible Edible, which was founded by Mary Clear, a local grandmother of ten, and Pam Warhurst, former owner of a local restaurant in town known as Bear Cafe. The duo had a shared goal of making Todmorden the first town in the UK to become completely self-sufficient in food — and their endeavors have been successful, at least as far as keeping up with demand for produce from locals who want it.
The program so far utilizes 70 large planting beds located all around the town to plant raspberries, apricots, apples, blackcurrants, redcurrants, strawberries, beans, peas, cherries, mint, rosemary, thyme, fennel, potatoes, kale, carrots, lettuce, onions, vegetables, and herbs. Not only did locals quickly catch on and begin taking the produce, but they also generally respect the system and do not take advantage of it.
“If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalize it. I think we are hard-wired not to damage food,” said Warhurst, concerning the notion that offering free fruit and vegetables might lead to abuse or other crimes. She noted, in fact, that quite the opposite has occurred — the Incredible Edible program has improved community relations, and reduced crime by an incrementally higher amount every single year since it first started.
The program has been so successful, in fact, that many other communities both in the UK and abroad are now interested in starting their own public garden programs as well. Besides improving the sense of community and reducing crime, Incredible Edible has renewed a new sense of appreciation for food and how it is grown, as well as renewed interest in actually growing it among the next generation, which is the envy of many progressive communities around the world.
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