Incredible Edible is a novel food growing project which began in the north of England in 2008. It has had many positive impacts beyond growing food. It has inspired over 100 initiatives in other UK communities, 300 in France, and many more worldwide.
Here we talk to Estelle Brown, a committee member who has been involved since the beginning.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SET UP INCREDIBLE EDIBLE TODMORDEN?
When we first started the world was going to hell in a handcart. We realized that we can’t change the world but we could maybe change our town. We used growing food in public spaces, without permission, as a key to unlock a conversation to make people start thinking about how they lived.
What we grow is there for anyone to pick. Which was a strange concept and people thought we were crazy. The first letter to a newspaper about us said these Incredible Edible people are mad, they will plant all this stuff and people will come along and take it. That’s exactly what we wanted people to do!
We had no idea that it would take off the way that it has done.
WHO IS INVOLVED?
When we started there were 5 volunteers each Sunday. Now we have over 70 growing beds and between 40 and 50 every single time we garden, which is why we can’t garden at the moment. We are a COVID hotspot and the group is just too big. People can weed and do a bit individually.
Yes, we’ve spread out into a ‘kindness corner’ where people recycle their old stuff and other people just go along and take it. We’ve got free little libraries where people can take books and return them or keep them, it doesn’t matter.
We work with JunkFood and intercepted food that would be waste so that stops supermarket food from going into landfills.
And there’s also the Incredible Farm which is a spin-off from Incredible Edible.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY OBSTACLES?
Nobody wanted to be the bad guy who said giving things away was a bad idea. There were people in town who didn’t like what we were doing and said we were making the town look like allotments. It did a bit when we first started, but we soon learned to plant edible flowers among the vegetables. Now they look like lovely flower beds with a few vegetables in.
APART FROM YOUR VOLUNTEERS WHO HAS SUPPORTED YOU?
The Council [Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council] didn’t really want to be involved at the start. But when they found that Incredible Edible brings vegetable tourism to the town they decided this was sexy! About 1500 people a year, more than any other group, come for our guided tour and to hear the Incredible Edible story.
They introduced a growing license. Anyone that can identify a piece of land that is not being used and is owned by the Council, they will give you a license to grow food on it for three years. The idea of the license is that if you then go and do car repairs or something they can take it away from you.
IN A NUTSHELL WHAT HAVE YOU ACHIEVED?
We’ve achieved a stronger, more caring community. We look out for each other more. When COVID hit we set up food hubs. There was a group set up, called Apocalypse Chow, who cooked and delivered meals for people in lockdown.
What’s the number one thing that you have collectively learnt since you began in 2008?
People are basically kind and want to do stuff. Trust people and they will come across.
It’s amazing the number of people that turn up and just say ‘oh I can do that and they go away and do it’.