Incredible edible and community growing

03 Jul 2014 Voices

Robert Ashton explains why he wants to go to Todmorden, where the community collectively grow fruit and vegetables.

Blackcurrants Credit: Aconcagua

Robert Ashton explains why he wants to go to Todmorden, where the community collectively grow fruit and vegetables.

I've been picking blackcurrants in my garden with my wife. It's what we do at the end of June, stocking the freezer with home grown fruit for the winter. This year we had a bumper crop so I can now look forward to fruit-laden muesli throughout the winter.

This year, my blackcurrant harvest coincided with my reading Pam Warhurst and Johanna Dobson's book 'Incredible Edible.' It was a happy coincidence as the book describes how the Pennine town of Todmorden collectively now enjoy growing fruit and veg, just as I do. Also interesting, especially to me as an author, is that the book was crowdfunded using the Kickstarter platform and self-published. It's a cooperative venture from every angle.

Being a former mill town, few in Todmorden have a garden as large as my own. Growing fruit and vegetables is tough on a small plot; impossible in a tiny terrace with just room outside for line. Line, dog and the kids' clutter. So, as the book describes, a few townsfolk started growing food in public open spaces, odd corners and even on the platform at the town's railway station.

The school got involved, local farmers got involved; the old, young, rich and poor, lonely and gregarious, all gradually discovered connection to each other and their place though the project. Collectively grown good began to nourish the community, both literally and through the act of collective growing.

The book illustrates well the simple fact that by far the best kind of community regeneration is that inspired from within, resident led and developed not in response to Government policy, but common sense and local demand.

Usefully, the back section of the book forms a step-by-step guide. Many other communities have already followed the Todmorden model, which is simply described in this section. Pam and Johanna are clearly pioneers; most people prefer to follow. This book provides both the inspiration and the blueprint. It's a compelling combination.

But let me end back in my own garden. It's surrounded by open fields and I am the only gardener. My work means that often, at the very time my garden needs me the most, I am away, or at least very busy. I struggle annually with the need to keep on top of my growing, with the appeal of the projects that come my way.

A typical growing season for me will start well, but fall apart in early summer. Crops are often salvaged rather than harvested; enjoyed more by slugs than my family. So for me, the real delight of the Incredible Edible model is the idea of growing as part of a community. Where others will pick up where I neglect, and perhaps I can dig in mid-winter for those no longer fit enough to wield a spade.

Perhaps I need to talk to my neighbours…

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