Todmorden lies between Manchester and Leeds. It doesn’t look like the kind of place that would foment revolution, until you look at the close-up shots in the videos below.
In her 2012 TED talk, Pam Warhurst describes it as a fairly normal market town of about 15,000 people. But ordinary towns don’t generally have edible gardens in front of the police station and the health center, along the railway station’s car park, and in the graveyard - and certainly not with signs telling people to help themselves.
When the idea for transforming Transmorden bubbled up in the gardening hearts of a handful of residents, they did not ask permission. They sat around the kitchen table and dreamed the scheme into existence. Warhurst says:
We came up with a really simple game plan that we put to a public meeting. We did not consult. We did not write a report. Enough of all that. And we said to that public meeting in Todmorden, “Look, let’s imagine that our town is focused around three plates: a community plate, the way we live our everyday lives; a learning plate, what we teach our kids in school and what new skills we share amongst ourselves; and business, what we do with the pound in our pocket and which businesses we choose to support.”
Their idea was to set those three plates spinning around food, with all parts of the community involved. No strategy documents, no permission, no money - just action. They started with a seed swap. Then they launched into “propaganda gardening”, with the dream of making their home town of Todmorden food self sufficient in ten years.
Wherever they saw unloved lands, they planted raspberry canes, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. In the 2009 video below you can see Pam Warhurst, Mary Clear and a few friends planting edibles along village streets, beans and squash in the cemetery. Council came on board, offering to plant fruit trees on communal land.
In the short time between the initial dream and the 2012 TED talk, Todmorden has launched a local-egg campaign (Every Egg Matters), planted community herb gardens and public orchards. They have gone after funds to build an aquaponics facility and worked to involve schools in growing, harvesting and cooking. And that's only part of what you'll find on their Web site.
Now Todmorden is a destination village for what Warhurst calls “vegetable tourism”, with an Incredible Edible Green Route that wanders through the town. Visitors see gardens and edible plantings along tow paths. They wander past shops and cafés. They catch the excitement of a village on fire with ideas.
The revolution dreamed up around a kitchen table has become a model for local food security that can be replicated anywhere. The residents of Todmorden are changing the world, and it all started with a seed of an idea.
If you want to create your own edible community, check out the Tool-kit with its links to all kinds resources to help you get started. Todmorden did it. So can the rest of us.
[Thanks to Jenni in Australia for nudging me on this one. I'd added the link to the BC Food Security Gateway but hadn't tucked it into my hope file. Jenni saw a promo for a BBC program on Incredible Edible Todmorden and knew it was my kind of story.]