Guest Post: Incredible Edible Todmorden

A Master's student at Stockholm University, Naomi Lipke loves finding new creative solutions to social and environmental problems. Contact her at lipkenaomi(at)yahoo.com

A half hour from Manchester, England, nestled between rolling hills and scattered sheep pastures, lies the city of Todmorden. This small city is the home of a growing movement to develop public garden spaces full of free food. Started in 2008, a few community women decided that instead of planting flowers in the city planter boxes, as was traditional, it would be more beneficial to plant herbs, edible perennials, berries and fruit trees. At the end of a trip to Wales, I insisted that what I wanted to do on my birthday was to explore this city project, dubbed Incredible Edible Todmorden, that has inspired cities across the world to create edible landscaping in the spaces between roads and sidewalks.

We arrived by train on a Sunday afternoon in the small but quaint city of Todmorden (although all English cities probably seem quaint in an American’s eyes). We easily located the tourist office where we purchased, for a small sum, a map of garden locations and chatted with the attendant about the project. She explained how the project had developed and mentioned with enthusiasm that even the local clinic was participating in the project.

Armed with a clear map, we began exploring the city. We passed cafes and bars where local ale was advertised. At the open-air market, thirty or so salespeople sold a broad assortment of items while the area buzzed with shoppers and spirited conversation. As we wound our way deeper into the city, we saw planters and garden beds filled with chives, parsley, marjoram, and lavender. Above the herbs, young fruit trees were thriving. Outside the community theater, we found boxes filled with herbs along with garden-related Shakespearian quotes. Near the hospital, gooseberries lined the sidewalk while at the end of the parking lot an educational exhibit provided information on the medicinal uses of nearby plants. As we walked along the river gardens, identifying plants, families strolled by and a man fed the geese. As we inspected the a possible olive tree in the Italian garden next to the river, a woman greeted us with a cheerful “Good Afternoon!” and continued on her way.

We happened on an old-fashioned looking store that still said “Todmorden Cooperative” above the door despite it no longer being cooperatively run. Inside we discovered an assortment of locally-grown produce including tomatoes, peppers, and onions as well as a wide selection of natural food and personal care products. Upstairs the cafe was full of guests, enjoying vegetarian meals including bread, eggs, vegetables, cheese and beer sourced from the nearby area. The vegetables the cafe uses includes produce from Incredible Edible gardens as well as their own garden. Downstairs the woman at the counter, who had moved to Todmorden less than a year before, explained that people in town were generally positive about the project. Who would be negative about free food? However, she admitted that she still had difficulty being bold enough to take food for herself, though she was working on it.  Having spent my birthday getting inspired by a strong and growing local food project, we headed back to Manchester tired and happy.