Cloudy with a chance of vegetables, guest blog | Incredible Edible Todmorden | Blogs

Cloudy with a chance of vegetables, guest blog

Last update: 4.12.13 First posted: 4.12.13 by in

Guest blog By Big Local rep, Carl Adams, 2 December 2013.

Originally published on

Tourism is the lifeblood of many villages, towns and cities across the world, it plays a role in some Big Local areas and comes in many forms. There’s cultural tourism, wildlife tourism, eco tourism, religious tourism; the list is endless. But there exists one town in the north of England, sandwiched between Leeds and Manchester on the Lancashire – Yorkshire border: the market town of Todmorden, where tourists come from all over the world to see…vegetables.

When residents of Newington, Ramsgate, (a Big Local area) were looking for inspiration for their ‘Newington Nutritious Nibbles’ idea, they came across Todmorden, (‘Tod’ to locals) and the philosophy of a group of people who’ve decided to use food as a tool to ‘participate without permission in building a world worthy of our children.’ That was enough for residents involved in Newington, Big Local to arrange a trip to see the reality.

Can food really make that much difference? I have written this blog to share some of the inspiration that we took from the day, and share it with people from Big Local areas who couldn’t make the trip.

Of course, people don’t come to stare at vegetables, or even to taste them, (though we did with an incredible lunch). Instead, they come to Todmorden to meet people like Mary, Estelle and Robin: tour guides for around 50 people from Big Local areas across the country.

We arrived on a rainy morning and heard the story of ‘Incredible Edible’ Todmorden over the last six years from Mary who welcomed us to their ‘grade one listed tool shed’ – a stunning Unitarian church handed over for community use. Mary’s talk was so full of humour and motivation that not one of us questioned why we were standing next to vegetable plots in the driving rain. In fact, the opposite was true; people could sense that what’s happening in Todmorden is more than community development; more than local food; and certainly more than a campaign. It’s the joyous reality of a town based on trust, friendship and hard work; not reports, suspicion and permission.

On any other day, (or should I say, with any other people?), I would have suspected some form of stage management taking place as Estelle took us along the ‘Green Route’, that included vegetables, herbs and even tea plots at the train station, alongside the canal, the market and down ‘Pollination Street’;

We spoke about the positive knock-on effects of Incredible Edible, moving us along to the ‘cop-shop’. ’Anti-social behaviour has fallen by 16 percent since we started growing 6 years ago…isn’t that right?’ Two officers emerge from the station, (itself engulfed in green leaf), confirming the stat…’and these guys donate some of the lights and equipment they confiscate from cannabis growers to Incredible Edible too!’ I observe a man opposite, fresh loaf under his arm, helping himself from a vegetable plot established for just that purpose. A lady stops to straighten a child’s wellington boot across the road; a wellington boot with food growing out of it – the product of a local reception class.

This is anything but staged, this is part of Todmorden’s DNA. And it’s no surprise that communities as far away as New Zealand are replicating it.

Incredible Edible’s reputation precedes it. Prince Charles was a recent visitor as was Matt Baker with Countryfile; film crews from Brazil and Germany are due to arrive the week after our visit all adding to the vegetable tourism economy. But Mary, Estelle and Robin never lose sight of the original goal. To quote Mary, “this is not your Guardian reader’s ‘groovy club’… this is for everybody.”

So how will you take seeds of inspiration from this and plant them in your Big Local area? The people of Newington Big Local acquired and planted 120 (free) fruit trees on the grounds of the Marlowe Academy in October, 2013 – just a few weeks after.

Want to help?

There are loads of ways you can help us in our work. For more information click here. Or email Estelle.