Coming face to face with the fact that tens of thousands of people in our city are going to bed hungry can be gut wrenching, as I wrote in my last post.
The danger is that it can also be overwhelming, and it is only a short step from feeling overwhelmed to sinking into despair.
Back in January I chose HOPE as my one word for 2013. I thought then that I knew what it meant but here we are at the end of November and I have realised that it is a lot more difficult to pin down than it seems.
When I taught English to speakers of other languages I found that sometimes the easiest way to explain the meaning of a word was to give its opposite. So far, my understanding of real hope is mostly around the fact that it is ‘not-despair’.
Despair rarely achieves anything. It paralyses us at exactly the time when we most need to be doing.
But where despair results in paralysis, real hope not only leads to action, it is often birthed there.
I used to think that hope came first and then you acted because you were hopeful. It sounds logical but this year I realised that I had it the wrong way round. The more you act, the more you grow in hope.
When Incredible Edible Todmorden co-founder Mary Clear ripped out the roses in her front garden and replaced them with vegetables and a sign saying ‘Food to Share’, I am sure she did not think of herself as a prophet.
But her action demonstrated another key aspect of hope, which is imagination.
Despair is like a fog. It clouds our vision and numbs us into thinking that things can never be different. We need prophets, poets and seers to pierce that numbness, stimulate our imagination and remind us that there is always another way of doing things.
We also need to recognise that these visionaries are walking among us, living life beside us. They do not (necessarily) have long beards and sandals.
Mary’s action gave people a new way of seeing things, a way to re-imagine the world. It was one of the jumping-off points for the whole Incredible Edible movement.
I have taken several friends to Todmorden and they all come away seeing land differently. They send me texts saying things like: ‘I’m noticing bits of wasted space all over my town. I keep telling people we should plant some food there.’
The point is not that we are going to solve world hunger, or even UK hunger, by handing out free vegetables. Of course we’re not. The point is to shift people’s perceptions so they can imagine a different way of doing things.
It’s about helping people realise that there is more than one story to live by, and then it’s about demonstrating a way to take the first few steps into that new way of being in the world.
One woman I interviewed for our book about Incredible Edible told me she used to think growing food was ‘a whole other world of strangeness that could never have anything to do with me’.
Then she took on one of several raised beds that Incredible Edible has built at her son’s school and now the two of them eat home-grown, fresh vegetables for nine months of the year. Not only that but they have saved money, made new friends and grown in self-confidence.
What I see in Todmorden is that actions like growing food lead to more actions like, say, signing up for a class to learn how to cook that food and then, for some people, actually teaching other people how to grow and cook things.
You can’t predict exactly where these actions will end up. Someone who spent an entire winter helping another Incredible Edible co-founder, Nick Green, build a rabbit proof fence is now learning about advanced permaculture and training apprentices to become market gardeners.
The point is to start.
And once people start, they grow in imagination and they develop real hope – and who knows where that might lead?
They like to say that Todmorden is the town of the example. They’ve been living the Incredible Edible story for the past six years and literally thousands of people have visited the town to see what they are doing.
One of the reasons I am so determined to get our book about Incredible Edible out into the world is that I think it has the potential to inspire people who can’t make the trip to Todmorden to get started on a different way of doing things in the place where they live.
A way that will build community, increase skills and even benefit the local economy. A snowballing of hope, if you like.
People have been massively supportive of the campaign we’re running with Kickstarter to raise enough money for the first print run of the book. I am truly grateful for the people who have already pledged money and overwhelmed (in a good way!) by the messages of encouragement.
However, we need more of that support to translate into cash if we are to reach our target.
I’d be so thankful if you could spread the word as widely as you can and – if you are able and you haven’t done so already – pledge a bit of money towards it.
You can pledge as little as £1 and it’s all perfectly safe. If we don’t hit our funding target, nobody pays a penny. Also, I won’t be making any money personally out of the campaign.
The Kickstarter page is here.