Launched

view of Tod

Did ever a book launch have a lovelier view? This is Todmorden, as seen from outside the Unitarian church, where we had a beautiful afternoon of celebrations for Incredible! on Saturday.

It’s one of only three photos I managed to take but I appointed our daughter Finn as Unofficial Launch Photographer, so here’s a little insight into the day, courtesy of her excellent pictures.

The first part of the launch was one of the ‘rewards’ for some of our top Kickstarter backers, although sadly not all of them were able to come. My co-author Pam Warhurst welcomed them in her usual dynamic and inspiring way.

pam welcome

Then Estelle Brown, Incredible Edible’s full time, unpaid webmaster and tour guide, took everyone off to look at the town. Here she is outside Mary Clear’s front garden, where everything is edible and anyone can help themselves.

Estelle

Thanks to Estelle, our guests saw all the sharing beds around town, from the police station to the pre-school, and also enjoyed the edible walking route that features not just food for humans but lots of plants that are good for bees too. To avoid overkill on the pictures I haven’t put many of the town on here – if you want to see more of the wonder that is Todmorden, take a look at Incredible Edible’s website.

children's bed
blackcurrants
pollination street

Meanwhile, back at the church, it was all hands on deck to get the lunch ready. Here’s Pam in a pinny with lovely helper Alison.

food setting up

The food! What can I say about the food? It was stupendous.

food marigold

dip

food and lavender

stuffed tomatoes

sprouts

 

sushi cropped

And lots of the ingredients came from around the town.

IMG_9323

If you didn’t know, you’d never guess it was completely free of meat, dairy and other animal products. Volunteer Hilary Wilson, who is a passionate vegan and outstanding cook, had spent the whole week planning and prepping. I managed to snap this picture of her during a rare moment away from the kitchen.

hilary

It stayed dry all day (never a given in Todmorden) so we ate outside. Don’t worry about the policemen – they weren’t there to keep order but to represent the local force, whose station plot is one of the most photographed in the town.

lunch

Lunch over, it was off to Incredible Farm, the project that never stops evolving. It’s almost impossible to believe this was once a piece of waterlogged, rubbish-filled scrubland.

polytunnels

Some of the new developments this year are a solar powered pumping system …

solar pump

… and Rufus the cow, seen here with François Rouillay, founder of Incroyables Comestibles, the French manifestation of Incredible Edible.

Francois and Rufus

Back at the church, lots more people were arriving for afternoon tea. All the cakes were vegan too, and they tasted even better than they looked.

cakestand

cake

chocolate buns

And what about these for some Incredible tea cosies? Somehow, town centre grower Jenny Coleman manages to find time to knit them.

carrot cosy

tea

Over the time I’ve been writing about Todmorden I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. This time it was a magnificent peal of bells that rang out just as we were coming to the end of our tea, part of the celebrations to mark the volunteer-funded restoration of the belfry.

Some of the hardy Incredibles were staying on for the second party but for us it was time for one last photograph and then to set off back to Sheffield through the beautiful Calder valley.

pam and jo1

Thank you, Incredible Edible Todmorden, for an unforgettable afternoon.

Incredible spreadable

vegetable tourists

‘Vegetable tourists’ in Pollination Street, Todmorden. Picture by Estelle Brown

I’ve got a guest post up today with Veg Plotting, one of my very favourite gardening and growing blogs. I’m writing about how Incredible Edible is spreading across the country and even into other parts of the world as more and more people grasp its potential for transforming the places where they live. Do hop over and have a look, and while you’re there take some time to explore Veg Plotting, which is full of information, advice and fun for anyone who enjoys gardening. Be warned, though – it’s quite addictive! The post is here.

we all did it!

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 07.34.59

I may have screamed.

All through Monday, Julian and I watched the counter on our Kickstarter page inch towards its £10,000 target.

If we didn’t make our target, then we wouldn’t receive any of the money pledged towards an initial print run of the book about Incredible Edible Todmorden.

By teatime it stood at a little over £9,600. All rules about ‘no screens at mealtimes’ went out of the window.

After tea we had to go to a meeting. To my amazement, I managed to turn off my phone off for almost two hours, but I was switching it on again even as we pulled on our coats to leave.

£9,828.

Back home, I rushed upstairs to put my boots away. When I came down, our son was holding out his phone and grinning.

£10,002!

(That’s when I screamed. It wasn’t a time for worrying about what the neighbours would think.)

Pledges continued to come in, right up to the project deadline this morning – you can see our final total at the top of this post:

£10,774

This month of campaigning to crowdfund enough money for an initial print run of my book about Incredible Edible Todmorden has been one of the most intense of my life, second only to the weeks after bringing our first baby home. It’s been exciting, exhausting and at times almost unbearably tense.

Screen shot 2013-12-12 at 07.42.36

But we did it – and we did it by riding a wave of overwhelming generosity, enthusiasm and kindness, all qualities that are at the heart of the Incredible Edible movement.

I am so grateful to all the people who supported us, whether that was by pledging money, endlessly pestering their Facebook friends, allowing us to guest post on their blogs, arranging media coverage, or sending us cheery emails just when we needed them the most.

So to any of you who are reading and who backed us in any way  – a huge THANK YOU!

There WILL be a book in the spring and it will be in no small measure down to you!

I had stupidly assumed I would be able to finish editing the manuscript of Incredible! while the Kickstarter was gently ticking away in the background. (Cue hollow laughter.)

I am often wrong about my capabilities but rarely have I been wronger than this. Most of the campaign was conducted over Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere, and at times I felt as though entire sections of my brain were being colonised by social media.

Twitter in particular is like hanging out in a vast emporium of delights with hundreds of smart, witty and sometimes slightly bonkers magpies who keep attracting your attention with shiny little hyperlinks.

Exciting social action - Jack Monroe's campaign to get food poverty debated in Parliament - AND a cat picture. No wonder Twitter is addictive.
A cat picture AND exciting news about Jack Monroe’s campaign to get food poverty debated in Parliament . No wonder Twitter is addictive.

So I’m about to retreat to a silent library where I cannot access the internet. I’ll spend my days holed up there while I polish the story to be the best it can possibly be. 

It’s always felt a bit daunting, doing justice to the Incredible Edible story, and it seems even more so now that I know how many people have put their faith in the project by backing the book.

But I’ll be giving it my absolute best, incorporating advice from some very insightful beta readers and an excellent professional editor. With that and a sprinkling of the Incredible Edible magic I’m trusting the end result will be something that justifies the brilliant support we have had in raising this money for a print run.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

the lost art of wasting nothing

It’s a bit hard for me to think of anything beyond Incredible Edible Todmorden at the moment. We’re in the last week of our crowdfunding campaign and I’m also completing the edits on the manuscript of Incredible! before I send them to my co-author Pam Warhurst for approval.

So although I’ve got a few ideas for future blog posts swirling around my head, I thought today I’d post an extract from the book. It’s a part I particularly enjoyed writing and it draws on the fascinating work of Rachael Babar, an Incredible Edible supporter who interviewed some of the older residents of the town about their memories of food and growing.

At a time when food waste is often in the news – Tesco recently revealed that 40 per cent of their apples, almost half of all bakery products and a staggering 68 per cent of bagged salads get thrown away – the memories of lifelong Tod resident Barbara Diggle are a sobering reminder that such profligacy has not always been the norm.

Barbara Diggle and her granny

Barbara Diggle and her granny

In the extract below, Barbara  talks about growing up in the 1930s and about the amazing skills of her grandmother, who knew how to use every last scrap of food to feed her family at a time when nobody could afford to waste anything.

 Every Saturday, while still quite a young child, Barbara went to Todmorden market with two carpet bags for her granny’s shopping.

Money was tight and Barbara’s memories of those trips are dominated by the different ways she tried to get the most out of every last penny. She had strict instructions not to start shopping until the superintendent rang a bell to indicate that it was nearly closing time. Since there was no refrigeration, the traders had to sell everything as fast as possible and that was when Barbara closed in for the bargains. Bananas were seven for sixpence during the week, but on Saturday afternoon she could snap up a bunch for tuppence. Pie meat was sold by the handful and to this day she remembers that the butcher with the biggest hands was called Tommy Burton. She also had to ask the butcher for a sheep’s ‘jimmy’, the local name for a sheep’s head.

Finally, Barbara would drag the carpet bags full of food back up the hill to her home where her granny would be waiting with a pot of milky tea and a freshly baked pie. ‘It would be a meat and tatty pie or something like that, a pasty with onion in. It could have cheese in if I was lucky. It could be a cheese and onion pie. I would sit down with my back to the fire, draw the table up to the fire so that I would be warm in the winter time, take my shoes off and wipe my feet and she used to give me a nice meal and I would have my milky tea.’

If Barbara had managed to get a sheep’s jimmy, then her grandmother would use every part of it to provide meals for the family. The tongue was cooked in a side oven over the coal fire all night and for half of the next day until it was tender. ‘We would skin it whilst it was still warm. You can’t skin a tongue when it has gone cold; it sticks like glue. Then of course we would round it and put it on a saucer with a plate on the top and a flat iron on top of that and that would shape it and it would press it overnight. Then if anybody came to tea we could slice it off and put it between thin bread and butter.’

If someone in the family was sick they would be offered the sheep’s brains, poached in milk and butter and served on toast as a delicacy. If not, the brains were simply boiled in salt and water. The rest of the head was also boiled until the meat was tender and ‘falling off the bone’. Once the meat had been served, Barbara’s granny would cook up the skull with vegetables from the garden, and pulses to make a thick, nourishing soup.  Finally she would render any left over fat. This could be used for other recipes, or even clarified to act as a seal for pots of preserved fruit.

Part of the work of Incredible Edible involves running classes to help people learn skills that are in danger of being lost, skills that help us to make better use of our food and that we all need to recover as spiralling fuel costs and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns mean we can no longer rely on cheap food imports.

They haven’t quite got on to sheep’s heads yet, but so far more than 1,000 people in Todmorden have attended classes on subjects such as preserving, fruit tree grafting and sausage making. You can read all about that and much, much more in the Incredible! book, which we plan to publish in the spring next year.

I am extremely grateful to the many people who have backed our campaign to crowd fund enough money for an initial print run of the book about Incredible Edible. If you would like to join them, you can do so here. It’s quite safe: if we don’t reach our target you don’t pay anything. Also, I am not making any money personally out of the campaign.

parsnips and peak oil

parsnipsOne of my top must-read bloggers is Ruth Valerio. I don’t imagine there are many highly qualified theologians who also run pig-keeping enterprises but then there aren’t many Christians thinking as intelligently about environmental issues as Ruth is.

I’m very honoured to be on Ruth’s blog today, writing about the ways that small actions around local food can help people engage with much bigger issues of sustainability.

***

What do radishes have to do with rising sea levels? How can parsnips make a difference in an age of peak oil? Why would rhubarb jam inspire hope?

The answers can be found in the west Yorkshire town of Todmorden, birthplace of the Incredible Edible movement.

Incredible Edible Todmorden began six years ago when a group of residents decided they were fed up with waiting for the powers that be to do something about the problems facing the world.

They were worried about polar bears and melting ice caps, about young people leaving their town because there weren’t any jobs, and about what their children and grandchildren would eat in the future if food and transport costs continued to rise.

But they also knew that statistics about overwhelming global issues like climate change and economic turmoil tend to turn people off. Everything seems too big to engage with.

So they decided to try an experiment:

Jump over to Ruth’s site to read the rest!

Picture of parsnips by KMJPhotography (TillyDog). Used under Creative Commons Licence.

90 seconds of Incredible magic

This is fun: a whistlestop tour of Todmorden filmed by Tom Boyden, who’s been cycling around Europe looking at sustainable food projects. It only lasts a minute and a half and it’s sure to give your day a lift.

Julian (my partner) and I are currently crowdfunding to raise money for an initial print run of the book about Incredible Edible Todmorden that I’ve written with co-founder Pam Warhurst. There’s only ten days to go – will we make it? Maybe with your help! You can pledge from as little as £1 and it’s perfectly safe: if we don’t make our target, nobody pays a penny. I’m not making any money personally from this campaign – we just want to get the book out there and spread the Incredible Edible magic even further. You can find the campaign here.

hope: an update

ask not what

Recently graffitied by locals, the old health centre in Todmorden, west Yorkshire has lain empty for years while the multinational corporation that owns the site decides what to do with it

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.

 

plaques

Incredible Edible plaques made by Linda Reith

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.’

Runner beans in a Todmorden cemetery

Runner bean plants in a Todmorden cemetery

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.

Thank you!

The Kickstarter page is here.

Incredible!

AAprojectpicture

Growing food can change the way you respond to everything around you.

That’s what Incredible Edible Todmorden co-founder Pam Warhurst told me recently during one of our long chats about the story of the Incredible Edible movement.

And why have I been having long chats with Pam?

Because (drum roll)

we have written (another drum roll)

a book about Incredible Edible Todmorden!

 Yes, a whole book!

Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution (by Pam Warhurst, with Joanna Dobson, as it will say on the cover) tells the story of the Incredible Edible movement, starting from the day when another co-founder, Mary Clear, ripped out the roses in her front garden and replaced them with vegetables and a sign saying ‘Help Yourself’.

It charts the progress of the project over the six years since it was founded to today, when people come from all over the world to see what is happening in this once overlooked little market town in west Yorkshire.

I’ve been researching and writing the book for the best part of two years. I’ve done hours and hours of interviews with a whole range of people whose lives have been affected by the Incredible Edible movement – from the high school chef who started planting his own school dinner ingredients to the self-confessed city girl who had never even had a pot plant before she moved to Todmorden but now feeds herself and her son fresh, home-grown vegetables for nine months of the year.

Incredible Edible isn’t just about growing food though. It’s about a way of building community, recovering lost skills and boosting local businesses so that we can all look forward to a kinder, greener, more resilient future.

From planting vegetables on unloved patches of ground to launching a market garden training centre to encouraging local farmers to increase their range of products, Incredible Edible demonstrates how small actions have power to bring about big changes.

The book I have written with Pam doesn’t just tell a story, either: it also includes hints and tips for anyone who wants to start an Incredible Edible project where they are, and gives a few simple recipes from some of Todmorden’s many accomplished cooks.

In true Incredible Edible style, we’ve decided to publish the book ourselves. Today I launched a campaign on Kickstarter, the website that enables ordinary people to back creative projects.

Going the Kickstarter route is forcing me to do two things that are right outside my comfort zone: fundraise and (horrors) appear in a video.

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be doing either of them if it weren’t for the fact that I really believe the Incredible Edible movement has the potential to inspire people to bring about real and lasting change.

My biggest hope for the book is that it will inspire more and more people to see that it is possible to live by a different story, one that is not the worn out, disempowering narrative of global consumerism.

Our Kickstarter page is here. It gives more details about the book and explains how, if you want to, you can get involved with it and what you would get in return – everything from an e-book to a hard copy of the book to a fruit tree grafted in Todmorden!

However, this blog is not about to turn into one long advert for the campaign. That’s not what I’m here for and although I have got to plenty to say about the way the Incredible Edible approach can help us build a better future, please be assured that I won’t be making endless pleas for cash.

What I’m concerned about is how people can connect with the land, their food and their communities in what somebody in Todmorden described yesterday as ‘a joined-up circle of scrumptiousness’.

 

 

 

 

 

the kale connection

This is the story of a vegetable facing extinction, a wise Scottish pensioner and the power of the Internet.

The vegetable in question: Sutherland kale. Now don’t switch off. Kale is massively underrated and it’s about time it had a revival. A sturdy, practical plant, it keeps on giving all through the winter and still manages to be beautiful.

kale

redbor kale

With its hearty, iron-rich flavour. It’s amazingly good as a pizza topping or combined with eggs to make colcannon, and I just have to try this kale pesto.

Sutherland kale is an extremely rare variety and the story of how it was rescued from oblivion should give hope to all of us who worry about the tendency of global food and seed companies to reduce all our fruit and veg to just a few dominant strains.

You can get it from the excellent Real Seed Catalogue, a small company in Wales that specialises in finding the best possible seed for kitchen gardeners and only sells varieties they have trialled themselves.

The company came across Sutherland kale in 2003, when Vicky Schilling, a customer from Ullapool, sent them a few seeds with a note explaining that she had been given them by Elizabeth Woolcombe, a 93-year-old woman from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. Ms Woolcombe knew it as an old variety that used to be popular with crofters.

She, in her turn, had been given some seeds half a century earlier by one Angus Simmonds, when he was researching kale at Edinburgh University.

I first heard about Sutherland kale via the Incredible Edible Todmorden blog. One of the latest Todmorden initiatives is a heritage garden where volunteers will grow rare varieties of plants and ensure they are saved for future generations.

Sutherland kale was an obvious choice for wet and windswept Tod, since it has been shown to withstand 70mph sleet showers, not to mention attacks from aphids, cabbage white caterpillars and ravenous goats.

Just two weeks later, in one of those wonderful cyber-coincidences that sometimes happen, I was reading another favourite blog, the Barefoot Crofter, and spotted a second reference to this very rare variety.

I left a comment expressing my surprise, and before I knew it Jacqueline, the Barefoot Crofter herself, had contacted me via Twitter and offered to send me some seed.

It makes me ridiculously happy to think that the kale plants in our allotment will be connected to the ones on Jacqueline’s croft and, more distantly, to a small group of enlightened people who understood the value of preserving a specific variety of plant at a time when the trend is all towards fewer types that are selected more for their ease of large-scale, commercial production than anything else.

The moral of this story is: small actions count.

The Real Seed people believe Vicky Schilling’s kale plants may have been the last ones in existence until they started growing her seed for sale.

If Vicky had not sent the seeds to the Real Seed Catalogue, Sutherland kale could well be extinct and people like Jacqueline, who farm in extreme weather conditions, would be that much the poorer.

Similarly, if Elizabeth Woolcombe had not faithfully saved seed from her kale, year after year after year, maybe it would have died out all the sooner.

If, like me, you have been involved in the Incredible Edible movement, you will know that one of their mantras is ‘Believe in the power of small actions.’

A movement that began when a few volunteers started planting vegetables in unusual places – think cemetery, bus stop, doctors’ surgery – and putting up revolutionary signs saying ‘help yourself’ is now spreading across the world and making a real difference to the way that people think about land, community and food.

The pins mark the places that are interacting with the Incredible Edible movement

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by news of increasingly erratic weather conditions, global economic crisis and issues like the huge decline in the UK’s endangered wildlife.

What can we as individuals do in the face of all that, we wonder. Well the stories of Sutherland kale and Incredible Edible demonstrate that the only wrong answer to that question is ‘nothing’.

One more home for one more bee: it all adds up

One more home for one more bee in Todmorden: it all adds up. Picture by Estelle Brown

Top picture of kale by Chris Wilcox; redbor kale by Tracie Hall. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

 

making food happen


Trigrad, Bulgaria

Trigrad, Bulgaria

If you go to the ‘supermarket’ in the little Bulgarian village of Trigrad you will find crisps, biscuits, imported chocolate and, if the season is right, a few bunches of grapes. There is homemade pizza that can be heated to take away, a counter of cured meat, some cheese and, in the morning, bread.

The whole thing is about the size of a London corner shop and the range of food fits on four shelves that run round two of the walls.

You’d be wrong to think the inhabitants were short of things to eat though. Wander around this sprawling village in the Rhodope mountains, not far from the border with Greece, and you will see food growing everywhere.

 

Trigrad tomatoesborlotti beans

 

Trigrad turkeys

We visited in early September: there were tomatoes sprouting out of old oil cans, borlotti beans ripening on canes, watermelons dangling in front gardens and even a few turkeys scratching in someone’s yard.

On the lower slopes of the mountains there were rows and rows of brightly painted beehives, and everywhere trees laden with fruit: pears, apples and wild plums.

Trigrad beehives

Trigrad pears

There are no fancy hotels in Trigrad but you can stay in a family guest house. Ours looked down over the town with its jumble of red roofs, tiny mosque and even tinier church.

Trigrad church

Every evening our landlady Nadia and her husband Vincy invited all eight of us into their dining room, where Nadia served a three-course meal prepared entirely from scratch in an ordinary domestic kitchen. Meanwhile Vincy plied us with rakia, a clear spirit made from plums that goes surprisingly well with just about anything, particularly by the time you get on to your third glass.

The couple took huge pride in what they gave us. Through our Bulgarian-speaking friends Nadia told us how the trout she was cooking had been caught only hours before in a river just ten minutes’ walk away.

Trigrad river

Vincy explained that the rakia had been made by a friend of his. As I understood it, this meant it was not the absolute best we could have (that would be Vincy’s own) but it did come a close second.

In Trigrad it seemed as if not just the growing but also the preparing of food was woven tightly into everyday life. At the start of one of our walks we passed a woman carrying a plate piled with slices of warm cake: she insisted that we all took a piece. We saw another woman roasting peppers in her garden. They may have been the very ones Nadia served us that night, dripping with garlic and olive oil, meltingly soft and tasting of smoke and sunshine.

Trigrad peppers

What struck me forcibly in contrast with England was the range of food-related skills on display. It seems it is normal in Trigrad to be able to build a beehive, harvest honey, pickle vegetables, distil spirits, construct a barbecue and produce three meals a day for a roomful of complete strangers – and that’s just what we saw in one very short stay.

I don’t know whether the inhabitants of Trigrad wish their local store carried a wider range of food. I’m guessing some of the women we saw harvesting squashes might wish they didn’t always have to go out in the blistering midday sun.  I didn’t see many young people either, so I’m not trying to say this was some kind of romantic rural idyll.

But I did see enough to realise that these people have something many of us in the UK have lost. It’s a kind of confidence around food and growing, and a pleasure in eating that seems devoid of the self-consciousness and class assumptions that often accompany conversations about food over here.

With even supermarket bosses admitting that food prices are likely to rise substantially in the near future, it’s a confidence we urgently need to recover.

I often go on about Incredible Edible Todmorden, the brilliant project that is trying to give everyone in the west Yorkshire town of Todmorden access to good local food. On one of my visits recently, a resident told me about the difference that joining a growing project at her son’s school had made in her life.

‘The idea of growing something used to seem like an enormously daunting scary world of otherness that was nothing to do with me and I couldn’t possibly learn that – it was for other people,’ she said.

‘But I’ve found that it is such a simple but satisfying experience and the feeling is growing in me that if everything goes tits up and we can’t get any food anywhere then I have the means with which to provide food for myself and my son.

‘I am starting to get to the stage where I’m learning more every year that I’ll be able to make food happen.’

I love that phrase of hers – ‘able to make food happen’. The residents of Trigrad seem able to make food happen almost without thinking.

The residents of Todmorden and other Incredible Edible projects around the country offer hope to those of us who find it more daunting.

Todmorden police station

Todmorden police station