Todmorden

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.