Mary Clear on Todmorden’s Incredible Edible
Gloriously plain-speaking grandmother of ten, Mary Clear of Todmorden’s Incredible Edible was the second to speak at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology yesterday (6th Dec). Here’s a summary of what she said:
Three and a half years ago, a few Todmorden people were discussing concerns about it all — climate change, people in some developing countries going hungry, everything . . . and how everyone blamed everyone else for what was going on. Let’s see, they decided, if we could do something for Todmorden that’d make a difference.
Todmorden is in a deep valley, equidistant-ish from Burnley, Rochdale and Halifax, towns themselves that aren’t doing too well. It’s socially mixed, with high unemployment in the town, mostly back-to-backs. There are a few rich people, and they live up the sides of the valley. Industry, formerly cotton, has gone. There are five supermarkets in and around the town.
They hit on food as an agent for change. “If you eat, you’re in.”
Everyone has a lot to offer, including the jobless youngster. She presented a simple diagram, three circles for learning – cradle to cradle, business, including farmers, and community – everyone.
Propaganda gardening. (A better term than guerilla gardening, she said, which smacked of machismo illegality). Making it beautiful. Help yourself, we want to help you.
Then they moved on to the estates with their difficult soil. (This is a Pennine town, remember, so think wind and rain as well as bright clear days.)
Then they heard the local PCT with its new building had £20K for landscaping . . . So they asked a local doctor if they could plant trees, apple, pear and plum on the site, plus an apothecary garden at the back.
There was a Bengali bean-growing championship on raised beds on what was previously tennis courts.
They created a growing space even at the side of the local church graveyard.
There are six primary school and one secondary school in town; they joined in. There’s a need for “incredible parents” if schools join in, as during the holidays, they’re the ones that carry it.
Links with farmers were set up. A pop-up kitchen for cookery lessons in the streets. Bee keeping took off. In the three years, over a thousand fruit trees have been planted and anyone can help themselves to the produce. Trees are expensive to buy, so some of them have learned the art of grafting. Indeed, there are many lost arts which will die when the old generation pop their clogs, so they’ve set up a rolling programme of learning.
They needed a business. Eggs. They decided to increase the number of laying hens in the town. They then created a demand for locally produced eggs. There’s an egg map of the town.
One guy gave up his day job and became a cheese maker. There are also rare breed pigs in the town. And the local Bear Cafe Bar, committed to local produce, has bought itself a polytunnel.
A landowner gave them some land to use in Walsden (see right, and which required expensive fencing ‘cos, unknown to everyone, the place was a meeting ground for every rabbit and deer in northern England).
The next project is a training centre. Oh and another, an aquaponics investment to grow fish.
No doubt, if Mary is anyone to go by as a Todmorden person, there’ll be plenty more projects and activities that can’t be imagined yet. And will happen.
And, much to Mary’s surprise, particularly in a raw Pennine January, there are ‘vegetable tourists’, people coming from across the world to see what a townspeople can do. There’s even been a visit from a planner from earthquake-torn Christchurch in New Zealand. It’s a no brainer, he said, for the new town there to have food growing at its core.