Campaigning for a greener future

Joanna Dobson - author of Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution

Incredible Edible: A Community Growing Revolution

The fame of the Incredible Edible project has been growing with the enterprise receiving recognition from the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on his programme celebrating British fruit, ‘To The Core’.

We caught up with Joanna Dobson, a writer and mature student from Sheffield in South Yorkshire when we learned about her involvement with the project. She’s the mastermind behind crowd funding publication of the book telling the story of Incredible Edible and we had a chat with her to find out more about the project and how you could get involved. When Joanna’s not at her computer, you can usually find her out walking in the Peak District, or digging at her allotment.

What is Incredible Edible?

Incredible Edible is a local food movement that started six years ago in the Yorkshire town of Todmorden. Some of the residents were worried about all sorts of things: rising food prices; the fact that young people were leaving the town because they couldn’t get jobs; and the way that weather patterns around the world seemed to be getting more and more erratic.
So they looked for a way to get people to come together to create a stronger, greener, healthier town and came up with the brilliant idea of planting vegetables in public places for everyone to share.

Fruit trees outside Todmorden health centre

That got people talking to one another and from there the project has just kept on growing. Now all the schools are involved in food production; the health centre has so many fruit trees in the car park that you can pick your five a day on your way in to see the doctor; there’s an edible walking route that takes visitors around all the important landmarks in the town; and two social enterprises are offering food-related apprenticeships.

Instead of people leaving Todmorden, they’re actually moving in because of the Incredible Edible effect!

What inspired you to get involved with the movement?

My partner, Julian Dobson, was invited to Todmorden in 2010 to take part in a discussion about how Incredible Edible could help local businesses. The meeting was on a Saturday which also happened to be my birthday, so I told him he could only go if he took me along too! And of course once I was there I just fell in love with the whole Incredible Edible ethos.

Incredible EdibleWhy did you decide to write a book about Incredible Edible?

Incredible Edible is one of the most inspiring projects I’ve ever come across. In a world where ordinary people feel increasingly alienated from the forces that shape their lives, whether that’s banks or oil companies or our industrialised food system, Incredible Edible offers a straightforward way of taking back control.

It’s very simple to engage with it and it’s totally inclusive – their motto is ‘If you eat, you’re in!’

I have seen so many people get excited when they understand what it’s about that I wanted to write a book so that the message could spread even further and so that more and more people could get inspired to make their own communities Incredible too!

Is Incredible Edible just in Todmorden or are there other sites around the UK?

There are more than 50 places in the UK that call themselves Incredible Edible and the number is growing all the time. There’s now an Incredible Edible Network with a great website where the different groups can share information.

There are also Incredible Edible projects across the world: more than 300 in France, and others in places as far apart as Mali and New Zealand.

Todmorden cubs growing food in raised bedsWhat are the principles behind the Incredible Edible project?

People sometimes think Incredible Edible is just a community growing project but actually there’s a lot more to it than that.

Incredible Edible has three strands: community, learning and business. The idea is that for a place to be resilient and independent it needs to have strong community relationships, opportunities for everyone to learn from cradle to grave, and a vibrant local economy. Any one of those aspects is important to a place, but when you’ve got all three working together then you’re really thriving.

So in Todmorden you see people coming together and talking to one another because of the shared growing; then you have all sorts of classes in growing and cookery for people of all ages. On top of that the independent traders in the town say the interest in local food and the increased numbers of people who come to visit Tod are all good for business.

Also, and very importantly, the whole project is based on kindness.

Cookery demonstration with Todmorden chefsWhat parts of the enterprise does the book focus on?

The book tells the story of Incredible Edible Todmorden from its earliest days to the present. Woven into the narrative are some facts and figures about why our food system isn’t working and how it needs to change. There are also hints and tips for people who want to make their own communities Incredible, and some tasty recipes from some of Todmorden’s many talented cooks.

Could people create their own Incredible Edible town in their area?

Absolutely! The important thing to understand is that Incredible Edible isn’t a system with a manual; it will look different depending on the nature of the place where it is being established and the people who get involved.

What matters is to just get started, to have faith in the power of small actions and to keep in mind the three strands of community, learning and business. It’s all about action not words – don’t spend ages planning or writing strategy documents; just start planting and after that it’s as big as your imagination!

Edible walking route in TodmordenDo people need experience growing their own to get involved?

In Todmorden, and anywhere that a project is already established, you absolutely don’t need any experience. It’s a very empowering project – lots of the people I interviewed for the book told me how they started out feeling that growing or cooking food was just too difficult for them but the whole can-do attitude of Incredible Edible and the very encouraging approach of the people at the heart of it soon made them realise that there was nothing to be afraid of. And as you can imagine, they’ve seen their quality of life improve enormously as a result.

How can people support the project?

One way is by backing our book, which is called Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution. I’ve written it with Incredible Edible Todmorden co-founder Pam Warhurst and I’m just doing the final edits. It’s been professionally critiqued and the people who’ve read it have been really enthusiastic.

Up to this point I’ve funded myself but now I need help to get it off my computer and into people’s hands. We’re running a crowd funding campaign to raise £10,000, which will pay for an initial print run. The idea is that people pledge money to the campaign in return for a range of rewards, such as an e-book or a copy of the actual paperback. It’s completely safe: if we don’t make our target, nobody pays a penny. And you can pledge from as little as £1.

You need to be quick though as the fundraising campaign closes on Wednesday 11th December! It’s going well but we really do need all the backers we can get.

When will Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution be available?

It should be published in the spring of 2014, just in time for the new growing season!

Posted in Food and FarmingGreen LivingGreen PlanetGrow Your OwnInterviews
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