Monday, 10 March 2014

Edible? It's incredible!

A slightly revised version of this piece appears in the current edition of the Landworker magazine of the trade union Unite. 

Having started in Todmorden, the Incredible Edible network - which is alll about growing healthy, local food - has topped 200 groups worldwide in just six years. Community growing plots, linking up with schools and children, and backing local suppliers, form the background of the movement.  

Planting by volunteers of public spaces within the West Yorkshire market town began in 2008. With significant rainfall throughout the year, Todmorden is not ideal for growing food. Yet these urban ‘propaganda gardens’ soon had edible things germinating right across the town. It was a sure demonstration that food does not have to travel thousands of miles to land on our plates. 

Following these successes, two social enterprises were established in Todmorden, the Incredible Edible AquaGarden and the Incredible Edible Farm.

The latter occupies a one-acre site in a valley by the Rochdale canal. It is inhospitable territory …but today you can see salad being grown in the winter, fruit trees flourishing and hens and geese living off the land. 

“We started because people need to be able to feed themselves by growing decent food and raising poultry. This is the way forward if people want to eat healthily and cheaply,” says Nick Green, the farms’ chair of directors. 

“Landowners can see that under-utilised land can be cultivated. Products they grow can be sold to local shops and schools.”  

The AquaGarden involves three different growing methods, aquaponics, hydroponics and soil growing. With Aquaponics, the by-products from accumulated fish waste acts as nutrients for plant growing. Hydroponics is the growing of plants using mineral nutrients in water without soil.
Todmorden is leading experiments that could radically change food production techniques. 

Tomatoes, beans, salad crops and herbs will be grown on the AquaGarden building at Todmorden High School, where pupils are studying BTEC agriculture and horticulture studies at the AquaGarden. All eight Todmorden schools are linked in with the Incredible Edible projects and developing agricultural educational and career opportunities for young people is central to every other sister project globally. 

Keen to develop the local food growing skills base, the AquaGarden has employed two agricultural apprentices. These include 29-year old Danny Haymonds, who is “learning some new skills that I can use to obtain employment once I complete my 18 months training.” 

The official opening last year of the AquaGarden premises was undertaken by Myles Bremner, head of the School Food Plan, under which head teachers will be supported to improve food in schools. This initiative is being combined with £1 billion pounds to provide a free school lunch for all state infant school pupils starting in autumn for the next two years. 

Bremner has supported Incredible Edible initiatives from the start. Aine Douglas, development manager at the AquaGarden, believes he “will help link up all the local food growing and educational projects like ours with local schools. “

Charlie Clutterbuck, Unite  agricultural workers national committee and a board member at the Incredible Edible Farm, is delighted. “The progress being made across the Incredible Edible network is fantastic.” 

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