'If you eat, you're in'. That's the simple premise behind Incredible Edible, a network created to put food back at the heart of local communities by growing fruit and vegetables in disused public spaces. Now in its 10th year, we caught up with the movements founder, Pam Warhurst, to talk community, celebrating a decade of growth and how you can get involved...
Let’s start at the beginning, can you tell us how
Incredible Edible Network came to life?
It came to me like a bolt from the blue. A decade ago I’d just heard a presentation about the global issues around how
we are living our lives and it’s impact on the planet; overuse of resources,
ill health, poverty, and it seemed to me it was time for ordinary folks to
take a lead on this for themselves and demonstrate to those in power just what
we are capable of achieving. So over the length of the train journey from
London to Manchester, I made up the simple model of putting local food at the
heart of our community, and Incredible Edible was born. The model is simple. It
has three 'plates' to it, and people can get involved in any or all of them. First, community, growing food to share in public
places; secondly, learning, sharing skills around how to do that; and finally, business, using the pound in your pocket to support local food businesses.
Together, this investment of local people can help us all live well and prosper
now and into the future.
Where was the first ever patch of Incredible
Edible land, and is it still growing?
It started in Todmorden because that’s where
I live. After a public meeting in a cafe, we built raised beds in front of a disused health centre, turned a grass verge into a herb garden and with a flash
mob, planted up an orchard around a playing field. It’s a great feeling turning spaces that are unloved into plots where people can see what you can grow in the area. The
herb garden is still there, and from what we learned at the derelict health
centre, we created food plots around our new centre, and they are still there
and being used today.
How has your role changed within the project? Talk
us through your day to day life at Incredible Edible…
I kicked off chairing the local group, which I
did for six years, but then, as other groups were popping up all over the
country, not to mention the impact overseas, it seemed my talents would be
better employed inspiring and helping other groups to grow. So Mary Clear, who kicked off the Todmorden group with me, became the local chair and I’ve
spent the last four years meeting, talking and telling our simple story to
those ready for a different approach to living our lives. Building a kinder
world through actions around local food. We have more than 120 groups now, each spinning the three plates in their
own way, and each with great stories of community spirit to tell.
What does community mean to you?
It means having a sense of not being alone. It
means seeing ourselves connected to others whom we can gain so much from and to
whom we can offer our gifts. It is, for me, a fundamental building block for a
society that strives to help everyone realise
their potential and be happy.
When Incredible Edible began to expand and grow globally, how did you still feel connected?
We talk to each other. It doesn’t matter where you live, the internet and social media allows everyone to ask, share and inspire. And on top of that, as we've learnt so many lessons along the way, we created a website, which we’ve just relaunched, so groups, new and old, can share and learn together.
What are you doing to mark your 10 year anniversary?
The Todmorden group recently held an Incredible Festival of Ideas, to celebrate the 10 years and remind us all that the spirit of innovation in our communities is still alive and well. From the Incredible Edible movement, six groups from around the country were beamed in to celebrate the power of small actions that over the last decade has changed so many of our neighbourhoods and how we feel about ourselves. The movement is there to support, not dictate.
have been the biggest highs and lows for you over the past 10 years?
response from that initial meeting in a cafe, where the room just exploded with
ideas, will always be with me. The kindness of so many people who just needed
somewhere to start doing something about a new prosperity and found the three
plates. The amazing work of the Ilfracombe group who during the terrible snows
of the past winter rolled up their sleeves and provided food and hope to those
in need. The wonderful leadership of the Chief Executive of Wigan Council who
was the first person in local government to say, "I want you to help us
adopt the model, and help the people of Wigan live well in these difficult
times." As for downsides, Incredible Edible was always going to be a
forever project, so I’ve not noticed the lows yet.
If you could, what three things
would you tell yourself on the day you had the idea for the network now?
your seat belt. This is going to be a long ride.
people have so much more insight into the important elements of a kinder, more
inclusive and prosperous society than politicians.
from the lessons they have taught you, and don’t be afraid to stand your ground
and challenge those who have responsibility for the frameworks of our lives.
There’s no bad guys. It’s just some are blinded by the system.
Why is food sustainability so
important? And, why is it important to be part of a community?
unites us all, across age, income, culture and ability. Share food and you
share the future, together. Living well, being active and eating good
food to stay healthy is a central plank of any community. In a future when we
need to be able to grow and process more food locally, because of all the
issues around climate change and because others we may never meet need to be
eating their own food. It’s important that together we work out how we’re going
to do it. You don’t need a national policy document, you need to let people
just get on and do it.
How does Incredible Edible
change the way you eat?
who didn’t know how to cook from fresh, now do. Families who didn’t pick food
together can now be seen collecting berries from the health centre site. Walk
along the canal and see the number of raised beds that have sprung up over the
last ten years. All this changes what we eat and how we get it.
Have you made any friends
through the community?
been blessed with meeting and working alongside the most inspiring folks. Being
part of something so important as the IE movement over the last ten years has
made my life so much richer. I wouldn’t change a thing that’s happened.
What has Incredible Edible
taught me that what I suspected is most definitely true. We have leaders and
incredible individuals through all our communities, who, with the right
support, can help transform difficult times into times of hope and happiness.
It’s taught me that we already have what it takes to create a kinder more
inclusive prosperity. We just need to bend what we’ve got and invest in more
local solutions. It’s taught me to stick to my guns, and never doubt the power
of small actions.
What advice would you give to
someone with their own idea for sustainability?
get on and do something! Demonstration is key. Focus on telling the story and
spreading your ideas.
Do you have a favourite recipe
to make from the produce of your local Incredible Edible patch?
favourite is a simple pasta dish made out of anything green that’s growing.
Chop leeks or onions, garlic, add green beans, peppers, chard, cavolo nero,
whatever’s growing. Chuck in loads of herbs like basil, parsley, maybe a touch
of tarragon, stock, simmer. Easy as that and delicious with pasta and local
What do you have planned for
the future of Incredible Edible?
North! Linking those who are using food to redefine how we do things, whichever
sector they are in. We’re experimenting across the North of England -
rethinking supply chains and procurement in favour of local growers and
processors, encouraging investment in the urban farmers and food entrepreneurs
of the future, and using our public realm, much of which grows grass at present, to grow food where it’s needed. Watch this space.
What are your top tips for
growing your own?
worry if you have never cooked or grown before. Everyone starts somewhere and
the only way to learn is to have a go. Others will help you, I promise.
Fruit or vegetables?
Spring or autumn?
Owl or lark?
Over or under dressed?
Word you over-use?
Last time you laughed out
Yesterday at my daughters cat pouncing at nothing.
Book you wish you'd written?
of the Rings, Wolf Hall or any by Margery Allingham.
One thing you couldn’t live
To find an Incredible Edible group near you visit their website!