Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Incredible Edible Todmorden - Study Tour

01 July 2013

Horticutlure Wales recently took a group study tour to Incredible edible in Todmorden. 

Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) is a success story that has grown from a germ of an idea over a kitchen table to a global idea that is inspiring communities from America to New Zealand.

The idea was hatched in 2008 by Pam Warhurst, Mary Clear and a group of like minded Todmorden residents who had looked at the town and decided that something needed to be done.

Todmorden was once a rich industrial cotton town but as businesses closed or moved out it was left with a problem that was compounded by its position in a valley with little flat land, no space, a motorway several miles away and a growing unemployment problem.  It was slowly becoming a failing town creating a worry for the future.

They started by creating a model that developed an idea of inclusivity and joined up thinking around what Pam Warhurst refers to as “the 3 plates.” (TED TALK: Pam Warhurst- How we can eat our landscapes - YouTube)

  • The community plate, which developed the way the community lives its everyday lives.
  • The learning plate which looks at the way children are taught food sustainability in school and how skills are shared between each other.
  • And
    • A business plate, which is the consideration of how the community decides what to do with the £1 in their pocket and which businesses they choose to support.

After the initial kitchen table meeting the idea was aired at a public meeting where they expected 6 to turn up and got 60!  The enthusiasm was infectious and all were swept along by a desire to create positive actins they could engage with, take personal responsibility and invest in more “kindness to each other and the environment”.

The project started with a seed swap and a cleanup which cost nothing and bit by bit expanded to take over small parcels of land, creating borders and raised beds throughout the town.  Beds were created at the railway station, police station, old people’s home and beds full of   ornamental trees and prickly plants at the new health centre were replanted with fruit trees, bushes and herbs.  They even had the local primary school gardening in the local cemetery in rather good fertile soil!

It was achieved with the pure enthusiasm of the town’s residents.  As the project developed artists became engaged to create high quality bug houses and information boards telling stories such as the life of the bee and bed labels that informed the public how and when crops should be harvested.  The benefits and virtues of composting were extolled and knowledge of subjects such as pest and disease recognition slowly improved.


Once the infrastructure was in place with support from the local DIY store (a competition prize was taken in wood and nails!) keeping the project going became a question of maintenance and dirty hands.  This is managed through a process of management meetings held twice a month. The first Sunday in the month in the morning and the third Sunday in the afternoon.  They meet and discuss rotations and how crops are performing (“we will never grow carrots again!”).

The links the project has with education are very topical at the moment with the discussions around the need to educate and develop more interest in growing and horticulture and eating healthily with the next generation.

Links with the local high school has resulted in Horticulture and Agriculture appearing on the curriculum and a spare piece of land next to the school has become the site of a £500,000 Aquaponics unit, mixing fish farming with fruit and vegetable farming. The young people will help with the building and sit on the board.

In 2010 IET took over a piece of land that had been lent on the strength of a handshake by the local garden centre.  This has over 3 years become a hub for propagation, growing and education. It now has polytunnels, a fruit tree nursery, chickens and ducks, mini allotments for the locals, water re-cycling and Hugel beds.  It now provides employment for a grower and two apprentices.

   Some of the early consultations regarding the project were carried out with local businesses and the town to see how it could all look. 

To involve the local businesses blackboards were purchased with the incredible Edible name and logo on the top so the retailers could write down indications of where produce came from and how far it had travelled. 

This resulted in customers requesting local Todmorden produce as a matter of course, strengthening the interest in local food and shorter supply chains.  Traders were involved to the extent that they started giving talks and demonstrations on their produce such as sausage making events and if anyone needed some fresh ingredients they only had to walk outside for some fresh herbs or apples.

There is a local market which runs most days, and therefore helps bring “local” into everyday life. 

Business development in particular is epitomised by the “every egg matters” campaign.  It started with the creation of a map showing egg producers who were selling from the farm gate and had surpluses. 


The original map had just 4 suppliers; it now has 64.  This production in free range local eggs has resulted in flock sizes increasing and some producers expanding into the fresh meat bird market.

The small steps have increased local economic confidence and demand to an extent that there is now local cheese, pasties and pies and rare breed pig products available in the town.

An unexpected spin off of the project was the development of “vegetable tourism”.  Groups visit the project from all over the UK and some from abroad.  A group from Christchurch, New Zealand visited after the earthquake so they could incorporate Vegetable growing in the development after the quake to support a new community spirit.

The development of a green route map for the visitors was designed to take in the vegetable hot spots as a guided tour and increase footfall throughout the town and where previously there had been closed shops there are now upwards of 27 restaurants and cafes.  At the height of the season there might be up to 4 guided tours a day and during the winter maybe 2 or 3 a week.  Visitors even come when there is not much growing which is a testament to the interest the project has generated.  With the increased footfall has come a benefit to the traders and shops in general. A research carried out showed that business has generally increased and 49% of all traders have reported an increase in the bottom line due to IETs actions.

In summary; the project has become more that just a local success.  There are IEs developing all the time with upwards of 50 in the UK and more than 150 in Europe.

“Believe in the power of small actions”

The concept may be one that has simplified the local supply chain with local produce moving relatively small distances but in the case of IET it has proved that all stakeholders at every point in the supply chain benefit from the idea.  While some retailers might have felt threatened by the development of the project even the supermarket can be said to have benefitted as the tastes for healthier food have increased and been translated into more sales.   A local garden centre at Colne welcomed a local group to hold their meetings in the coffee shop for free as they knew there would be an increased footfall through the sales areas and more sales as the new project took off.  The local restaurants have benefitted from increased footfall through the town which in turn has had benefits for the local producers as they stock and cook with local produce, customers demand it, once again increasing the loyalty to the “brand”.

To quote Pam Warhurst. “...... through the power of small actions we are starting at last to believe in ourselves again and to believe in our capacity, each and every one of us to build a different and a kinder future”.  In Pam’s book that’s INCREDIBLE.

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