Incredible Edible Todmorden: What you've seen is only the beginning

VEGETABLES in flower beds and herbs outside the station may now be commonplace in Todmorden but there is so much more to a self-sufficiency food movement that has emerged in Todmorden and gained the seal of approval from Channel Four's celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when he came to town.

It may have only been in existence since March but the innovative Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET), launched at a packed meeting at the Bear Cafe by Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear, has taken the town by storm and tapped into the twin public desires of reducing food miles, and their associated ecological issues, and the collective tightening of belts in the present economic climate.

Right from the start Pam and Mary said they wanted the people of Todmorden to take ownership of the scheme and that's exactly what happened with people coming together to discuss how they could grow their own food and share their time and expertise and from there onwards the idea has grown and flourished.

Every section of the community has been invited to get involved, from schools to community groups and from farmers to traders, all with the aim of producing and selling food locally and making the town self-sufficient within ten years.

Although by the end of September the group had only been in existence for six months it had already come a long way. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef from Channel Four's River Cottage, sang the group's praises when he came to Todmorden to cook at the first IET harvest festival at Todmorden Unitarian Church. Not only did he take his camera crew to different sites in the town to harvest produce grown in flower beds and even a graveyard but he helped cook a meal for 400 people to share.

And it is this community sharing ethos that IET is all about said Mary. "Although we've had herbs at the station for some time, which have been freely available to everyone, it was the harvest festival that brought this idea of food for sharing for free to the fore. We saw 400 people turn up to share a meal together with no money changing hands at all," said Mary.

Nick Green said the rhubarb illustrated the free food idea very well. "Lots of people said it wouldn't work but it is. The rhubarb is a prime example as people were picking it faster than it could grow. But I don't see this as a failure; I see this as a sign that people like rhubarb and we should plant some more."

Todmorden schools, some of which have been pro-active in safeguarding and promoting nature for years, have seized the opportunities opened up by IET. Poly-tunnels have been erected at Todmorden High School and the school's catering manager, Tony Mulgrew, already a keen advocate for locally produced food as part of a healthy approach to food, has been eager to launch a community garden, involving people from across the generations to grow, cook and eat good healthy fruit and vegetables.

As his working relationships with local farmers blossom Tony hopes he will be able to feed the pupils in the high school entirely with food grown or reared in and around Todmorden and with his cookery classes in his Pulp Kitchen he has been showing people how to cook these fresh and wholesome ingredients in affordable and tasty recipes.

Raised beds will be appearing at Cornholme School and Castle Hill School with cultivation work at Ferney Lee and the Church of England School ongoing. Recycled wood from the housing regeneration scheme at Harley Bank has been donated to Todmorden schools to build planters and raised beds.

Local farmers will not only benefit from the working relationship with the high school but also closer links with traders, cafes and businesses in the town as everyone unites through the IET forum, via its website, and a number of public events.

And when the Every Egg Matters launches early in the new year farmers and hen keepers throughout the area will get a real boost to their businesses as the whole town endeavours to buy even more locally laid eggs. The aim of this scheme is to make sure all free range eggs consumed in the town have been laid by Todmorden hens by the end of 2009 - the first step towards self-sufficiency.

- Next week the Todmorden News will explore how IET has taken its message to the wider world, how young offenders will be helping to clear land for a community orchard and how moves to create a sustainable project for future generations will include a boost to industry with the building of an aquaponics fish farm at Todmorden High School.