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Incredible Edible: One British Town's Quest for 100% Sustainable Living

December 16, 2011

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Driving into the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden, England, you might notice something interesting. As you pass the police station, you’ll see large raised flowerbeds overflowing with kale, carrots and onions. Then you’ll pass the town’s main waterway, which is flanked on either side by apple trees and berry bushes. Next, you’ll see the strawberries outside of the doctor’s office, cherries in the grocery store parking lot, and an assortment of herbs outside of the health center.

This is the first step in the community of Todmorden’s plan to live completely sustainably, an initiative dubbed “Incredible Edible.” It all started with an idea between two friends, Mary Clear and Pam Warhurst, who decided that instead of fretting about the state of the world, they would start locally by planting a community garden.

Mary decided to lower the wall of her front garden and post signs encouraging passers-by to stop and pick the vegetables of their choice. The idea took awhile to catch on, but now the town’s 15,000 residents have 70 large community gardens in various locations. Everything grown in the gardens, from herbs to apples, is there for the taking.

This huge accomplishment is just the tip of the iceberg for Todmorden. The vegetable plots are the most visible sign of an amazing plan: to make Todmorden the first town in the country that is completely self-sufficient for all of its food needs. “And we want to do it by 2018,” says Mary Clear in an interview with the Daily Mail. The next step to sustainable living? A fish farm that the local school plans to start with a recently awarded £500,000 grant.

The story of Todmorden is truly an inspiration and proof that a community can band together for change. But Mary Clear and Pam Warhurst are not the only people ready to work for change at a local level. IIN graduate, Maria Maier, class of 2009, is excited to launch her new initiative, Bonac Botanicals. This after-school education greenhouse program will teach children about where their food comes from in Maria’s hometown of East Hampton, New York.  The food that the children grow in the greenhouses will be used in school cafeterias and the gardens will also be used as a community resource.

What can you do in your community to encourage sustainable living?