If you’re particularly into bad news, there are many places that will indulge your particular interest today. This is not one of them.
Here, I want to spend a little time on things that give me hope for humanity, things that have an uplifting effect on me; things that remind me that I have much to be thankful for, things that make my heart sing with joy.
Todmorden is a old Domesday-Book-mentioned market town that is in both Lancashire as well as Yorkshire (depending on which side of the Calder you’re standing), with about 15,000 people and almost as many ways to pronounce its name (though the locals apparently just call it Tod).
I’ve never been there. But I will. Soon. This post will tell you why.
Sometime in 2009, I’d seen coverage of something happening in Todmorden that intrigued me. Locals there had apparently agreed to work together to try and become self-sufficient from the perspective of food. Their initial focus was on fruit and vegetables, and the intention was to move on to grain, to white meat and finally to all the food types they felt they would need.
The article intrigued me; I filed it away as something to keep an eye on. And then promptly forgot all about it.
More recently, probably sometime in June this year, I’d read about a NESTA publication, a Compendium for The Civic Economy, and given the contents a scan. Noticed that Incredible Edible Todmorden was mentioned, decided I would look at it in detail later. And then promptly forgot all about it.
Until today, when I came across continued coverage in one of the Sunday papers. Third time lucky. This time I soldiered on. Of course, I had to get past the bad-news-packaging first, but that is now something I am a past master at. [Besides forgetting about things that don’t make it on to my daily to-do list.] I would connect you up with the Sunday coverage but there’s no point, it’s pay-walled away.
It’s an amazing story. A local food system, an “edible landscape”. Created as a community asset. Fruit and vegetables planted in public spaces: car parks, footpaths and pavements, graveyards, roadside grass verges, railway platforms, school fields, wherever and whenever possible.
Doc Searls, when talking to me about opensource a decade ago, used the term NEA to describe what he considered to be a key set of principles for such things: Nobody owns it; Everybody can use it: Anyone can improve it. The Todmorden story appears to conform to all three principles.
Food planted everywhere on volunteer time and expense. Food available to all. Over 40 “growing sites”. One in three residents actively involved. 600 fruit trees. “Egg maps” showing you where your nearest egg producer is (there are 50 of them). People imitating and adapting the campaign in other parts of the country, and abroad.
An open architecture, no real barriers to entry. Food available to all. For free. Imitable. For free. An emergent phenomenon, shared via stories, making use of otherwise decaying assets. With the distinct possibility of making people healthier, wealthier and happier. Built on communal principles, steeped in sharing.
How did they decide what to plant and where? Which spaces to use? How did the narratives form and grow? Has the health profile of the town begun to change? How is the “tragedy of the commons” avoided within the community? Does the community “police” itself? What about the entry of “foreigners”? There are reports that crime has fallen since the experiment began. Is there evidence of causality or correlation?
A community that has made the coin of the realm disappear from some of their transactions. Not just dematerialised. Disappearded. [Yes, I meant disappearded. With the extra d.]
What does that mean for incomes? For taxes and duties? What do the Grand Poohbahs and panjandrums make of all this?
After food, what next? How will the “system” be kept open? How will “trade” be carried out? [I am told that there’s a supermarket at the edge of town, and saw at least one reference to a new one opening within the town. How can this work?
There’s only one way for me to find out. Well actually there are a few:
I can go to the Incredible Edible Todmorden website, a treat in itself.
I can continue to read the rest of the NESTA report, and speak to the people there.
I can talk to friends like Steve Moore at Big Society, who’s bound to know how I could find out more.
And I can go there and talk to people there.
And even donate to the cause. Which I must get around to doing, I’ve been completely engrossed in the story.
Todmorden. A reason to be cheerful.