Meaning: Pamela Warhurst on Incredible Edible

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Pamela Warhurst

*Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week’s Meaning Conference – I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn’t post them at the time. *

Pamela’s here to tell us a story about making the world nicer. Todmordon has fruit, vegetable and herbs springing up all over the town. They’ve developed vegetable tourism. They have a huge challenge ahead of them. The way we’re living is passing on a rubbish legacy to our kids.

Is it possible to find a unifying language to talk to people regardless of age or income? There is one: food. So, they didn’t bother with a strategy document, or a proposal. They gathered around a kitchen table. And they decided to spin community plates, like circus plate spinners. Let’s think about what happens in our gardens, and streets, and community places. Let’s teach each other about food. And let’s move from that to buying our food locally.

60 people came to the meeting. They didn’t talk about climate change, they talked about food. They didn’t ask permission. They didn’t ask for a cheque. They had to see off the nay-sayers. The power of small actions is awesome. Your little bit of action will help other people come together.

This world is not for the faint-hearted. The models of the past are not the ones we need for the future. They do propaganda gardens, because her mate hates the word “guerrilla”. They took a verge, which had been neglected and left to go wild (and become a toilet), and made it a garden, and six months later the council started mowing it – and put a bench in. One person took her wall down, took the flowers out and started growing fruit in her garden. And put up a sign saying people could take it. For two years no one did. And then they started…

This is not a movement for articulate Guardian readers. If you eat, you’re in. People started picking veg. One family picked veg, and then brought back soup made from it. They’d never talked to each other before.

They use edible flowers sometimes, so as not to upset the “in bloom” people. They planted a garden in front of the police station – the police now look after it. And they’ll tell you that environmental damage in the area has halved. So, male competition being what it is, the fire station decided to join in. Beyond that, they took the prickly plants in front of the new health centre, and replaced them with edible plants. People are walking into the health centre surrounded by things they have only ever seen wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.

They went into the station, they went into the graveyard…

And from that they’ve moved into training people in cooking what they’ve grown, and to sharing lost arts, like pickling, preserving and skinning. They bought every market trader a board, on which they could chalk their local goods. It started conversations, which reminded people why markets are different from supermarkets.

They didn’t get good response from local farmers, so they build the demand themselves, using things like the Every Egg Matter campaign, and some are starting to join in. They took some waste land, and created a market garden training centre.

They’re just a “working class northern town doing veg” but they’re featured on TV all over the world. And there are 33 towns following them…

Believe in the power of small actions.

communityenvironmentlocal politicslocalismmeaningsustainability

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.