On Saturday 14 November more than 150 people crowded into the hall of the secondary school in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, to celebrate the town’s two years’ effort towards growing and eating local produce. Most of the participants were local; some from the North West and a few from further afield, including London.
The original project started very small and now involves virtually every organisation in Todmorden, including every local school, the health centre, the fire station and Pennine social housing, among others. Thirty-two small local egg producers have formed themselves into a network supplying eggs to the Todmorden market, where demand exceeds supply.
The first local cheese has been produced and is also sold at the town market. Initially a few fruit trees were planted; there are now hundreds, rising to over 1000 next year with a local apple press to make juice. The local authority in Calderdale is supporting the project by providing a “licence to grow” to anyone who identifies underused council land and is prepared to grow food on it.
The enthusiasm at the conference was palpable. Many of the participants introduced themselves with the phrase “I am not a grower but…” and then went on to describe how they contributed to the project by helping with education, marketing materials, maintaining the website etc.
The project has now set itself the ambitious target of making Todmorden self-sufficient in food by 2018. Participants described the raised beds at the railway station, the schools, the health centre, in the gardens of derelict premises and so on as “propaganda gardens”. They know that a series of raised beds do not feed a town of 17,000 people. So how are they going to meet their target?
Local farmers (egg producers aside) were not a major feature of the conference. Many may be sole workers on their farms and could not be at a conference. To make a living they are probably sending their produce to a distribution centre outside the area, while local supermarkets will be buying in produce from overseas.
But if people truly aim for the target and demand changes, watch this space. From the floor of the conference a question was asked: “If we can grow our own and reducing food miles is a good thing, then why can’t we extend the idea to making other things we need in this country?” The top tip from those currently involved in the project was “don’t ask anyone for permission, just do it.” It was a very refreshing day.