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  • The will to live life differently can start

  • in some of the most unusual places.

  • This is where I come from, Todmorden.

  • It's a market town in the north of England,

  • 15,000 people, between Leeds and Manchester,

  • fairly normal market town.

  • It used to look like this,

  • and now it's more like this,

  • with fruit and veg and herbs sprouting up all over the place.

  • We call it propaganda gardening. (Laughter)

  • Corner row railway, station car park,

  • front of a health center, people's front gardens,

  • and even in front of the police station. (Laughter)

  • We've got edible canal towpaths,

  • and we've got sprouting cemeteries.

  • The soil is extremely good. (Laughter)

  • We've even invented a new form of tourism.

  • It's called vegetable tourism, and believe it or not,

  • people come from all over the world to poke around in our raised beds,

  • even when there's not much growing. (Laughter)

  • But it starts a conversation. (Laughter)

  • And, you know, we're not doing it because we're bored. (Laughter)

  • We're doing it because we want to start a revolution.

  • We tried to answer this simple question:

  • Can you find a unifying language that cuts across age

  • and income and culture that will help people themselves

  • find a new way of living,

  • see spaces around them differently,

  • think about the resources they use differently,

  • interact differently?

  • Can we find that language?

  • And then, can we replicate those actions?

  • And the answer would appear to be yes,

  • and the language would appear to be food.

  • So, three and a half years ago, a few of us

  • sat around a kitchen table and

  • we just invented the whole thing. (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We came up with a really simple game plan that we put to a public meeting.

  • We did not consult. We did not write a report.

  • Enough of all that. (Laughter)

  • And we said to that public meeting in Todmorden,

  • look, let's imagine that our town

  • is focused around three plates:

  • a community plate, the way we live our everyday lives;

  • a learning plate, what we teach our kids in school

  • and what new skills we share amongst ourselves;

  • and business, what we do with the pound in our pocket

  • and which businesses we choose to support.

  • Now, let's imagine those plates agitated

  • with community actions around food.

  • If we start one of those community plates spinning,

  • that's really great, that really starts to empower people,

  • but if we can then spin that community plate

  • with the learning plate, and then spin it with the business plate,

  • we've got a real show there, we've got some action theater.

  • We're starting to build resilience ourselves.

  • We're starting to reinvent community ourselves,

  • and we've done it all without a flipping strategy document.

  • (Applause)

  • And here's the thing as well.

  • We've not asked anybody's permission to do this,

  • we're just doing it. (Laughter)

  • And we are certainly not waiting for that check

  • to drop through the letterbox before we start,

  • and most importantly of all, we are not daunted

  • by the sophisticated arguments that say,

  • "These small actions are meaningless in the face of tomorrow's problems,"

  • because I have seen the power of small actions,

  • and it is awesome.

  • So, back to the public meeting. (Laughter)

  • We put that proposition to the meeting, two seconds,

  • and then the room exploded.

  • I have never, ever experienced anything like that in my life.

  • And it's been the same in every single room, in every town

  • that we've ever told our story.

  • People are ready and respond to the story of food.

  • They want positive actions they can engage in,

  • and in their bones, they know it's time

  • to take personal responsibility

  • and invest in more kindness to each other

  • and to the environment.

  • And since we had that meeting three and a half years ago,

  • it's been a heck of a roller coaster.

  • We started with a seed swap, really simple stuff,

  • and then we took an area of land, a strip on the side

  • of our main road, which was a dog toilet, basically,

  • and we turned it into a really lovely herb garden.

  • We took the corner of the car park in the station

  • that you saw, and we made vegetable beds

  • for everybody to share and pick from themselves.

  • We went to the doctors. We've just had

  • a 6-million-pound health center built in Todmorden,

  • and for some reason that I cannot comprehend,

  • it has been surrounded by prickly plants. (Laughter)

  • So we went to the doctors, said, "Would you mind us taking them up?"

  • They said, "Absolutely fine, provided you get planning permission

  • and you do it in Latin and you do it in triplicate,"

  • so we did — (Laughter) — and now there are fruit trees

  • and bushes and herbs and vegetables

  • around that doctor's surgery.

  • And there's been lots of other examples, like the corn

  • that was in front of the police station,

  • and the old people's home that we've planted it with food

  • that they can pick and grow.

  • But it isn't just about growing,

  • because we all are part of this jigsaw.

  • It's about taking those artistic people in your community

  • and doing some fabulous designs in those raised beds

  • to explain to people what's growing there,

  • because there's so many people that don't really recognize

  • a vegetable unless it's in a bit of plastic

  • with a bit of an instruction packet on the top. (Laughter)

  • So we have some people who designed these things,

  • "If it looks like this, please don't pick it, but if it looks like this,

  • help yourself."

  • This is about sharing and investing in kindness.

  • And for those people that don't want to do either

  • of those things, maybe they can cook,

  • so we pick them seasonally and then we go on the street,

  • or in the pub, or in the church,

  • or wherever people are living their lives.

  • This is about us going to the people and saying,

  • "We are all part of the local food jigsaw,

  • we are all part of a solution."

  • And then, because we know we've got vegetable tourists

  • and we love them to bits and they're absolutely fantastic,

  • we thought, what could we do to give them an even better experience?

  • So we invented, without asking, of course,

  • the Incredible Edible Green Route.

  • And this is a route of exhibition gardens,

  • and edible towpaths, and bee-friendly sites, and the story

  • of pollinators, and it's a route that we designed

  • that takes people through the whole of our town,

  • past our cafes and our small shops, through our market,

  • not just to and fro from the supermarket,

  • and we're hoping that, in changing people's footfall

  • around our town, we're also changing their behavior.

  • And then there's the second plate, the learning plate.

  • Well, we're in partnership with a high school.

  • We've created a company. We are designing and building

  • an aquaponics unit in some land that was spare

  • at the back of the high school, like you do,

  • and now we're going to be growing fish and vegetables

  • in an orchard with bees,

  • and the kids are helping us build that,

  • and the kids are on the board, and because the community

  • was really keen on working with the high school,

  • the high school is now teaching agriculture,

  • and because it's teaching agriculture, we started to think,

  • how could we then get those kids that never had a qualification

  • before in their lives but are really excited about growing,

  • how can we give them some more experience?

  • So we got some land that was donated

  • by a local garden center.

  • It was really quite muddy, but in a truly incredible way,

  • totally voluntary-led, we have turned that

  • into a market garden training center,

  • and that is polytunnels and raised beds

  • and all the things you need to get the soil under your fingers

  • and think maybe there's a job in this for me in the future.

  • And because we were doing that, some local academics said,

  • "You know, we could help design

  • a commercial horticulture course for you.

  • There's not one that we know of."

  • So they're doing that, and we're going to launch it later this year,

  • and it's all an experiment, and it's all voluntary.

  • And then there's the third plate,

  • because if you walk through an edible landscape,

  • and if you're learning new skills, and if you start to get

  • interested in what's growing seasonally,

  • you might just want to spend more of your own money

  • in support of local producers,

  • not just veg, but meat and cheese and beer

  • and whatever else it might be.

  • But then, we're just a community group, you know.

  • We're just all volunteers. What could we actually do?

  • So we did some really simple things.

  • We fundraised, we got some blackboards,

  • we put "Incredible Edible" on the top,

  • we gave it every market trader that was selling locally,

  • and they scribbled on what they were selling in any one week.

  • Really popular. People congregated around it.

  • Sales were up.

  • And then, we had a chat with the farmers, and we said,

  • "We're really serious about this,"

  • but they didn't actually believe us, so we thought,

  • okay, what should we do? I know. If we can create

  • a campaign around one product and show them

  • there is local loyalty to that product,

  • maybe they'll change their mind and see we're serious.

  • So we launched a campaign -- because it just amuses me --

  • called Every Egg Matters. (Laughter)

  • And what we did was we put people on our egg map.

  • It's a stylized map of Togmorden.

  • Anybody that's selling their excess eggs

  • at the garden gate, perfectly legally, to their neighbors,

  • we've stuck on there. We started with four,

  • and we've now got 64 on, and the result of that was

  • that people were then going into shops

  • asking for a local Todmorden egg, and the result of that

  • was, some farmers upped the amount of flocks they got

  • of free range birds, and then they went on to meat birds,

  • and although these are really, really small steps,

  • that increasing local economic confidence

  • is starting to play out in a number of ways,

  • and we now have farmers doing cheese

  • and they've upped their flocks and rare breed pigs,

  • they're doing pasties and pies and things

  • that they would have never done before.

  • We've got increasing market stalls selling local food,

  • and in a survey that local students did for us, 49 percent

  • of all food traders in that town said that their bottom line

  • had increased because of what we were actually doing.

  • And we're just volunteers and it's only an experiment.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, none of this is rocket science.

  • It certainly is not clever, and it's not original.

  • But it is joined up, and it is inclusive.

  • This is not a movement for those people

  • that are going to sort themselves out anyway.

  • This is a movement for everyone.

  • We have a motto: If you eat, you're in. (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Across age, across income, across culture.

  • It's been really quite a roller coaster experience,

  • but going back to that first question that we asked,

  • is it replicable? Yeah. It most certainly is replicable.

  • More than 30 towns in England now are spinning

  • the Incredible Edible plate.

  • Whichever way they want to do it, of their own volition,

  • they're trying to make their own lives differently,

  • and worldwide, we've got communities across America

  • and Japan -- it's incredible, isn't it? I mean,

  • America and Japan and New Zealand.

  • People after the earthquake in New Zealand visited us

  • in order to incorporate some of this public spiritedness

  • around local growing into the heart of Christchurch.

  • And none of this takes more money

  • and none of this demands a bureaucracy,

  • but it does demand that you think things differently