One town and 26 public gardens = free food
Public gardens take root in parking lots and even a huge Victorian cemetery in Todmorden, England.
Gardening has long been something of a national sport in Britain. But while Britons are spending as much time as ever digging and weeding, many have been choosing lately to plant food — turnips instead of tulips — with a gusto not seen since their country's World War II Dig for Victory campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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The trend is unusually visible in Todmorden, a market town about 200 miles northwest of London, where residents have planted crops in dozens of public places. Young cherry trees adorn the police station. The entrance to the health center is decorated with raspberry bushes and apple trees. And the local train station's platform is green with mint and rosemary.
"It takes a leap of faith to grow in a graveyard, to be corny," said resident Mary Clear, as she bent over and pinched a weed sprouting between an onion and a strawberry plant in Todmorden's vast Victorian cemetery.
The community-wide effort began about 18 months ago when Ms. Clear, an energetic woman who works for the town government, sneakily started planting seeds in her spare time with a few friends. Any nook, cranny, and postage-stamp-size bit of land was up for grabs.
The campaign blossomed with the plants, and now the movement operates under the name Incredible Edible Todmorden and receives funding and support from the local council and businesses.
"It makes people interact with their town," said Estelle Brown. a local Web designer, as she snapped a pea from a vine growing next to the town's canal and ate it.
Many space-starved Britons who do not live in towns such as Todmorden, where rhubarb-for-free nods outside the local pub, grow food on allotments.
Britain has about 300,000 such community gardens, which are protected under legislation dating to 1887. But demand far exceeds supply, with about 100,000 people on waiting lists — a number that has jumped nearly 700 percent in the past 12 years, according to Geoff Stokes, secretary of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.
The budding interest in growing food began about three years ago, Mr. Stokes said, citing a collision of factors, including popular cooking and gardening television shows presented by influential chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; a growing interest in the environmental costs of imported food (some food sold here carries labels approximating how much carbon it emits during its lifetime); and the penny-watching that has followed the recession, helping to "tip wavering people over the edge," as Stokes put it.
In a recent report on food security, the British government said the country, which imports almost 40 percent of its food, needs to find ways to produce more food with fewer resources. The report cited concerns over climate change, water supplies, population growth and food prices.
"We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food," said Hilary Benn, the environment secretary.