The Incredible Edibles of Rossendale's Whitaker Park
PUBLISHED: 11:45 15 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:11 05 April 2013
This is Pick Your Own with a twist - the fruit and veg are free. But English reserve means we are slow to take advantage. Autumn Barlow reports
It started as a radical underground movement. Masked figures slipped through the night, seed-bombing wasteland and reclaiming roundabouts. What looked like gardening was, technically, criminal damage it was a world away from community gardens and collective allotments.
Then four years ago, in Todmorden, a small group of people decided to grow herbs in the town for the benefit of community - openly. What started as a modest local initiative has acted like an ideas seed-bomb, sparking off a chain of similar projects. One is in Rossendale.
Im sitting with Paul Scott-Bates in Whitaker Park, Rawtenstall, surrounded by tubs of thriving vegetables and herbs. He explains that around the time of the Todmorden initiative in 2009 he and his wife read a book called Confessions of an Eco-Shopper by Kate Lock.
It had a big impact. I started to think about the little things we can all do. And my wife Joanna said lets do it.
The Incredible Edible idea is simple volunteers use public spaces to grow fruit and vegetables. Anyone can grow them, and anyone can pick them.
With the help of a fellow enthusiast called Souta Creagh, of the Stubbylee Community Greenhouses in Bacup, they held a meeting to gauge interest. Thirty people turned up, but now there are more than 170 on the forum.
Its flourishing. Here at Whitaker Park, there are strawberries in wall baskets, fennel and tomatoes jostling with the Parklemon balm, and rhubarb growing sturdily in a warm corner.
These vegetables and plants are yours, Paul urges. We want people to get involved. Come and pick them! And come and plant things, too.
But people are reserved, in spite of Pauls warm enthusiasm. The sites havent suffered much vandalism, but neither do people feel comfortable with simply helping themselves. Paul is hopeful that this will change.
Awareness is growing. Weve got a blackboard at the Whitaker Park site now, showing whats ready to pick, and that helps.
Its not just about passers-by being able to graze on fruit as they wander past. Theres a three-fold approach. Its 63education and healthy eating, community, and local business engagement too.
This is demonstrated by Joanna, whos sporting a bright yellow t-shirt with the Incredible Edible Rossendale symbol front and back.
We got five schools on board recently, but wed like to partner with more local businesses.
If a caf, for example, wants an apple tree outside, then well put a sticker on it saying Incredible Edible Rossendale, and well publicise them on the website. Its mutual.
This afternoon, there are four of us and two toddlers assembling planters which will be filled with perennials.
Scheduled sessions are notified to volunteers through the forum at www.ierossendale.com but theyre not compulsory.
Id like people to take ownership of a site local to them, Paul says. You dont need our permission. Just go and do it, anytime. The first Rossendale site was a row of boxes outside the Old Library Waterfoot.
Now, theres a smaller garden in Bacup, a hedgerow of fruit trees in Edgeside Park in Waterfoot, and planters springing up in Stacksteads.
We were given over 400 fruit saplings by the Woodland Trust, Paul says. And one of our volunteers planted 100 at Snig Hole in Helmshore. She organised it all herself. She got local school children involved, and gave them cakes for helping.
For Paul, this epitomises the community involvement he wants to encourage. There are no barriers. People can do this, under the Incredible Edible umbrella.
Whats the difference between this and guerrilla gardening? Paul laughs at the question. We have permission. Were organised. Thats probably it, though.
The council has been fully supportive from the start of the Incredible Edible project, providing funding and locations. This site by the museum was the third, and its the flagship. Its central, visible and full of tempting fresh snacks for the visitor to sample.
The first source of funding came from the Co-operative Membership Community Fund. Further money has come from Tesco and Rossendale Borough Council. There have been awards, too.
We won the Best Community Project in the North West and West Midlands from the Co-op, the Business & Community section at the Rossendale Awards, and a North West In Bloom Level 4 award for the RHS Its Your Neighbourhood category. Level 5 is outstanding. Its a remarkable achievement.
Pauls positive that theyre going in the right direction. We want more community and business engagement, he says, and we want to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg. Getting supermarkets to stock more locally sourced food, that would be good, too.
And in the short term? Hes hoping it going to be a good season for strawberries
How To Make A seed-bomb
If you dont have the time to cultivate a patch of land, but you want to add some biodiversity to your area, consider this traditional method used by the original guerrilla gardeners.
Do make sure you only use seeds of wildflowers that are native to your area. You can buy packets from garden centres.
Its simply a mix of clay soil, compost and seeds. Use five parts clay to one part each of compost and seeds, with enough water to form it into a ball. And drop them on your local patches of wasteland just before the next shower of rain!