Pam Warhurst: How Does Food Become A Tool For Connection? Community leader Pam Warhurst says we can enjoy and relate to our food not only by buying it in supermarkets, but by growing it in our town's public spaces and engaging our communities.

Pam Warhurst: How Does Food Become A Tool For Connection?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So how's everyone doing this week? Should we just eat?

PAMELA WARHURST: Well, we're very good on roots. So we can do potatoes and root crops and carrots and rhubarb, the salad crops, the beetroots and the onions and the leaks and all manner of things.

RAZ: This is Pam Warhurst, by the way.

WARHURST: I'm a mom that comes from Todmorden, which is a small town in West Yorkshire.

RAZ: Todmorden...

WARHURST: Todmorden.

RAZ: ...Is in the north of England.

WARHURST: T-O-D-M-O-R-D-E-N.

RAZ: And it turns out it's one of the best places to be...

WARHURST: We're great on soft fruit.

RAZ: ...Just a little bit hungry.

WARHURST: So we're great on raspberries and black currants and white currants and loganberries and strawberries and all sorts of other crops, herbs and kale and you name it. Beans, we do a load of beans, edible flowers and all sorts of things. We're pretty good for apples and pears. We can even grow melons and aubergine. So, yeah, there's no shortage of great things.

RAZ: All that stuff grows in cold, grey and rainy Todmorden. And when we say in Todmorden, well...

WARHURST: You walk down the middle of the town. You come along a canal, there's food growing on either side all the time - to share. It's public food to share. You walk to a police station and there's maize growing in the front of our police station.

RAZ: There's corn in front of the station? Wow.

WARHURST: Absolutely, absolutely in raised beds. In private gardens, people are growing a heck of a lot in front of our college. We've got it at the railway station. We've got it in the park. We've got it along grass verges. We've surrounded our health center with edibles.

RAZ: So if I'm walking through Todmorden and I just, like, I don't know, see like a bell pepper growing and just pick it up and start eating it, nobody's going to say, hey, what are you doing? That's my bell pepper.

WARHURST: No, of course they're not. No, they're not. But the really interesting thing is that it helps throw back some attitudes about individual's behavior. Because as I say, we've got them at the railway station and all over the place. And we've got big signs that say food to share.

RAZ: Wow.

WARHURST: If you want to pick rocket or you want tomatoes or you want to pick a pepper or whatever's there, it's yours to pick. And the truth is nobody picks everything. They pick enough and that's it.

RAZ: Todmorden has been like this for a decade or so, ever since Pam started a movement there to bring the community together around food. And that is how her movement Incredible Edible was born. The idea for it came to her on a train ride one afternoon when she was coming back from an environmental conference.

WARHURST: I had no intentions of doing anything different on that day. I just sat in the audience and listened. And it just suddenly struck me. Why don't I just go home and start to do things differently? I got on a train and I just made up Incredible Edible. And it was a really simple model, really simple. It was just - let's imagine wherever we live - in a borough, a neighborhood, a town, a village, whatever - it works at any scale. We planted edible landscapes everywhere that we could.

RAZ: You just took, like, empty lots and just started planting stuff that...

WARHURST: Just plant food.

RAZ: Yeah. Right.

WARHURST: And then we've got pictures up that show people what's growing there. Sometimes we asked permission, more often than not we might not.

RAZ: So if you just walk through Todmorden in the summertime, you're going to just see fruits and vegetables growing everywhere?

WARHURST: Yeah, you absolutely are. But, you know, this isn't - I often say this isn't Kew Gardens, you know. It's not the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

RAZ: (Laughter).

WARHURST: But we do our flipping best.

RAZ: Here's how Pam explained it on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

WARHURST: 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)

WARHURST: Across age, across income, across culture. Is it replicable? Yeah. It most certainly is replicable. More than 30 towns in England now, whichever way they want to do it, they're - of their own volition, they're trying to make their own lives differently. And worldwide we've got communities across America and - it's incredible, isn't it? I mean, what - 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.

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. But it starts a conversation. And, you know, we're not doing it because we're bored. We're doing it because we want to start a revolution. We try to answer the 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, the spaces around them differently, think about the resource they use differently, interact differently? And the answer would appear to be yes. And language would appear to be food.

RAZ: Most of us just go to the supermarket, pick up a plastic bag of lettuce or a shrink-wrapped styrofoam tray of meat and get on home to make dinner. But we don't always think about how that food got there or how certain forces shaped the choices we make in the supermarket.

So today on the show, Ideas About How We Connect With Food, why we eat certain things and not others, and what the future of food may look or rather taste like. One thing Pam Warhurst showed in Todmorden was how food could spark a change in every part of people's lives.

WARHURST: Plant food. Tell people what's there.

RAZ: Right.

WARHURST: Go on Facebook. Ask them - you know, help themselves. And that starts to reshape the look of the town. And then the next bit - so that's the first step. This next bit is, let's show people how to cook. Let's show people how to grow. Let's show people what's in season. And then let's talk to some of our older citizens who know how to do all that, but nobody's bothering asking them, because if you grow up seeing food all over the place and start to connect with it and if you know what to do with it, you are more likely to think about, if you can, supporting your local markets, your local farmers, your local, you know, food businesses, rather than, without thinking and not meaning any harm, nipping to the supermarket and buying something in a plastic bag that's flown all over the world.

RAZ: Pam, I'm curious because, like, to be able to do this in Todmorden, I mean, the north of England does not have, like, the greatest farmland in the world, right?

WARHURST: Well, it's mixed. No, it's - it's very marginal. It's - it's absolutely marginal. But we just talk about food to get people talking, you know, because, actually, there'll be decreasing amounts of land in many parts of the world that we can grow our food on, but we still need to feed ourselves. So we need to think about, can we grow on rooftops? Well, of course we can. Can we grow up the sides of buildings? Well, of course we can.

And what I think it's - that's happened over the last nine years is people have suddenly opened their eyes to space and seeing their environments in a completely different way and thought, hey, I could grow food on that. And it's fantastic. So even in the north of England, we can change the way we live by thinking about where we grow things, how we grow things and how we share things.

RAZ: I'm totally moving to Todmorden in the summer.

WARHURST: (Laughter) Yeah, well, it's great.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: Pam Warhurst - that movement she started in Todmorden and now in towns all around the world is called Incredible Edible. You can learn more about it in Pam's full TED talk. That's at ted.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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