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Group of older people sitting at raised beds gardening Group of older people sitting at raised beds gardening

If You Eat, You’re In

By Sara Venn

In the early days of Incredible Edible Todmorden our motto, “If you eat, you’re in” found it’s way into the vocabulary that we all now use across our network. But what does it actually mean and why is it so important, especially now?

People like a motto but they rarely dissect it. However in a society that is divided and often polarised it’s important to be clear on what it really means and why it’s so important. Whilst it may seem like a somewhat throwaway comment, rather than an important piece of policy, it is actually a key tool for groups as they set up and start to connect their communities.

To look at this we need to return to the start and remember that Incredible Edible has never been about food growing, but about social justice and connecting communities. Whilst obviously food is a vital part of that, be it as community gardeners, local producers, cooks or whatever, food is the thing we use to support our aims of creating a more just society and more connected communities that can support a local, thriving economy. Food is our tool to do all the other work we do.

In that context “if you eat you’re in” suddenly becomes a policy. It supports total community inclusion and is aimed at supporting people to use their skills to be involved in their local Incredible Edible group, placing a huge importance on whatever those skills might be in order to encourage people to be involved. Certainly most groups need gardeners and cooks, who share those skills across the community, but what other skills might groups need? And how do groups engage with the whole community when there might be barriers in the way? Language, loneliness, poor health, both physical and mental, people feeling they are just too busy, don’t have the skills they perceive they need, or just feeling too shy, are all issues where it might be extremely challenging to engage people so how do we do this in a bottom up, non hierarchical way?

Networks are what are important here. We all have our own networks and whilst traditionally this would mean friends, neighbours and colleagues, we can now add online networks and look for other networks there are around us that might support Incredible Edible. From local health centres, to schools, local charitable organisations and small, local businesses, local networks will appear if you look for them, and whilst they may not be able to be directly involved in our direct action, these networks, and the ability to engage with them, supports a whole community to be involved in the project, and for it to morph from a project into something that your town or city just does.

Communication is also vital in the fight to be fully inclusive. Whilst social media is a great invention for those of us using it, it needs to be remembered that those vulnerable groups that are difficult to address are often not plugged into social networks. We must ensure that we find ways to communicate messages, be that through posters, flyers, talks or just going to places where people meet and chatting about what we do and how everyone is welcome.

But what is also important is working out how everyones skills can be used and this can take some thought but in the long term is the solution to how we connect folk. Whilst some will relish in growing and cooking how do we find things for others to do? In fact, it’s quite simple. Asking people to tell a group what it is they are offering is often the way to go here and can have amazing results. Someone with little time and plumbing skills for example may never plant a lettuce but could be the solution to water capture, and equally someone unable to garden through disability but who writes for a living could be the answer to who writes a newsletter or a blog. There is always a space for everyone to use whatever skills they feel confident in bringing to the table. It’s up to the individual and the group to work out how that is best used to support the community.

Whilst engagement is always a challenge for Incredible Edible groups it’s also core to our being and we would love to hear any amazing stories from groups who have found solutions to this in their areas. Why not get in touch and tell us your tales…..