Free Veggies for All! Should We Follow the British Example?

Sign announcing free vegetables in public space A few British towns are turning available land into vegetable gardens, then inviting neighbors to help themselves. Image: Incredible Edible Todmorden

Planting flowers in public spaces adds beauty to any area, but what if vegetables were planted there instead?

Have you noticed abandoned patches of land in your community suddenly springing to life? It could be the work of an underground movement called guerrilla gardening — the practice of taking unused land and planting it with flowers and shrubs, just to beautify the area a bit.

Now, a group of British women are bringing the same concept to light — except their aim is not only to beautify, but to feed their neighborhood.

Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, believe flowers are well and good, but planting vegetables in public spaces would benefit their town much more. Incredible Edible Todmorden replaces flowers in public gardens with vegetables, then invites local residents to help themselves to ripe veggies whenever they like, free of charge. This means food has to travel much fewer miles to get to hungry mouths, reducing impact on the environment.

Within 10 years, they aim to have their town producing their own fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products.

Norah Hamill, who runs a similar project in the nearby town of Huddersfield, encourages her neighbors to plant vegetables wherever possible — back yards, public gardens, schools, even cemeteries. Shopkeepers and café owners are invited to put container gardens outside their establishments, and passersby can pick at will.

Occasional acts of vandalism, or people taking more than their fair share, can be expected, but organizers still say the educational and environmental benefits outweigh this risk.

Incredible Edible Todmorden and Incredible Edible Huddersfield have already been inundated with donated seeds, tools, and volunteers. Other nearby towns, such as Wilmslow and Wakefield, are following suit with their own community agriculture.

Do you think Americans would be open to adopting this practice?