Countesswells leads the crusade to make landscapes edible

9th March 2018

The will to live life differently can start in some of the most unusual places. Our crusade to get people thinking more about their surroundings, find a new way of living around growing, eating and cooking food began around the kitchen table. We started then what has become a revolution which we call propaganda gardening.

At Countesswells, there’s a true revolution already in place and the wonderful thing is it hasn’t happened by chance, nor has it evolved from someone’s living room, it’s been built-in right at the very start by the developers.

The new town of Countesswells is getting off to the very best of starts, before most of the families who will eventually form the community have even moved in!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to open the Countesswells community orchard and was privileged to see first-hand the amazing work that has gone into creating a true community. This is a development, which not only blends in with the natural environment but also has the community firmly at its heart with a focus on creating exciting, community-oriented spaces such as the new Cults Burn Park, the wildflower meadow, the playpark and the orchard. Instead of having to retrofit attractive, sustainable spaces into a new development, the community at Countesswells will be able to build from these strong roots.

When we founded Incredible Edible we tried to answer this 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, see spaces around them differently, think about the resources they use differently, interact differently? Can we find that language? And then, can we replicate those actions? And the answer would appear to be yes, and the language would appear to be food.

Our ethos is that towns are focused around three plates. A community one, the way we live our everyday lives. A learning plate, what we teach our kids in school and what new skills we share amongst ourselves. And a business plate, what we do with the pound in our pocket and which businesses we choose to support.

If we start one of those community plates spinning, that starts to empower people. But if we can then spin that community plate with the learning plate, and then spin it with the business plate, we've got a real show there, we've got some action theatre. We're starting to build resilience ourselves. We're starting to reinvent community ourselves.

People often say small actions are meaningless in the face of tomorrow's problems, but that’s not true because I have seen the power of small actions, and it is awesome.

People are ready and respond to the story of food. They want positive actions they can engage in. They know it's time to take personal responsibility and invest in more kindness to each other and to the environment.

The community orchard at Countesswells could be the start of a real revolution in Aberdeen. In our town, we turned a communal area known as the “dog toilet” into an attractive, educational, growing space. We then turned to the doctor’s surgery where there were prickly plants and where there are now fruit trees and bushes and herbs and vegetables. And there's been lots of other examples, like the corn that was in front of the police station, and the old people's home that we've planted it with food that they can pick and grow.

But it isn't just about growing, because we all are part of this jigsaw. It's about taking those artistic people in your community and doing some fabulous designs in those raised beds to explain to people what's growing there, because there's so many people that don't really recognize a vegetable unless it's in a bit of plastic with a bit of an instruction packet on the top. So, we have some people who designed these things, "If it looks like this, please don't pick it, but if it looks like this, help yourself." This is about sharing and investing in kindness.

And for those people that don't want to do either of those things, maybe they can cook, so we pick them seasonally and then we go on the street, or in the pub, or in the church, or wherever people are living their lives. This is about us going to the people and saying, "We are all part of the local food jigsaw, we are all part of a solution."

More than 30 towns in England now are spinning the Incredible Edible plates. Whichever way they want to do it, of their own volition, they're trying to make their own lives differently, and worldwide, we've got communities across America and Japan.

And none of this takes more money and none of this demands a bureaucracy, but it does demand that you think things differently and you are prepared to bend budgets and work programmes to create that supportive framework that communities can bounce off. And that’s what they’ve done at Countesswells with the orchard only the beginning of creating edible landscapes

There are so many things you can do, but ultimately this is about something really simple. Through an organic process, through an increasing recognition of the power of small actions, we are starting, at last, to believe in ourselves again, and to believe in our capacity, each and every one of us, to build a different and a kinder future, and in my book, that's incredible.

And what they are doing at Countesswells is amazing. I’m looking forward to returning to see the community as it thrives and it surely will as it’s got off to an incredible start!

Pamela Warhurst CBE
Community activist and founder of Incredible Edible