It would be an exaggeration to call it a fracas, or a row, but there was a moment of tension when the older woman challenged the younger man by the Borough Park rockery. He was busy with a trowel on what later turned out to be a herb bed, and must have looked to her like unwarranted interference. There was a things-are-about-to-kick-off vibe that made those of us nearby prick up our ears, stop and look – certainly enough tension to make the breaking of it a notable and pleasing moment in itself, a sigh of relief and of pleasure all round.

You probably know about Incredible Edible. I learnt about it from a Pam Warhurst talk at TEDxExeter. Pam co-founded Incredible Edible Todmorden, a local food partnership that encourages community engagement through local growing. They started small, with the planting of a few community herb gardens in Todmorden, and today have spin-offs around the world. The group in Totnes started over ten years ago, planting nut and fruit trees all over town.

The woman in the park was being brave and civic-minded. The trowel-wielder was startled and, for a second, defensive. It could have gone the wrong way. But it didn’t: this is Totnes after all.

People told Pam Warhurst and her Incredible Edible co-founders that people wouldn’t respect the growing veg. Kids would vandalise them. No one would look after them. This is not what’s happened. Those who notice them at all tend to look after them, pick a few weeds, take pleasure in their being there. Pride, even. I went to Brixton once to interview growers for a film about Transition towns. They spoke of the veg-growing tradition brought by Windrush Jamaicans, kept alive by subsequent generations, and of how teenagers on the estate would protect their plots, let it be known they were under their protection.

In the slow-burning we’ll-get-there-one-day musical that I’m writing with my friend Tommy, there’s a scene where a group of disaffected teens hear about guerrilla gardening and the Incredible Edible movement. In our show they defy the older characters’ expectations by being ahead of the curve. Excluded from school, they hang out down at the allotment where they proudly and defiantly grow ‘Veg on the Edge’. The following extract from their song is somewhere in the vicinity of a rap or maybe hip hop.


I’m growing Veg on the Edge out beyond the borders
I’m the thin end of the wedge, I don’t follow orders

I make my own luck, build my own edifice
From butternut, broccoli, leeks and lettuces
Butternut, broccoli, chickpea, celery
Chicory, check it out, broad bean, Brussel sprout

I got sorrel in my song, I got beans in my ballad
Everyone can sing along, it’s not rocket salad

Couch potato? Not me, I make my own chutney

My pumpkin’s really something. My radishes are radical
I’ve got feelings for my soft fruit. My parsnips are prodigal

My fennel is phenomenal, my spinach is unstoppable
My massive mammoth marrow’s mathematically improbable

Critical critics who diss and disparage us
Button their lips when they taste my asparagus
They judge my clothes, they judge my accent
Till they see me digging rows with my Spear & Jackson

They see I’m a provider, a doer, a digger
Then they realise I’m a … motherfigure

The green stuff I grow there, I can make a meal with it
Got my spade, my fork, my hoe there – yeah, deal with it

Living in a world with a vegetable prejudice
Living on the edge of a vegetable precipice
Growing’s the one thing I can believe in
You make your own bed then you sow the seeds in.

Matt Harvey is a performance poet.