Trying Not to Lose The Plot
on Monday, 29 July 2013. Posted in N21 Community
Let's face it – allotments have become cool. Our preconceptions of them and their keepers have changed. Today, you are more likely to see a young, suited, city-gent watering his globe fennel before work, or a yummy-mummy and her child after school, picking cherry tomatoes on their plots, than you are to see the flat-capped, senior citizen we commonly associate with allotments. This hackneyed image of a plot holder, a vestige of the Dig for Victory, golden age of allotments, has all but departed and been replaced by a more contemporary breed, capturing the Zeitgeist, keen to grow their own food and get closer to nature.
Allotments have been with us for hundreds of years, coming to the fore under the rigour of rationing during World War II so that people could supplement their diets with fresh produce. So why have they endured? Why are waiting lists for plots so long? And do we still have a need for them?
In today's economic climate, undoubtedly we do. The take-up of allotments seems to increase in times of recession, and no more so than now, when food banks are more in demand than ever before and food prices are rising. Food and cookery programmes have much to answer for too. 'Foodies', in their search for tastier and more unusual ingredients, disappointed by the limited choice, turn to their allotments, as farmers and supermarkets focus on fewer varieties and often allow flavour to play second fiddle to fruit and vegetables that will travel, store and present well on a shelf.
This new breed of plot holder also extols the fact that growing your own reduces food miles and promotes seasonal eating. But the benefits of allotments go further than the production of seasonal, flavoursome and environmentally low-impact food.
When I took over my own plot, it was during a period of convalescence following a back operation. I have no doubt that working on the allotment improved both my physical and psychological health. Not only was I revitalised, I was swiftly accepted into a welcoming community: a community full of eccentric characters from diverse backgrounds and cultures, united by a love of the land, of growing fruit and vegetables and nature. The rehabilitative benefits of allotments and horticulture can be attested to by many: Thrive is a charity which uses gardening to transform the lives of those with disabilities; prisons use gardens as a means not only to teach new skills, but to provide a space for calm and reflection.
The social benefits of allotments should not be understated. Social gatherings –barbecues and end of season shows - are commonplace. And though allotments and their ubiquitous sheds are celebrated places to escape your wife, some have hooked-up with their future partners on the plot; couples and families are prevalent.
Of course, allotments are not without their difficulties. Where communities form, conflict follows, and site managers are often called upon to resolve neighbourly disputes. Thefts of tools and produce are unfortunate but regular occurrences.
For many plot holders it is the spectre of eviction; the possibility that the local council will take away all that is dear to them and build high-density housing, that troubles them most. Many fear that councils are raising rents in an effort to drive people off the land and, in effect, preclude those who most need the tranquillity of an outdoor space.
Do we still need allotments? Resoundingly – yes. Mankind has detached itself from the earth. "To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil, is to forget ourselves," said Ghandi. We grow fat and sluggish in offices, trading pseudo-commodities, futures, derivatives, figures: mere representations of the very things we have forgotten how to grow. We need to get closer to the soil and learn to appreciate where our food comes from.
For many, allotments are not only necessary – they are vital. Allotments endure as the tribulations of life endure.
Allotments are a haven, a diversion from monotony and misfortune. They comfort and succour those in need. They endure as our love for the outdoors, for community and for the love of nature endures. Central and local governments should not only seek to preserve existing sites, they should dedicate more land to allotments.
George Mournehis is a local writer whose ebook – The Mulberry Tree – is published on Kindle and is available from Amazon.co.uk.
The Mulberry Tree follows the adventures of the morally reprehensible Marcus Lamb, and how his life takes a different path after he inherits his grandfather's allotment.
Let's face it – allotments have become cool. Our preconceptions of them and their keepers have changed. Today, you are more likely to see a young, suited, city-gent watering his globe fennel before work, or a yummy-mummy and her child after school, picking cherry tomatoes on their plots, than you are to see the flat-capped, senior citizen we commonly associate with allotments