Celebrate World Kitchen Garden Day by eating local and supporting new shared ventures, says Rosemary Free
As communities across the world get set to celebrate World Kitchen Garden Day tomorrow, the demand for space to raise home-grown fruit and vegetables in Scotland has never been higher.
While there are around 3,000 people on the waiting list for allotments in Edinburgh alone, it is believed the actual number of people interested in a grow-your-own-veg plot could be double that number.
The story is repeated across the country and especially in the Central Belt, where around 70 per cent of Scotland’s population live.
World Kitchen Garden Day was started in 2004 by the US-based organisation Kitchen Gardeners International in response to Snack Food Month – a publicity campaign for the International Snack Food Association.
The goal was to celebrate the positive role of organic kitchen gardening in society, health and gastronomy and to raise awareness about the benefits of eating locally, encouraging people to explore food options in their neighbourhood.
In this country, the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) – Europe’s largest environmental initiative – has set out to increase the area of land used by communities for growing plants, fruit and vegetables by awarding nearly £1.5 million from its development fund to 23 different community growing and orchard projects in the last three years.
“The whole issue of community growing is a significant part of our work,” says Keith Geddes, chair of the organisation’s partnership board. “There’s a huge amount of demand right across the Central Belt.”
Community growing, which takes kitchen gardening a step further and involves shared growing spaces, is central to the CSGN vision of creating an environment which supports healthy lifestyles and good mental and physical well-being.
“There’s a number of things we think are important,” says Geddes. “First there’s the point that the food that is grown by individuals offsets the costs of rising food prices, which obviously are going to continue rising for some time to come. So it’s a resource for people who are hard pressed with increased food costs.
“Secondly it fits in with the preventative health agenda, getting people active. Allotments and gardens improve their physical health and they have also been shown to help people’s mental health, particularly in terms of relaxation, so it’s got that side of it too.
“The third thing is the educational side. The whole issue about food security and food supply in the current global climate is quite important too.”
Organisations that have received funding include the Carr Gomm project in Lochend, Edinburgh, which was given funding to provide training advice and support for people growing their own fruit and vegetables, and the Forth Environment Link which set up an orchard initiative in the Forth valley to encourage the creation and management of orchards.
For Geddes, taking on sites which because of the economic recession have not been developed is going to be a growing trend in the CSGN’s work for the next few years.
“We’re looking at developing temporary green projects where maybe for five or ten years, vacant or derelict land where appropriate can be developed for allotment space,” he says.
The Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust created a new shared garden on vacant land in Craigmillar and in Stirling, Raploch Community Partnership transformed a stalled development site into an open growing space.
In 2010, CSGN awarded £90,000 to the Glasgow Community Growing Project to develop a range of new opportunities in the area, including at Mansewood Allotments, where 20 new plots were added to the site and at Kennyhill Community Allotments.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow’s Southside the Urban Roots initiative received funding to transform a brownfield site into a market garden. It has created allotment plots for people in the local community as well as a market garden growing produce for sale to shops such as the Blether, a community cafe in Toryglen, and Fresh & Fruity, a fruit and vegetable shop in Mount Florida.
Project co-ordinator Emma Iller says there are two main strands to their work. “One is to get fresh, organically grown, affordable food into our local community. That’s partly through the shops where we’re selling stuff, and also the volunteers who come out and garden with us get to take produce home with them for free.
“The other is we get around 30 volunteers a week who come and garden with us. Quite a lot of them have additional support needs of different kinds, so it has quite a therapeutic benefit.”
Another project to benefit from funding from the CSGN was a Scottish Allotment and Garden Society (SAGS) guide on how to build allotments which was launched this summer.
Co-author of Scotland’s Allotment Site Design Guide, Peter Wright, says it was written to dispel a misconception among the general public and local government planners that allotments are untidy and do not fit in with community amenities.
“We were running into major problems, as reported by our members all over Scotland, that planning applications for allotments were being turned down,” he says. “We were having grave difficulty trying to get the message out that allotments were not unsightly and that they could be quite beautiful and very attractive places.
“We had lots of ideas which we sent out to our members and then we hit upon the idea of producing an overall allotment design guide which looked at every aspect of designing an allotment. If we could get that widely recognised and endorsed by all the major players, including the Scottish Government, that then would become the bible, not only for the planners and local government, but also for groups who wanted to set up their own allotments. It also could be applicable to community gardens.”
Wright says the guide has been written as a living document, with people asked to put forward ideas, changes and improvements which can be added at a later date.
In the meantime, he says, initiatives like World Kitchen Garden Day highlight what is important in today’s society.
“It’s one of the many facets which the world is concentrating on these days. The general public really want to know what’s going on with their food. They want to be assured their food doesn’t contain chemicals, it’s healthy, the food miles have been reduced drastically and the carbon footprint of producing the food has been reduced. People are far more concerned with conserving the planet.
“We are more aware there’s a finite limit to the world’s resources. It’s a no-brainer, it’s not rocket science. The general public is far more concerned. That’s why there’s such a huge upsurge in the demand for allotments in Scotland.”
For more information on Central Scotland Green Network, visit www.centralscotlandgreennetwork.org