Demand for suitable land soars as ‘townies’ get their hands dirty for relaxation and healthy, seasonal eating, says Claire Smith
AFTER more than six years on the waiting list, Tracy Griffen and her husband Andrew finally got their patch of land.
Like thousands of other city dwellers, they longed for a small, green space where they could grow vegetables and flowers, be in the outdoors and have a little peace of mind.
Finally they got their heart’s desire and inherited a plot at the edge of Leith Links in Edinburgh. It was waist-deep in nettles and took weeks to dig over, but it was theirs.
Tracy says: “We both grew up in families where people gardened, but we never thought much about it until we reached our thirties. Then we suddenly became interested in growing things.”
Since getting their allotment two years ago they have both come to love it – “My husband works as an investment accountant but I call him Farmer Andrew. He finds it really relaxing.”
Griffen, a personal trainer who specialises in seasonal eating and seasonal exercise regimes, says having their own patch of land has changed the couple’s eating habits: “I have started eating stuff I wouldn’t normally eat. I never really ate radishes before, but they are so easy to grow and I love them.”
Currently the crops growing on the little plot include beans, kohlrabi, asparagus, rhubarb and herbs. The plot costs £80 a year to rent and is, says Tracy, like having your own little club where you can enjoy the outdoors.
There is no doubt that allotments, once the preserve of old men in flat caps, have become cool. But demand far outstrips demand and historically they are on the decline.
Ernie Watt, who is a committee member of Fedaga, the Federation of Edinburgh and District Allotments and Gardens Association, says: “There are currently 2,500 applicants on the waiting list in Edinburgh and it takes roughly seven years to get a plot.”
It is hard to quantify the number of allotments in the capital because the council has started to subdivide plots. Fedaga estimates there are around 1,250 in total, but the council puts the total number at 1,334. In the 1950s, when rationing was still in place and the Government was encouraging Brits to grow their own, there were around 5,000 allotments in Edinburgh.
However, the tide is beginning to turn. After allotments at Hawkhill, near Easter Road, were lost to the developers in 2000 Fedaga got radical and started talking tough with the council. The allotment-holders agreed to increases in rents – provided the council agreed to look around for other suitable sites which could be converted into new plots.
In 2011 three new sites in the capital were converted into allotments at Drumbryden, Inchkeith Court and India Place, Stockbridge – adding 64 plots to the total. Councillor Lesley Hinds, environment convener, said: “Here in Edinburgh we’re at the forefront of providing high-quality allotment sites for our residents. The city’s robust allotment strategy sets out key goals to achieve by 2015 and in the last few years we have created five new allotment sites as part of an ongoing programme of work to reduce our lengthy waiting list. ”
The Scottish Government is currently in the midst of a consultation process to see if similar initiatives can be rolled out across the country.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:“Through the consultation on the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill we are also looking at how communities can take on unused public sector land – which could help people grow their own food – and exploring how allotment legislation could be modernised. I would encourage the public to take part and share their views.
“We are fully committed to supporting community allotments and opportunities to grow your own, which is an excellent way to source fresh and seasonal produce. That’s why in May we announced a £600,000 support package, including £450,000 over three years for the Central Scotland Green Network Development Fund. We’re keen to spread the word so more Scots get involved and supported the creation of www.growyourown.info to make this happen.
“It’s important that people are more aware of what foods are in season and our new Eat in Season app is a freely available resource that will help persuade more people to eat seasonally, with easy-to-use ingredient search functions and around 230 delicious recipes.”
But there are some who doubt the Scottish Government is using the right means to get its message across. Interestingly, Tracy Griffen, who has a background in community activism and who has published a book on seasonal eating and fitness called the Healthy Living Yearbook, has never heard of the Scottish Government strategy on seasonal eating or on allotments.
Some people believe ministers are putting too much faith in expensive PR companies, shiny apps and websites and not doing what really matters and getting down on the ground to talk to people.
Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, said: “We still have thousands of people on waiting lists while land earmarked for developments that are unlikely to happen turns to scrub. SNP ministers seem to think employing a PR firm to punt a pile of fluff is enough.
“Growing your own is a great way to stay fit, socialise with other members of the community, reduce food miles, and reduce food costs. ”
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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