Securing the Future of our Food: Allotments Week 2006

Gardeners and local food activists across the UK were last week celebrating National Allotments Week (14th — 20th of August). Events were held across the country to draw attention to the vibrant and diverse culture of "allotments" — plots of land that are given over by local authorities for the public to grow food. Allotments date back to the early 18th century when much of the rural population were forced off the land and into factories — allotments were a vital means for poor workers to feed themselves. Whilst the country's network of allotments later proved vital in maintaining food security during the two world wars, they fell out of favour in the 1960's as food became cheaper and more readily available. Local authorities began selling off unused plots for development, eventually resulting in the loss of over half of all allotment sites in Britain. However, recent food scares and an increased concern for the environment has seen a new generation of allotmenteers rallying to save these important sites and reclaim their legal rights to an allotment. In fact, the National Allotment Gardens Trust claims that many sites across the country have gone from being 60% empty to being fully let in the last few years alone.

Not only do allotments provide a key source of fresh, local food, they are also havens of biodiversity and a vital community space for plot holders of all ages, professions and cultural backgrounds to meet, swap produce, share skills, recipes, plants and knowledge. For those who are unable to manage a plot on their own, many areas boast community allotments where groups take on responsibility for cultivating a plot collectively. However, whilst the current allotment revival is certainly welcome, the future of allotments is by no means secure. Many sites continue to be threatened by urban development and rising property prices and it is up to local communities to defend their common right to land. The message for all UK residents who value your allotment heritage is clear — use them or lose them. [Written by: Sami Grover]