UK 'Allotments' Boom in Recession - Expanding Access to Affordable Land


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Allotment Culture Thrives in Recession
One of my favourite things about my native UK is the fact that - whatever town or city you go to - you are likely to see large, rambling plots of land teaming with peas, beans, squash, cabbage, fruit trees and flowers - often with a hodgepodge of ramshackle home-made sheds thrown into the mix too. These are allotments - throw backs to the early days of the industrial revolution - when local authorities granted subsidised land to the newly urbanised masses to ensure food security. While the eighties saw many allotment sites being sold off for urban development, demand has once again risen in recent years. But while the law still states that allotment sites must be provided wherever there is sufficient demand, the number of available plots has been declining. Now, according to the Guardian, the global economic downturn is accelerating the allotment revival: recession bites, the growing enthusiasm for homegrown veg has seen more than 100,000 people join waiting lists for a patch of land as demand hits an all-time high. Today, following the initiative of chef and "real food" campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the National Trust is throwing its weight behind a campaign to share unused land, creating up to 1,000 new plots for use as allotments or community gardens.

The trust, the UK's biggest private landowner, also wants to help bridge the skills gap by recruiting an army of green-fingered volunteeers and matching growers with its own expert gardeners. Each of the new growing spaces will be created within a range or rural and urban communities throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and will be registered through the landshare website set up by Fearnley-Whittingstall, an online "matchmaking" database which pairs prospective gardeners with available spaces.

As a former allotment holder myself, I can testify that these institutions provide unparalleled access to land at a tiny fee - I believe I paid somewhere in the region of UKĀ£40 a year (US$60), for a 30' x 30' plot that included a shed. Beyond the simple economics of it, as a novice gardener I was able to learn from my neighboring allotment holders - a diverse mix of round-up-happy old timers and organic-only hippies - and was also exposed to gardening styles from all over the world through the mix of European, Jamaican, Korean and Indian-heritage gardeners. So I'm delighted to see allotment culture on the rise once more - it's really one of the best things about my country.

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