In the centre of our office we have a table where we normally have a bowl of fruit for all the staff to help themselves throughout the day. Admittedly it sometimes also has cake, or strangely-labelled sweets from far-flung holiday destinations! At the moment though the table is also groaning under the weight of produce from an allotment. This allotment, which probably should be called a small-holding given its size, belongs to our chairman Barry and his wife Ann and is situated only about 100 yards from our desks.
They are currently generously sharing their harvest of cucumbers and courgettes with us, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. There are also peas, carrots, raspberries, onions, squash and onions to name a few. The produce means that they can eat from the allotment all year round with seasonal fruit and vegetables such as spinach, rhubarb and asparagus overlapping with potatoes and broccoli.
While undoubtedly a lot of work, the rewards are massive. Barry says during the summer months it is easy to be able to eat five different vegetables at a meal and all of them are grown without using any chemicals at all. He uses mulch sources such as spent mushroom compost and leaf mould (which has been generating for a few years), and this means he has been able to turn a very sandy soil into a plot that now has around 18 inches of rich topsoil.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 330,000 allotment plots in the UK, covering over 82 million square metres of ground. However, there are often huge waiting lists for plots, and so in theory another 90,000 plots are required to meet the demand. In some places, a waiting list of up to forty years is reported. There is clearly a lot of interest in allotments, and this is typically in urban areas, not surprisingly.
In 2012, it was stated in a House of Commons report that the plots in England and Wales are capable of producing more than 240,000 tons of food. This is equivalent to 116 journeys by 40-ton articulated lorries each week.
So it’s clear that having an allotment, or growing your own produce, can have a massive impact on the environment in terms of food miles, as well as packaging and pesticide use, not to mention the money saved in the supermarket. But it can also reap rewards in terms of personal satisfaction and the mental benefits of growing your own produce.
Gardening is an age-old activity so there’s the feeling of connection to the land, and the people who have farmed that land for generations. Experiments have shown it can reduce stress levels and because it is a moderate intensity level activity it can help reduce risk of various conditions such as heart disease, depression, obesity and diabetes. It has even been proven that gardeners or people who spend a lot of time outside have a more diverse microbiome – exposure to dirt gives you a more varied bacteria makeup.
National Allotments Week, which runs from 12-18 August, marks a good time to think about how all of us might aim to connect with the environment. Even if we just committed to a pot of herbs or planted a few seeds – from small seeds big things grow!
Louise Stanley, Symprove