Food security, sustainability and self-sufficiency are the current buzzphrases of the foodie world and, coupled with a growing awareness of the health benefits of locally grown produce, it seem a no-brainer that ordinary people should have speedy and legal access to local land in which to grow their own food.
Yet for various reasons, the allotments system has been in near-stasis for years. I was recently informed that my long-standing application to join a bijou allotment in Glasgow's West End was now moving up the list and that I'd only have to wait around another 80 years to get one; similar stories are common.
Given the combo of high demand and scarcity it's understandable that those lucky enough to have an allotment cling on to it for life. Conversely, frustrated residents who start growing on an abandoned site can find themselves having to fight to keep it; the residents who run the North Kelvin Meadow in Glasgow's west end, for example, have spent years battling plans to sell the local authority-owned land to a property developer.
All around us is evidence that the grow-your-own movement is gaining momentum. Tomatoes, beans and peas growing in pots on the front steps of tenement flats is a relatively new development in Glasgow, driven, I suspect, by the immigrant population for whom daily fresh veg consumption is the norm. Each time I walk around certain parts of the city I see more disused sites transformed into temporary kitchen gardens. I have friends who, fed up with waiting for an allotment, have built raised beds in their communal back gardens and share their crops among neighbours. Several young Scots I know grow herbs and lettuces on their windowsills, and dream of having their own gardens one day.
The Scottish Government's consultation on whether the current allotment policy needs to be updated and changed ended earlier last September (the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892 was amended by the Land Settlement (Scotland) Act 1919 and the Allotment (Scotland) Acts of 1922 and 1950). A further consultation ended in May and a draft Bill is in development for introduction to the Scottish Parliament in 2014.
Meanwhile, a hugely successful community allotment is flourishing in an area of Glasgow which has hitherto been infamous for having the lowest life expectancy in Europe thanks to poor diet and lack of exercise.
The Shettleston Growing Project is the brainchild of a group of neighbours fed up with having no access to fresh fruit and veg and determined to grow healthy food, imporove their diets and save money into the bargain. They got their act together and in 2011 successfully applied for funds to the Climate Change Fund and Glasgow City Council, using the cash to turn a derelict site into allotments, a community garden and a mini-orchard; they have gone on to add a polytunnel and a potting shed. Through this, local children are learing about seasonality and the basics of growing fresh produce. Life expectancy is now on the rise.
I've long felt that Shettleston should have a farmers' market, but I think I've changed my mind. Real and lasting change is coming through people power.
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