Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Sunday Garden Shed!

When is an allotment not an allotment?

The debate of what constitutes an allotment hit the news this week.  An allotment holder was taken to task for growing fruit trees on his patch (Telegraph 16th August).  The allotment holder was told that three-quarters of the allotment should be put to "productive crops".  A very loose term generally but not in this case apparently.

The picture to the left is an allotment society's plot that I was involved in a few years ago.  The trust that owned the allotments was apparently divided over whether to sell the land for housing.  This is a very rural village in West Suffolk. Arguably West Suffolk is one of the least developed areas for housing in the East of England because it is still essentially an Industrial Landscape.  An agricultural industrial landscape and has been so for hundreds of years.  It could be argued that without the Agriculture of Suffolk the sprawling metropolis of London would not have been able to grow.   

The value we put on allotments is very much in the eye of the beholder.  Allotments were originally provided for low paid workers to give access to the means of supplementing your own diet by growing your own.  Today we have food banks that can be used to supplement diets set up on the back of overbuying and production by the supermarkets.  A laudable green solution to disposing of mountains of food that the supermarkets would otherwise bin.  This, however, reflects a little of the aid culture we have developed.  Instead of giving food to developing nations (from whom we buy our supermarket produce all year round) We are now doing it at home with finished and packaged goods.  Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give a man a fishing rod and he could also eat tomorrow.

In an ideal world it would be argued that everybody grow at least part of their own food.  However, in the time poor and on demand requirement for cheap food this is a rose tinted view.  Or is it? We tend to look at the cost of small parts of the food supply chain.  In supermarkets we buy either on price or perceived quality indicated by the marketing packaging.  The food contains the same major nutrients but may have those nutrients processed more or less depending on perceived added quality.  Everyday value brand or premium brand (often the same product) is a "choice" for the consumer.  Looking closer at the produce we have the major food chemical components of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous (and not forgetting water since  lettuce's water content is 94.5% making a 500g lettuce roughly half a litre of water) being transported at great expense around the world.  Kenya as an example may produce beans of different types all year round but is exporting a major source of nitrogen to northern Europe.  To produce grain it would then have to import nitrogen generated from expensive and potentially insecure oil supplies.  This is without considering the cost of composting waste nitrogen in Europe and the effects of eutrophication. How long before Kenyan economists start to do the maths and decide like Russia did last year that domestic consumption is more important and cost effective than the balancing act of  food export income and food production costs?   

In Haverhill we have the pressure of our green areas and allotments being developed  This is reflected in moves a foot nationally to build on green belt land, again!  A food security question needs to be addressed with a concern that globalisation may have made western consumerism vulnerable.  The  vulnerability being  of home consumption in the country of production as  populations becomes more affluent! 

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