20 Feb 2009

More about need for allotments

I only learnt recently that the first review Gordon Brown commissioned on becoming Prime Minister was an analysis of food issues. The resulting report published last July and concluded that: ‘existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future’, and ‘existing patterns of food consumption will result in our society being loaded with a heavy burden of obesity and diet-related ill health.’

Photo: Monty Don photo pinched from somewhere - apols I can't credit it

Unfortunately, the Strategy Unit paper appears to be a ‘minority report’ and not the major influence over Government policy on food and farming. We need to change this. The UK’s precarious food supply needs attention - one way is to mobilise the nations 11 million gardeners. They will be able to grow food for their family and for the community and also help spread greater understanding about our food, quality and supply.

The Soil Association have launched a campaign headed by TV gardening personality Monty Don. As well as mobilising the nation’s gardeners, the Soil Association and Monty are also lobbying central and local government to create more allotments. Apparently in some areas there is an 80 year waiting list! Monty called the shortage of allotments as a disgrace and said because people do not feel ownership of their food they are less worried about throwing it away.

He apparently went on to call in his speech for a tighter definition of 'local food' as 'food miles' has really become an obsolete blunt tool for talking about food. He also stressed the importance of gardening and reconnecting people with food: "The real food world happens as much in the back garden as on a 100 acre farm. Unless we harness the skills and resources of gardeners then our whole approach to feeding ourselves will suffer." He also attacked industrial agriculture as promoting a 'failure of trust' for which we 'should be ashamed of ourselves'.

Fewer than 1% of the population now work in agriculture - one of the lowest percentages in the world. In 1900 this was 40%. Some 61% of our food is produced domestically, but imports make up a large percentage of food, for example 90% of fruit is imported, as opposed to 40% in France. If you look at apples in a supermarket – which used to be Britain's major fruit – we have hundreds of different domestic varieties which could be cultivated, during the height of the apple season, you will find they are only a few varieties and are mostly imported! This makes no sense whatsoever as I've said on thsi blog many many times. It is only possible because cheap fossil fuels allow transportation from far-off countries. As oil becomes more expensive, this will become uneconomic.

Overall self-sufficiency has dropped by 21 percent since 1995 - and as we know many people have no idea how food is actually produced.

Robin Maynard, Campaigns Director at the Soil Association said at the launch last year: “The two torpedoes up the tube are Climate Change and Peak Oil – and they will sink our future more certainly than the U-Boats if we do not take action now.”

Robin Maynard also criticised the complacency of the UK government on food security. Our agriculture is primarily based on fossil fuels and that will be very dangerous for the future, so he advocates reskilling by attending Soil Association masterclasses, where people learn new – or often rather old – skills, such as keeping chickens, running a smallholding, or making jam; things our grandparents knew but we have forgotten. As noted in a previous blog I am not so happy with the link with the war - see here - however I am delighted by the Soil Association campaign for "A Sustainable Food Plan for Britain" - see here. See also more re the National Trust's campaign re allotments here. Meanwhile in a couple of weeks the local Allotment Group meets to see if we can develop some local allotments - things are looking very promising.


Russ said...

why stop at allotments?
I'm sure if you get enough people to commit, you could farm whole fields, as in Laurie Lee's time.
Or maybe strip farming.
Allotments doesn't seem very efficient, and then some people use too much pesticides or slug pellets.

Russ said...

also: so much resources go into producing flowers, for the UK market; perhaps allotment goers could produce local flowers for flower shops; green flowers?

Merci said...

It would be great to extend the allotment culture and to encourage a good mix of the community to participate, eg children working alongside retired people. Don't forget, either, other local food-growing initiatives such as Stroud Community Agriculture and Stroud Slad Farm Community which are open to anyone.