National Allotments Week, organised by the National Allotment Society, was set up in 2002 to raise awareness of allotments and to acknowledge and celebrate the important role they play in local communities and ecosystems. The Society define allotments as ‘an area of land, leased either from a private or local authority landlord, for the use of growing fruit and vegetables,’ with some plots also used for the keeping of hens and bees. Evidence indicates allotments have been around since Anglo-Saxon times, with the system we know today originating in the Nineteenth Century.

This year National Allotments Week ran from 12-18 of August and had the theme of shared harvest. This seems a very fitting theme given that many allotment holders share their produce with food banks or local community groups. One example close to home is Nurture Through Nature, an organisation (which we’re very proud to say is co-run by one of our former Environmental Consultants, Josie Orams,) that grow and supply fresh allotment produce to food banks and community centres. The organisation also collect excess produce from other growers at the Moulsecoomb allotments, increasing their contribution and reducing food waste.

Food waste is an enormous problem worldwide, and something that isn’t helped by unnecessary best-before dates on fresh fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, or the retailer appearance standards for produce. An estimated 40% of edible fruit and vegetables were discarded in 2013 for being “ugly” or “wonky”, therefore not meeting mainstream supermarket’s cosmetic standards. A recent report produced by Feedback, stated that if wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouses gases after China and USA. On top of the massive amounts of food wasted itself, a lot of fresh produce sold in conventional food stores come wrapped in in single-use plastic and have travelled hundreds of miles, often from other countries or even continents, before reaching the shelves. An incredible amount of plastic, energy and resources can be saved by growing your own fresh produce locally and seasonally – and you’re much less likely to toss away food you’ve lovingly nurtured from seed to a nourishing nugget of nature!

The environmental benefits of allotments are furthered by the encouragement of composting and organic gardening in most community plots. Composting redirects food scraps and garden waste from landfill to instead become a valuable resource, returning nutrients to the soil to maintain soil quality and fertility. A compost pile decomposes aerobically (with oxygen) and produces mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas a landfill pile decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) and releases roughly 50% CO2 and 50% methane – which can hold 25 times more heat than CO2. Organic gardening reassures no artificial chemical pesticides, fungicides, or fertilisers are used, meaning the produce is higher in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals, and wildlife are happier and healthier too. Studies have shown that plant, insect and birdlife are 50% more abundant on organic land, which is an important observation considering that over half of all species in the UK are diminishing. Allotment gardens also form crucial habitat mosaics and wildlife corridors, which are increasingly rare in urban areas.

As well as being a big plus for the environment and wildlife, allotment gardens also provide much-needed sanctuary for people in towns and cities. Numerous studies show that contact with nature and time outdoors in green spaces is good for both our mental health and physical wellbeing. Allotments also bring like-minded people together, encouraging social contact and offering a warm and welcoming community; while gardening provides a healthy activity as well as nourishing produce. Not only are allotments important in working towards a more sustainable food system and significantly suporting wildlife in urban areas, but allotment gardening can play a key role in promoting mental wellbeing and physical health.

It’s no wonder allotments are so popular – with an estimated 330,000 allotment plots in the UK and a further 90,000 people on waiting lists. Some waiting lists are much faster than others, so it’s worth checking out allotments near you and applying for a plot through your local council. Alternatively, there are always community groups looking for volunteers at allotment gardens who share their produce with local worthy causes. A couple of examples in Brighton and Hove include Nurture Through Nature and the Brighton and Hove Organic Gardening Group Community Allotment, or take a look at the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership directory. If you’re lucky enough to have an allotment or growing space in your home garden, perhaps you’d be interested in volunteering to collect important data on urban food production and the role of pollinators for Team PollinATE.

Happy belated National Allotments Week! Grow well and peas be with you.

Tessie Hendry
Assistant Consultant

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