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Thread: Allotment gardens

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Allotment gardens

    Any town planners or students out there involved either directly or indirectly in allotment gardening, either now or in their youth?

    I have the impression that our friends in the UK take their community gardening more seriously than folks in the US or Canada ever have. Perhaps this is because of the different histories and different levels of land availability; in the UK allotment gardens emerged as a means to feed the newly urban poor in the wake of the various enclosure acts and rapid industrialization, not to mention the crucial survival role they played during two world wars. Here in North America community gardening tends to be viewed more as a fun hobby (albeit a pragmatic one) than something serving an essential need. I suspect, however, that as worldwide demands on fossil fuels increase and the cost of both food production and transportation rises, we will necessarily be taking a more serious look at the benefits that urban agriculture has to offer in the not too distant future.

    I understand that many/most allotment gardens in the UK are located on land owned by the town or borough. Where do these gardens tend to be located – are/were they selected based on their proximity to residents? Do they tend to be located on marginal land (e.g. adjacent to railway lines) or are they more centrally located? Also, would anyone happen to know where I might find some demographic information concerning allotment gardeners themselves - are they 99% pensioners or is there any evidence of increasing participation among younger people?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2

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    Community Gardens...

    Can't comment on allotment gardens, but maybe this will help stimulate conversation -- I've been reading about similar "community gardens" in North American communities, where public space in parks, or empty lots, or unused public space is turned into garden space for the public. People without their own gardens, or who want extra space can pay a nominal fee and are assigned parcels to grow food or plants. Seattle's P-Patch program springs to mind as a good example.

    I'm investigating the concept at the moment as a matter of fact for my community.

  3. #3
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    DPP, here in the US I don't think many people would make a distinction between "allotment" versus "community" gardens, they'd both be community gardens to us. However, I'm told many Brits classify situations where a single plot of land is gardened with collective labor as community gardens and situations where the plot of land is subdivided into a number of smaller plots each maintained by a different family (in much the same manner as Seattle's famous P-Patch program) would be considered allotment gardens. In either case, though, they fulfill similar roles.

    I'm writing an article for a magazine about this subject and I'm very interested in the historical development and role community gardens play in different countries around the world. Here's an interesting paper on the German model.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  4. #4
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Again, this is not allotment gardening per se (though I was confused about what exactly it is - any good explanation?), my organization started a community garden in our local neighborhood last year. In fact, this is my project and we are in the throes of getting this season rolling. Planting Day is this Sunday (you are all welcome...).

    This garden is on a vacant residential lot in a "pocket of poverty" neighborhood (the City's term, not mine). There had been a house there years ago, but it was torn out. The lot was a real eyesore, attracting drug activity, illegal dumping, people drinking there at night, overgrown weeds, etc.

    So, we approached the owner (actually, another planner ) and she was very excited about the project. We made raised beds bounded by straw bale, got soil trucked in from the local private/public partnership that composts municipal vegetative waste, and voila! instant garden on the cheap. Now in our second season, demand is definitely high and for all the reasons you stated.

    In our model, gardeners rent their own plot for $25/year. They are responsible for their own watering and maintenance. The only collective activities are work days for things like weed control, clean up, preparing beds for over-wintering and turning the beds in the spring. We also hold workshops on a variety of topics, combined with pot lucks, throughout the season.

    The gardeners are, by and large, somewhere in their late twenties into their forties. Not a lot of elder folks, actually, even though demographically this is a larger-than-normal sector of this community (a lot of younger people have left, but their parents remain).

    The garden does mainly serve local folks (those within two neighborhoods), but we do not turn away those from farther afield (and we have a few). I have found this is somewhat self-selecting because if it isn't convenient to access, its not often worth people's trouble as gardening does take diligence and attention.

    For those that care, here is a link to images from the first season: http://cityskip.ning.com/photo/album...47:Album:13084

    There is also emerging here interest in a larger group that can help orient newcomers that would like to start gardens in their area to help them through the logistics. We are pulling the City into it, but its a slow and painful process to get them to actually directly assist such as through donated land (Bernalillo County Parks and Rec has offered this, though) or water access.

    At the same time, a larger project out of the Mid Region Council of Governments (MR COG) seeks to link local, small-scale, growers with local markets as a way to promote a sustainable food economy (see the Rocky Mountain Institute for more info on sustainable economies: http://www.rmi.org/)

    Here is a link to MR COG's activities in this area: http://www.mrcog-nm.gov/content/view/148/240/

    Somewhere in the middle is a lot of room for a forward-thinking program financed by the city (maybe run by them, or an independent non-profit) to donate land and offer infrastructure to expand the currently very informal and ad hoc collections of gardens that exist. In the last year, two more gardens have emerged in the neighborhood in which I work (and live), so the demand and interest is definitely growing (no pun intended).

    In response to your comments about Europe being more avid about this, I wondered what kind of impact the Victory Garden movement of WWII had on this. Was the government largely promoting private gardens or communal gardening activities? If it was private, what impact did that have on people's attitudes about growing as a private as opposed to public enterprise? Did the rise of canned food that followed the war have an impact on this attitude? Instead of needing a garden to supplement in hard times, people now stocked pantries (and bomb shelters) with canned goods toward the same end. I smell a tedious dissertation topic...

    To get at some the specific Q's you proposed, you might want to look at the American Community Garden Association website. I suspect many models in the US (like the P-Patch system in Seattle already cited, and a land trust in Philly that has purchased vacant lots for gardening/urban farming) are operating on something akin to the Allotment system, but don't use that term. Their website is: http://www.communitygarden.org/

    Their listserve is very active and questions like this come through all the time, eliciting some great feedback.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  5. #5
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    Hi Maister,

    I was actually on here for something completely different, but instead I'll spend that time (trying) to answer your question! Although I suspect wahday has answered it amply

    My local example is my parents dwelling where there has been an allotment since at least WW2 and possibly WW1.

    It's location on flashearth is HERE

    Predominately those residents backing onto the allotment have plots, especially where they have narrow and restrictive gardens (6m/18feet).

    The majority (80-90%) are 'mature' and retired owners, although rumour has it, that allotments are increasing in popularity due to increasing grocery costs and for environmental reasons. Numbers of younger gardeners are very low, but I suspect it will increase as living costs increase.

    I know for a fact that my sister who recently turned 39 has a patch at this allotment and it produces ALL of her fresh produce.

    Originally this allotment was adjacent to a large factory (to the north, now housing - St Andrews Close). This does make sense as 30 or more years ago (prior to my birth, just!), manual works lived within walking distance. It may have been presumed that workers would leave work and pick up some fresh produce from their allotment on the way home.

    You mentioned them being near railways, I would say that in the UK due to polluting steam engines, they may not have been to keen to grow even root vegetables, but that’s just a part-educated guess. In this instance (Paddock Wood), the train station is North West of the allotment and approximately a 7 minute walk (I commuted briefly whilst living there!).

    I can find the rental costs for you if you wish. Otherwise I hope that helps your curiosity! Although I’m a keen gardener, I do believe there are significant advantages involved in having some sort of allotment space. The only difficulty in the UK (specifically the South East), is the land cost. For example this plot would generate around 25-30 units (2-3 bed housing), that is a significant profit for some lucky building developer. The government would also rub its hands with the thought of all that Council Tax, as would the local council for the population increase which may allow them some extra service or benefit. Of course Tesco, Sainsburys and any other supermarket with share holders will be upset, but I guess that's the risk of being big. It's been a long time since I saw an individually owned green grocers, although they do still exist if centrally located.

    Hope I haven't gone on too much.

    Cheers,
    Chris

  6. #6
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Thanks for responding, bikerchris. At this point I've assembled quite a bit of anecdotal evidence suggesting there is a nascent shift in demographics and we are seeing increasing numbers of idealistically-driven younger people becoming involved with allotment gardens. I guess it's a 'Green' thing. I was hoping to get some actual figures documenting this demographic shift from the Ministry of Agriculture.....but it appears no one documents that sort of thing (I did, however, in the course of my research discover an excellent guide series they published during the war. Once you get past the archaic format, you find it has great information).

    At one time providing land for allotments was a statutory requirement. But your Parliament has flip-flopped on this whole issue over the years. I expect you'll again be seeng a new batch of legislation in the not too distant future.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  7. #7
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    You're very welcome Maister, certainly interesting to know that it was policy to provide allotment areas!

    The Parliament in the UK is in permanent flip-flop, policy is changed to benefit those in parliament! Not that I'm a sceptic or anything

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    urban agriculture and planners

    To throw something in... here's a paper comparing urban agriculture in Lesotho, Botswana and Sweden. In each case the city in question is the capital.

    www.idrc.ca/es/ev-2234-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

    The paper looks specifically at what planners can, or in some cases, cannot do, either to support or destroy urban agriculture.

    Sweden has had allotment gardens since just before WWI. The movement came from Germany. In Stockholm at present there are over 7000 lots, and as many applicants on a waiting list. There are basically two varieties: one in which you may not have any structure on your lot except a box (for holding gardening tools) that may not exceed 1m in height; the other allows a small building no larger than 10 sq m. in size. The areas with these second types are very popular for city folks, because they constitute a little countryside in the heart of the city. No pesticides are permitted in allotment gardens. The lot holders must become members of an association...which then provides advice on all things related to gardening, usually organises mid-summer parties and other events, and so on.

  9. #9
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    What an excellent link, Monamogolo!

    It's interesting how community gardens and urban agriculture in general fulfills multiple needs. In the case of many developing nations a small individual or communal garden plot located at or near one's dwelling provides a form of food security. In the case of industrialized countries the community garden with its formal memberships, rules, and associated social functions, promotes community/neighborhood cohesion.

    I'm finding that there is not a great deal of data out there concerning specifically the demographics of allotment/community gardens. I'm sure this is partly due to the fact that growing and/or selling vegetables on a small scale has traditionally been part of the 'informal economy'. There are a few exceptions, though, and notably the city Oslo's Research Society financed a survey of its allotments nine years ago. Here are some of their findings.
    http://www.21firstst.com/parsell/sammendrag-en.asp
    If anyone knows where I could find something comparable for the UK (or, heck, even elsewhere) I'd be infinitely obliged.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  10. #10
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    Well I'm going to see if my sister will do a quick questionnaire at her allotment - just for you :o)

    I'm also going to change my signature shortly, you'll probably like it!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Maister, you might try www.farmgarden.org.uk/.
    Or this one: www.farmgarden.org.uk/. It has an enormous number of additional links.

    When I was doing research on urban agriculture I was surprised at the number of others doing similar, and much more sophisticated research so if you google for urban agriculture you're likely to get a lot of hits.

    Canada has it's City farmer site at www.cityfarmer.org/, based in Vancouver.

    Most developed countries have well organised associations and federations for allotment gardening, and most of them can give you statistics. If you find one national umbrella organisation you will be able to get a link to most others, because there are also international associations.

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    http://www.sags.org.uk/webLinks.php

    There's another bunch of links for you. I had a vague recollection of my allotment-mad relative mentioning some sort of collective of other similarly green-fingered types and a quick search turned up the rather grand sounding Scottish Allotments & Gardens Society. Hopefully you might find something of use amongst their links...

    http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1127689

    For UK land/property/construction related policy, stats or research the communities.gov.uk site is normally a good bet too - the link above is for their 'Allotment Guide'.

    Interesting subject, actually.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Maister, I'd like to read your article. (PM me when it is available). Not UK related, but my experience in Hungary is that most single family yards are more garden than lawn. Also, Cities/towns often have areas of small lots on their outskirts that serve as gardens/orchards and "holiday" cabins. My friends bought two lots outside of Szeged sometime in the '60s (Paprika Communism allowed private ownership of some land) and put one into an orchard that had pear, apple, cherry and sour chrey trees. The other was a cabin site for week-end stays that had many walnut trees. We had the last of the pears at Christmas once.

    UK folks - Do any of the allotments have fruit trees? Are fruit trees ever included as landscape or street trees over there?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    Moved from the former Planning in the UK forum.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  15. #15
    i'm in the uk and i have an allotment (or part of a share of someone's else's). it backs on to my garden. in total they extend to about 11 acres. the land was put in trust to an allotment association on a 100 year lease and i think in some way is controlled by the local council, evne though they dont have any day to day running of the allotments. some local authorities do own and run their own allotments. my authority has about 25ish. yearly subscriptions cost about 30 pounds so not much at all.

    In terms of demographic, not sure where you'd get any definitive information on actual age of people using them but i can say that the demographic is changing. lots of younger people myself included (i'm 35) are now trying to get plots. there has been a real shift in culture in terms of people wanting to grow their own fruit and veg, maybe driven by the recession but also by global fuel prices etc. certainly down my allotments there are a lot of old timers but the number of people my age and particulalry those with kids is increasing.

  16. #16
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    Urban food security in Australian cities

    Here is a piece I contributed recently to the online Australian forum, The Conversation.

    http://theconversation.edu.au/grow-y...od-secure-8021

    Our project on food security and climate change in Australian cities will be reporting in a couple of months time.

    Paul Burton

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