Nothing comes close to rivalling the taste and freshness of allotment-grown fruits and vegetables, says Ben Vanheems. And with 25 council-owned allotment sites across Peterborough, there’s plenty of opportunity to dig in and discover the joy of growing your own
People who grow their own food are generally happy people at peace with the world. This could be down to the fresh air and gentle exercise that comes with gardening. Or maybe it’s the exceptionally tasty and nutritious produce. Then there’s the sheer satisfaction of watching a seed germinate, find its feet and thrive. Whatever it is, growing food inevitably brings out the best in people; you rarely meet a grumpy gardener! As a keen kitchen gardener myself, I know there’s simply nothing better than the heady expectation that comes with tearing open a seed packet. Once they’re sown all you need to do is sit back and wait. And then there’s the moment your seedlings finally poke their heads above ground – it’s a joyous one as you realise you’re on your way home-grown nirvana!
Allotment plots offer the space to really flex your green fingers, opening up a world of opportunities and near-limitless possibilities. And allotments are for everyone – long-gone are the days when allotment fields were filled with retired men in braces. Today they are as likely to be tended by young families as they are lifelong gardeners. The allotment plot is a melting pot of people, all bound together by their common love of delicious food, though tending an allotment is much more than food – it provides nourishment for mind, body and soul.
Space to grow
Allotments have a long and illustrious history, with origins stretching back to Anglo-Saxon times. Allotments as we think of them today grew out of the rapid urbanisation of the 19th Century, when land was set aside for the working poor to grow food on. These strips of land proved for many families to be – quite literally – a lifesaver at a time when there was no welfare state to fall back on.
Allotments came into their own once again during the Second World War when the Dig for Victory campaign saw the country’s 800,000 plots produce a surplus of 91,000 tonnes of food – food that contributed towards the war effort at home. Recently allotments have seen a resurgence as more of us show an interest in where our food comes from and what goes into it. This is good news for allotment fields, many of which had been languishing after their heyday 40 years ago.
Did you know?
The total area of Peterborough’s allotment sites is greater than the total area of the city centre? The city’s councilowned sites cover more than 90 acres
Mick Coulson is secretary to the Peterborough Allotments Representatives Consortium, a group set up to protect, promote and represent the city’s 25 allotment sites: ‘When I started working on my allotment back in the 1970s people were still using them to supplement the dinner table. Then they went out of fashion and several of Peterborough’s allotment fields were downsized as a result. The situation today is very different. The consortium has worked hard to raise the profile of the city council’s 1,500 allotment plots, working with the council to secure their future and encourage new plot holders to step forward. While some allotment sites now have a modest waiting list others do not and there are currently 70 vacant plots waiting to be dug, tended and enjoyed by new plot holders.
For Mick there’s no mistaking the benefits that tending allotment brings: ‘It’s fresh air, it’s fresh vegetables, it’s exercise and it’s comradeship. And while growing your own vegetables and fruit can sometimes be hard work, it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s cheaper than going to the gym – with the added bonus of good food!’
Mick cites evidence from Kew Gardens which shows that homegrown food is healthier than supermarketbought fruit and veg, which may have lost some of its nutritional value during storage and transit. ‘Allotments are a great way of getting people talking to… [prev]
Peterborough allotments: Best Forks Forward! 1 2