According to the National Society of Allotment Holders, people want to reconnect with the land when hardship hits and the demand for allotments was at its highest during the Dig For Victory campaign and in the recession-hit seventies where Tom and Barbara dug up their garden and aimed for self-sufficiency.
That war-time high of over 1,300,000 allotments has sadly dwindled to around 250,000 as councils sold off their land, leaving a waiting list of 100,000 people which rose as the middle classes discovered the joys of allotment gardening too. Council-held plots remain under threat from development in some regions and their continued existence must never be taken for granted.
We’ve hit our own period of hardship this week. The death of my daughter’s father has left us breathless with shock and a few hours of quiet puttering on the allotment has helped make some sense of it all. Last Sunday, the sun came out and an afternoon of weeding, thinning, marvelling at the crop on the sour cherry and conversations with other gardeners brought calm, even if our allotment was patterned with the hoof prints of the resident muntjac and freshly ploughed by moles. It never ceases to amuse me that when the council put up fencing around the allotments at the behest of some allotment holders to ‘keep out pests’ (you can never keep out wildlife!), they ended up fencing IN the muntjac.
It’s all about perspective too. You can’t feel too irate about British mother nature when your allotment neighbour tells of years spent in Africa and a garden beset by young bull elephants whose only deterrent was rows of sugar cane that had to be planted around the veg plot. Walking into the nearby kitchen one evening, they found an elephant with his trunk firmly planted in a pot of chile (which apparently elephants are averse to). Disgusted, he promptly spat it back out again and made off with the bowl of guacamole instead.
We’ve had intruders too but compared with what else we lost this week, it’s small potatoes really. For the fourth time, thieves have broken into our allotment shed although they didn’t take anything because they were foiled by our booby-trap. Last time it was viciously thorned brambles threaded through the door latch which slowed them up but we needed something more effective. So...owners of sheds listen up: place one of those sprung metal ladders just inside your shed door and when the unsuspecting burglar tries to move it, the (unsecured) ladder will uncoil like a black mamba and smack them in the face. I’m not too worried that thieves will read this column and foil our Deadly Plan because I suspect the only part of a newspaper they ever read is the magistrates’ court section which functions as West Suffolk’s version of Tatler social diary, letting them know who has been in town that week.
Returning to the theme of food production, I’ll be in London to attend The Art and Politics of Eating events held throughout June. Curated by Zev Robinson, an artist and film-maker, there’s a a pop-up exhibition at the London Cooking Project which will feature a film-screening and wine and olive oil dinner, a wine and olive oil tasting, and a panel discussion about food and art: the latter events will be held on June 30th and tickets are still available. Zev has spent a number of years meeting and filming Spanish wine and olive oil farmers and producers and his work is a moving testimony to an agricultural and rural lifestyle where everything is hard won, over time, and has much in common with our own way of life, here in the East Anglian countryside. Zev is keen to bring his art exhibition and films to Bury and would like to hear from gallery owners and event spaces and also restaurateurs and wineries who might be interested in collaborating with him. Get in touch with me via the paper or Twitter, or contact Zev (theartandpoliticsofeating) for more info.
-- Nic Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog. Follow her on Twitter: @NicMillersTale