Monday 9 April 2012

Have you say on the future of food growing in Brent

Watering a seed bed at Birchen Grove last week
I had ear-marked today for working on my allotment, especially watering the seed beds...  So today's rain means that I can look at Brent Council's 'Food for Thought-A Draft Food Growing and Allotments Strategy'.

Few Brent Council documents start with a quotation from Gandhi,
To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves
and this sets the tone for an unusually thoughtful, well-researched and imaginative document.  However, as I read it I could not help but have a nagging voice at the back of my mind asking, 'but will they have the staff to make it happen?'

The report lists the benefits of local food growing, each one supplemented by a Case Study:
  1. Supplying a sustainable source of food
  2. Improving health and wellbeing
  3. Acting as a valued community resource
  4. Allotments and food growing as an educational tool
  5. Delivering a resource for improving biodiversity
  6. Establishing an link between gardening and engagement with the arts
  7. Providing open space amenities for all residents
  8. Contributing to climate change and energy reduction objectives
Raised vegetable beds at Chalkhill Primary School
Working as I do with children from Chalkhill Primary School on their school and community allotment I was pleased to read:
It is widely recognised that there is a strong need for children to be taught about here food comes from and the valuable contribution of fruit and vegetables towards attaining a healthy lifestyle.
Absolutely, not to mention the sheer pleasure children get from sowing, nurturing, harvesting and eating their own produce.  This unsolicited letter from a parent whose son visited my Birchen Grove allotment testifies to the enthusiasm that can be generated:
All evening H could not stop telling me and his dad about his trip to the allotments. it was very interesting to hear what a good educational experience it had been for him. He was telling us things about flowers, fruits and vegetables that we did not even know. I am very pleased that H had the opportunity to go to the allotments and widen his knowledge in a 'hands on' way and it is good that the school are able to make use of local area resources in such a way.
The strategy suggests extending the provision of temporary food growing spaces for community groups where land is available in spaces awaiting development such as South Kilburn and Wembley. Working with Capital Growth and Brent Sustainability Forum they will provide an umbrella structure for the coordination of food growing spaces and initiatives across Brent and will liaise with Transition Town Kensal to Kilburn and Transition Willesden  to encourage local communities to grow food as part of improving the local environment. They suggest utilising ward working money for food growing projects in areas such as Queensbury and Sudbury and for raised beds at Eton Grove and Grove Park. They suggest the provision of growing spaces in new developments such as the Willesden Green Cultural Centre.

Reviewing current allotment provision in Brent  the report notes the increased demand for plots nationally at 57 people per 100 plots, with 265 confirmed applicants on the Brent waiting list. Based on average turnover it is estimated that the current applicants on the waiting list could be accommodated in approximately three years.  However, as with school places, available plots may not be near enough (or good enough) for some applicants and waiting lists for some plots will be longer, while less popular plots may have vacancies.

Allotment fees in Brent went up substantially last year with some concessions removed, and will increase again from this month. Brent allotments are now more expensive than any of our neighbouring boroughs and the third most expensive in London.

Standard Charge 2012/13
Standard Charge 2012/13
Concession Charge 2012/13
Concession Charge

5 poles
10 poles
5 poles
10 poles

The steepness of the rent rise provoked a revolt by allotment holders last year and I challenged Cllr Powney on the method they had used to set the new rents. LINK Contrary to claims last year  that the increased rents still meant plots were subsidised, figures show that the standard 5 and 10 pole plots involve a small net contribution to the Council.

The report's analysis shows that the profile of those on the waiting list now constitute more people in full-time employment (42% against 24% of plot holders) and more women (54% against 40% of plot holders). In order to meet the rising demand the Council suggests that plots can be split when they become vacant with 10 poles converted into two 5 pole plots and a higher proportion of 2.5 pole allotments.  46% of plot holders agreed with this strategy but 33%  strongly opposed. Plots that have been abandoned often remain uncultivated for some time because of cumbersome checking and re-letting arrangements and it is suggested that this could be streamlined. However the effectiveness of this may be hindered by lack of staffing.

The combination of increased charges and smaller plots could change the demographic of allotments considerably in the long-term with fewer retired males with large plots which they tend regularly.  The report acknowledges the social side of allotments and I can vouch for the fact that for many retired men it provides a kind of 'work substitute' with many almost clocking on and off and banter about 'are you doing the late shift today?'. The importance of this in providing structure, sociability and purpose to post-retirement life should not be underestimated.Interestingly 55% of the waiting list but only 26% of existing plot holders stated that the main reason for growing their own vegetables is for healthy easting and exercise and a choice to grow organically.

Respondents are asked to comment on the Vision and Objectives of the Draft Strategy:
The vision of the Food Growing and Allotments Strategy is to provide a range of food growing opportunities accessible to all parts of the community and to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle within a greener borough.
1. To provide efficiently managed allotment sites that provide good value for money and are accessible to all
2. To develop and broaden the range of food growing opportunities available though increased partnership working.
3. To promote the benefits of food growing as part of a healthy lifestyle within a greener borough.
The consultation lasts until May 31st. Documentation (substantial) can be found HERE


trevor said...

I think this is a good Idea.
I'm all for the promoting of allotments upon which veg can be grown which people can then cook and eat rather than relying upon the fast food shops who sell junk food that makes people unhealthy.

The Local Don said...

Being self sufficient/growing healthier food will eventually mean all allotments/growers will be 'regulated' (monitored)
It will become mandatory to provide details on what you're growing, when you water/how you water and what 'chemicals' you use on your crop. They will deem the chemicals you use on crops are not sufficient under some EU reg and to comply to what the want you to use, the costs wont add up. This will result in you giving up your allotment and back to 'relying' on what THEY the corporations grow.

You think they want you to grow your own food and eat healthy? If they did, healthy food would be cheap and junk food would be expensive.

The Local Don.

S said...

Love my allotment and its in Brent, yes we pay more but having seen other allotments outside Brent have to say that ours are extremely well looked after... at least the one where I am!

Only on thing negative is I am totally and utterly disappointed that Brent Council wont allow chickens in allotments, No, not even one! how crazy is this?!

Martin Francis said...

I agree and of course chickens are an excellent slug disposal system...