How many people are on waiting lists for an allotment? How many people actually grow in the unused spaces in their towns, villages and homes? Now, how many people come to grow your own and stick at it? Do we have to be concerned that some people, now waiting to grow, will come to their plots and give up in the first few months? We have even seen this on television, Joe Swift on Gardeners' World took on an allotment and then abandoned it citing work pressures. Surely, he had these work pressures prior to getting an allotment? Of course, the TV allotment was quickly forgotten but it raised an important question on gardening and growing your own. What type of people are waiting to grow their own?
2012 was a bad year for growers. On our Facebook Page we heard your woes, saw the impact of how you came to growing to save money but had lost money. How some of you new to growing were driven to the brink of giving up. We understand this, we applaud that you want to lessen your carbon footprint, that you want to get back in contact with the soil and we are happy to support you as best we can. We're all on the same journey but there are some that try our patience, who write about it almost like a fashion accessory, who use it because it is fashionable to be in the media. We've seen a growing backlash against grow your own in the media; it is often stupid, voiced by people who may have had good intentions but who provide no evidence of any real drive to make a difference. Often money is thrown into the equation, that vegetables or eggs bought in a supermarket would be cheaper than doing it yourself. They miss the point. Anne Shooter wanted to keep hens and we applaud this, then our clapping hands fail us as we start to laugh, wince and feel sickened that hens become almost like pets, almost like a fashion accessory to be carried around in a small bag. Then we start to wonder how many people who have got on allotment waiting lists are also there as part of a fashionable movement.
There are wonderful organisations that battle against this, showing people that growing shouldn't be confined to allotments or gardens. The photos on this post are from Incredible Edible Todmorden, who like all of us have suffered with a poor spring but have still managed to promote growing, and give a new open space in the centre of the town over to saving bees and producing crops. I suspect that this project may never have happened without a few people who screamed, 'Sod it' and went out and did it. These projects can often get mired in apathy, health and safety, in committees and in people who start their arguments, 'Suffice to say...'. This is just a way of backing out of an idea, of saying, 'Well, this started out as fun but now it is too real, and I really haven't got that much time on my hands' or, 'I would get involved but work pressures and everything'.
Let's get some facts clear, growing your own, rearing your own is real. Very, very real and hard work. It is exacerbating, glorious, brings you to tears and laughter in the same season. I have seen allotments vandalised, sheds burnt to the ground, crops stolen, wheelbarrows and tools taken. I have seen how in some places committees can become bullies, dictating to members on their plots and in one incident voting someone off the allotment whilst they weren't there to defend themselves. That person had done nothing wrong but to question the rules of the committee. Yet, I have seen allotments that inspire, gardeners who educate and share information. Gardening is not a fashion accessory, it is not a way to compete with one another, it should not be about jumping on a bandwagon. It should be about the basics, and the basic question is, 'Why do you want to grow?' When we grow, we grow food for our family, we sometimes barter with it and it gives us piece of mind that we know what we are growing. We may sometimes feel smug about what we have achieved, it's natural to do so. Yet, growers know that a plot is not a plot for a season, a pot is not a pot for a year, a window box is not window box for a month. The soil changes, the more we cultivate it, the more we learn. Taking on an allotment for a TV programme is shameful, taking on a space to make a fashion statement is a waste of that space. Real growers are waiting, and as they wait they are growing. They don't need to be on a list to feel like they are making a difference, they already are.
The simple thing is, growers grow, they may not know what they are doing at the start but they have that fire in them to grow and learn. It may be fashionable at the moment but fashions change, and it is in the wind that growing will become unfashionable again because it is getting a little too real to some people.