The Independent on Sunday 9 Auust 2009
A national obsession: My allotment and me
All around the country, people are discovering the joys of eating their own home-grown produce
By Eve da Silva
All across the country this weekend, gardeners will be heading to their allotments to check on their fruits, flowers and vegetables. As Britain celebrates National Allotments Week it seems that most of the country either wants to get an allotment, has one, or knows someone who does. The allotment is no longer just the territory of old men pottering about in Wellington boots. Over the past few years, growing your own has taken off everywhere, with many allotment associations now running waiting lists for many years. Young and old are donning their gardening gloves and digging in their heels for a lifetime of allotment gardening. Why do they do it? Perhaps it's the fashion for organics; more recent owners may cite the recession. Most say it's for good food, great exercise and a sense of community. For others it's a great day out. Whatever their reasons, allotment owners this week are likely to be congratulating themselves on their good sense and eating their fresh produce.
The self-employed gardener, 39, from Cambridgeshire has had an allotment for five months. "I am already cooking a lot of things we have grown, and we love the freshness. I have runner beans, onions and marrows coming out of my ears. The best thing is all the friends I've made doing this. It gives you back that sense of village community. It has been a really good investment from every angle. A lot of people have also said that they are toning up and losing weight – I have lost two stone since starting. I only wish I had done it sooner."
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The retired manager, and his wife Elizabeth, from Gosforth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, are in their sixties and have had their allotment since 1979. "We started our allotment to relax. I worked 12-hour days so it was good to go to the allotment in the evenings and let my mind go into neutral. Now we are both retired and spend a lot of time working together. We usually spend at least four half-days there. After 30 years, it has allowed us to meet people from our community we wouldn't have met otherwise. It's extremely social and we probably spend more time chatting than working. We have 70 different kinds of fruit and veg growing throughout the year. It would be fair to say that we are pretty self-sufficient. When the grandchildren visit they can't get enough of it. They get to pick stuff and play about. It's really good for us too – it's the best way we know to keep healthy."
The retired lecturer, 65, from Liverpool, has had his allotment for around 23 years. "I have three allotments next to each other. I grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. And it has made me more of a cook – you want to do justice to the vegetables you're growing. You also get exercise, fresh air and become a part of a community of people from all walks of life. It can be frustrating sometimes – this year I lost my tomatoes in a storm. All you can do is shrug your shoulders and get on with it. But it's incredibly therapeutic. I've never met anyone with a negative view about allotments."
The 12-year-old from Southwark, south London, has been working on an allotment with Bermondsey's Community Space Challenge/Youth Inclusion Project for over a month.
"I used to get into trouble with the police. When the youth offenders service suggested I try out a gardening project I thought it might be boring. Now I love it! I used to think vegetables came only from supermarkets. Now you can plant a seed and see it grow. My favourite school subject is science, and working on the allotment makes me want to work harder at it."
The carpenter from Birkenhead has had an allotment for five years. "I wish we'd got an allotment earlier. It started out because I went to an open day, and since two of our grandkids need special diets we thought it would be good to grow our own food. It isn't unusual for us to be there for 12 hours a day. We have a tree house and a bakery on our allotment. Sometimes when we have a barbecue there we'll have 30 family members around. When the allotments have an open day everyone always comes to look at ours. We can say, look, this is what is possible if you work together. It's a real family affair."
The 37-year-old personal assistant from London has had her present allotment for nearly five years but has had allotments before. "My husband and I often work on it together, or take shifts to look after Joshua, two, who has his own little patch to mess in. It is very productive and rewarding. I don't get to spend as much time there as I would like. I am expecting another baby in December. I do think the food tastes better. It is hard keeping on top of the weeds but it's worth it. Joshua won't eat supermarket stuff now, only mummy's carrots."
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