Urban gardens are key in times of crisis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Allotment gardens have often been sources of local resilience during periods of crisis. During World War I the number of allotment gardens surged from 600,000 to 1,500,000 in Britain, supplying city people with food and other ecosystem services.

Urban_gardens1The gardens were planted in parks and sports fields, and even Buckingham Palace turned up the earth to grow vegetables. After declining abruptly in the 1920s and 1930s, World War II saw a new explosion in the numbers of allotment gardens in cities of Britain and other parts of Europe.

In Germany, and several other European countries, allotment gardens have always played a great role for the people and in giving them a small measure of self-sufficiency in food though some do manage to grow more than enough for themselves and their families as far as vegetables are concerned.

In Britain the law, theoretically, states that councils have a duty to provide land for allotment gardens if a certain number of people demand them. This appears to be (1) a little known fact and (2) something councils often do not follow either, even if the demand is there.

In other European countries the allotment garden movement is far more active than it is in Britain and also much better organized and there are allotment colonies all over the place. Cities, towns and even villages have them and they are well used, it would seem.

However, we need more urban and suburban community gardens where people can grow their own food and there is enough derelict land around in most places so that this can be possible, also in the UK, and in the middle of the cities. Where the soil may be contaminated it is quite feasible, though it means bringing in healthy soil, to do the growing beds in large containers such as reused builder bags which nowadays, to 90%, are not reused by the companies and cannot even be returned. This is, basically, killing two birds with one stone namely having a place in which to grow food and also keeping such bags, made predominately from woven polypropylene, out of landfill.

Using this approach could turn many empty urban lots in any town or city into productive community gardens without needing to dig the ground, which might be covered in concrete or tarmacadam and thus cannot be easily dug or ground that is possibly contaminated. Yes, it would require bringing it good soil to fill the bags with and then grow the food therein but that still is better than not having such gardens at all.

Allotments must be made available also to all that want to work such plots and not just in urban areas but in them and suburban areas especially as there less land at home is available for the growing of food and people must be encouraged to grow at least some of their own food at home or at allotments and similar gardens.

Our food security depends on this for our individual regions as much as for the country as a whole and there was a time when all cities had market gardens and small farms surrounding them and even almost in their hearts, as did Paris before World War One and we must bring this back to make local foods available to all.

Allotment garden, known as Schrebergaerten or Kleingaerten in German, have in that country been in use for about a century or so and they are, as previously stated, well received and they are much like that Dachas in Russia, and in some cases, just like on their Dachas in Russia, people spend their entire summers, growing plants, both flowers and vegetables, living in little cabins.

During the Second World War the roads and streets of Germany, including those in towns and cities, were lined with fruit trees to provide fresh fruit, especially apples, pears and plums, for the population during the war time and many of those trees were still about in the 1980s though rarely anyone made use of the fruit provided by the trees.

There were also, once upon a time, so-called common trees of various fruits that lined the country lanes of Britain but most of those trees have been grubbed out by now as they were deemed a danger to motorists. The car has to come first, obviously. But, actions of guerrilla gardeners grafting fruit tree branches to that of city trees and the reception of this by the people proves that it would be popular to have fruit trees lining the streets and being found in our parks and open spaces. Many, the majority, in fact, of our common woods in the countryside were a mix of timber trees with fruit trees (the latter in the end also will provide valuable timber) to a ratio of 2:1. Proof that it is all possible and that food security can be created for every area, including our urban and suburban areas. Time we got going.

© 2013