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Blurring boundaries: farmland and vegie gardens

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on October 26th, 2009

Source: The Ecologist, from “Room to grow: turning farmland into allotments by Dorienne Robinson, Oct 6

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Image: net_efekt via flickr CC

David and Kay Hicks run a small family farm, “Chyanhall”, in Cornwall (UK) with their daughter Carly. Just over two years ago they decided to look for an alternative income from the land and considered such things as moutain- and quad-biking tracks. Realising that there was a growing demand for allotments, they decided to research this area instead.

Eighteen months ago the first allotment was fenced for the first tenant, now there are 120 allotments on 8 acres, which cover three small fields, and a waiting list of another 40 interested people.  A full size allotment costs just £1.92 per week.  Prior to the allotment scheme David and Kay’s eight acres were generating around £700 per year, mostly as grass keep for livestock, or producing a cut of silage or hay. It does not take too much time with a calculator to discover that the income from this ground has risen from £700 per year to around £12,000.

There are no CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] subsidies operating here, no top down European directives, no skewing of world markets to generate activity, just pure common sense and responding to local demand.

All new allotment holders are allowed a period of one year to develop their plot, as it comes with no work done apart from a round post at each corner. The tenant puts in the remaining posts and erects the rabbit proof fencing. The ground will just be original pasture, which makes the first year potentially hard work. If after the first year the allotment isn’t sufficiently cultivated and is neglected then the tenant is asked to make improvements within a fortnight. If this is not done they are asked to leave and their allotment is re-let. Tenants are encouraged to practice rainwater harvesting as the farm would struggle to maintain low allotment rental prices if it supplied all the water. A local water supply company does offer large tanks and a regular delivery of water, but this can become expensive in dry summers.

David and Kay have had an obvious increase in income.  What they have also done, though, is create a strong customer base for their other farm produce, pigs and poultry. Allotment holders buy the pork to go with their homegrown vegetables and invariably the Christmas bird comes from Chyanhall as well. And there is an obvious market for bags of well-rotted manure.

For people in urban communities with no access to land, being able to provide for one’s own needs is empowering, and being able to grow your own food gives a feeling of security. Reducing the food miles of what we eat is essential. Learning to harvest, and store and save seed are all skills that surely must be re-learnt as worldwide food production becomes challenged.  Giving urban populations access to the land immediately surrounding their communities for food production can only make simple and perfect sense. It doesn’t take a scientist or a politician to make this happen and we don’t have to wait for any top-down initiatives. We just need to convince farmers and landowners that it can work and can benefit all involved.

Thanks to David and Kay Hicks there is now a working model on which to base future farm allotment schemes. For any farmer owning land close to a large centre of population this must surely be an option worth considering.

David and Kay were greatly assisted by The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), which was able to give advice on tenancy agreements and the general running of an allotment site.

Read the full article  “Room to grow: turning farmland into allotments, by Dorienne Robinson.

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