by Richard Austin

Two lifetimes ago I worked for Norfolk and Norwich health authority as their garden manager before that I was gardener, propagator and head gardener. As well as managing the estates I had to hire and fire staff. In even more distant times I was an idealist radical social political activist (I still dream of a better world!). Managing both was a challenge for me and I rose to that challenge and balanced both. Here I am now; a retired old hippy enjoying my allotment; when I get voted as chairperson! At first I felt very touched to be asked and soon realised as I had all those years ago that the same responsibilities exist managing an allotment. Yesterday I had to send out reminders about cultivation standards and site management; (we still need a new secretary!) and actually did not enjoy having to do those at all.

One of the great things about allotments is the anarchistic nature of plots and plot holders; look around you! All human life is here! And… the site has to have rules otherwise the place moves into chaotic disorder (which is also part of nature!). Agriculture/horticulture by their very nature is the human impact on a landscape and by default requires procedures to extract the crops we require from the land we use. If we just treat allotments as places of sanctuary and recreational space (which they are) and somewhere to lose the debris of our lives (which they are not) we are not utilising the land as a historical place for people to raise crops for their families and themselves.

Each plot is for that use: to cultivate and have produced all year round.

We are living in times when the climatic future is uncertain and all land may have to be fully utilised for food production. Looking back at allotment history whole families had to supplement; even rely on their food needs from backyards smallholdings common land and allotments. Now we have supermarkets, allotments rarely have to provide such requirements. This privilege may not continue; we already have food banks and environmental changes that we are already adapting to and allotments will follow I am certain.

Summer Street now has chickens bees as well as vegan cultivations biodynamic influences and well established organic principles; the site already reflects change. The cultivation standards in your agreements are there to facilitate these developments and are not the actions of a Stalinist policing of the site! To let a plot go unused and covered in weeds/general debris and not in full cultivation is missing the whole ethos of years of allotment history.

We have a great community here and a wonderful opportunity to grow our own food all year round. This spring it was great to see everyone coming out and gardening and on the whole I personally have never seen the place looking more cultivated. There are some really great books and online information about small gardens making the best of the space we have throughout the year. Of course it involves more work and commitment… but we take these plots on for just that reason; to relax if we desire; drinking wine cider and beer/ meditation and prayer/… And tea… afterwards!

The committee exists to encourage and inspire both a love of gardening, provide a resource for food production in the future; a common respect for the land and others; ‘the community,’ and understanding of natural variety human and plant! And a necessary amount of chaos… with order too. As above so below! Enjoy the coming summer and the fruits of autumn and winter!

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Royal Horticultural Society
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