The Great Transformation Of 2012  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

2012 has always had a lot of significance for various fringe types (thanks primarily to Terrence McKenna's popularisation of Mayan legends I think) and the date seems to be getting lumbered with all sorts of plans and targets as it looms ever closer. Brosi Johnson has an odd (and not particularly ambitious) target for 2012 - creating 2012 vegetable gardens in order to boost the amount of locally grown food in the city - Boris Johnson unveils plan to create 2,012 new vegetable gardens in London.

Londoners will be encouraged to turn flat roofs into vegetable plots as part of a scheme to grow food on 2012 patches of land across the capital by 2012, Boris Johnson said today.

The "Capital Growth" project is the first initiative delivered by Rosie Boycott since she was appointed chair of London Food by the London mayor over the summer.

The former newspaper editor wants councils, schools, hospitals, housing estates, and utility companies to identify derelict land that can be turned into vegetable gardens by green-fingered Londoners keen to grow their own spuds rather than buy transported produce from the supermarket.

Boycott also envisages that spare pieces of land can be found on canal banks, banks of reservoirs, and disused railway yards.

Boycott said: "London has a good deal of green spaces – some derelict or underused - but not being used as well as they could be. We also have a veritable host of enthusiastic gardeners who are well equipped to turning derelict or underused spaces into thriving oases offering healthy food and a fantastic focus for the community.

"Capital Growth will identify spaces across the capital – often in surprising places such as roof gardens – and help London's communities grow their own food."

Boycott said in an interview in yesterday's Times that it was hoped that the 2012 makeshift plots could be found in time for the Olympics so that some of the homegrown food could be provided to athletes.

The demand for allotments has rocketed over recent years as environmental awareness has increased.

But a survey conducted by the London assembly two years ago found Londoners in some parts of the capital were waiting up to 10 years for an allotment, due to a dramatic decline in the number of available plots caused by owners wanting to put the land to other uses.

The London mayor wants to turn back the tide to promote locally grown food in the face of rising food prices and the challenge to protect the environment.

Londoners will receive both financial and practical support to grow their own, such as gardening tools and compost.

Launching the project at a vegetable and herb garden run by a charity for disabled people in Battersea Park, Johnson said: "Linking up currently unloved patches of land with people who want to discover the wonders of growing their own food, delivers massive benefits. It will help to make London a greener, more pleasant place to live while providing healthy and affordable food.

"This will aid people to reconnect with where their fruit and veg comes from and cut the congestion and carbon emissions associated with the transportation of food from miles away. Capital Growth is a win-win scheme - good for our communities and good for our environment."

When I first lived in London in the early 1990's I was amazed to see rows of allotments stretching alongside the railway tracks, usually sprinkled with old guys pottering around tending their vegie patches.

While they seem to have been in decline in recent years, they do have a long tradition behind the, as this NPR report explains -
London's Gardens: Allotments for the People.
London's allotment gardens are an unusual and vibrant system of community gardens that grow across the city. Tended by immigrants, retirees, chefs and fans of fresh food, the allotments make up a kitchen community like no other.

"Allotments" were not a world we knew until we went to Dublin and London to do Kitchen Sister workshops and began to sniff out hidden kitchens in that part of the world.

Wedged between buildings, planted in abandoned open spaces and carved into hillsides, these community plots of open space began to be reserved for neighborhood cultivation with the industrialization of England in the 1860s, when rural people poured into the city.

The allotments started to flourish with Britain's "Dig for Victory" movement of World War II, an effort to feed the starving population of London during the war. They are exploding today with the organic gardening and "good food" movements, and efforts to food self-sufficiency sweeping the country.

Claire Ptak, whose organic and beautiful cupcakes are sold at the Violet stall at Broadway Market in London Fields, first told us about the allotment movement in London. And we just had to see for ourselves.

Bachelors, Artists, Immigrants, Foodies

For about 20 years, retiree Charlie Gregory has been cultivating his plot at Fitzroy Park Allotment in Hampstead Heath, next to hipster artists and an immigrant couple with three Yorkies. There are apple trees, black currant bushes, blueberries, onions and shallots.

"Everybody knows everybody," Gregory said. "I'm a bachelor myself. I'm 78 now, and I'm keeping on the go. It's not expensive. For 27 pounds a year, you've got the space of land, you know, and this beautiful spot. You want to keep fit and live to a good old age? Get an allotment!"

London chef Oliver Rowe gets almost all his food from farmers and producers working within the radius of the city's train system. In the kitchen of Konstam at the Prince Albert, his restaurant in Kings Cross, Rowe's bread is made of wheat that is grown, milled and baked within 20 miles. The walls of his café are lined with jars of Dartford broad beans, sloe gin berries and sweet squash that he canned last year.

"Anywhere where there's a bit of unused green space has the potential to be turned into an allotment," Oliver said. "On the edge of a railroad seating or squeezed in a patch of disused land ... If you go to an allotment in east London, you may have a group of Bangladeshi women who grow all the things they can't buy here, because it's not available or too expensive.

"And you'll find old men, puttering around down there, getting away from the wife, sitting in a chaise reading the newspaper, getting some exercise, bringing home some nice food."

Jo MacDonald, a woman we met selling vintage clothing, has an allotment of her own. "I think it was the thing that kept me sane when my marriage was breaking up," she said. "I used to just go and wallow about in the allotment."

A Long Tradition

John Kelly, publisher of Prospect magazine, says he once had a plot in north London. He said allotments started in the 19th century and were sparked by philanthropy and health concerns.

"So as people fled from agrarian poverty into working in factories, land was given to the city in perpetuity for people to cultivate vegetables," Kelly said. "The allotment boom really happened in 1940s, 1950s."

London has also taken to the guerilla gardening trend with some enthusiasm, according to the Washington Post.
At a few minutes to 11 on a recent balmy night in East London, a black Ford crawled along the dimly lighted street. The suspicious driver rolled down his window to quiz a young woman by the curb. "What are you doing here?" he asked. The reply came quickly, cheerfully. "Gardening."

She was one of two dozen men and women gathered at a long-neglected public flower bed about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide. Under flickering street lamps in the bleak urban landscape, they spent the next four hours transforming the block with pitchforks and spades, fresh soil and plants.

These are London's Guerrilla Gardeners, a fast-growing force of renegades who are breathing life into neglected and timeworn pockets of open land across this vast metropolis.

Similar grass-roots movements are long established in New York, Philadelphia and, on a smaller scale, Washington. But the idea is relatively new to Britain, where people are more likely to wait politely, if vainly, for their municipalities to fix up the public open land.

What makes the British version particularly odd, though, is that it is done under cover of darkness, reinforcing the idea that this is rebellious and illicit. The guerrillas work at night to avoid run-ins with authorities, some of whom may not take kindly to trespassers working on land that is not their own.

The movement was started two years ago by Richard Reynolds, 28, a freelance advertising executive and passionate gardener who first tackled the wasteland around his high-rise apartment in the Elephant and Castle neighborhood in south London. He tells of setting his alarm for the middle of the night and attacking the littered flower bed on his block. He planted vibrant red cyclamens and cordylines, the latter chosen because they were "evergreen, strikingly sculptural, and they echoed the pattern of the spiky metal burglar-preventing fence at the top of the wall."

Soon he was enlisting the help of friends to mount more ambitious raids and, thanks to regular blogs on his Web site ( ) and interest from the British media, Reynolds found he was welcoming more people on every dig.

Today, the Guerrilla Gardeners number more than 1,000 and counting. Reynolds continues to fund most of the plantings himself, but also receives donations from supporters. He tends towards hardy, drought-resistant plants because they won't need much maintenance. A favorite choice is lavender: "It's wind-resistant, drought-resistant, sweet-smelling, floral, honey-bee attracting." Two or three times a month Reynolds sends a group e-mail informing his troops of the next dig's secret location. A select group of the guerrillas comes armed with tools, and sometimes plants, but Reynolds is always at the vanguard, handing out gloves and trowels and directing operations.


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