Thinking about growing your own this year? Here's some inspiration.
We all need food. Preferably food which is healthy for both people and the planet. However, lots of our food goes through a long process chain from sprout to packaged product and transport, before reaching the dinner plate. This chain often has a detrimental impact on the planet and the produce. Since not everyone has the space, time and capacity to grow one’s own fruit and vegetables, getting together in locally accessible gardens can lead to eco-friendly crops - and new friendships as a byproduct.
Daily activities and obligations consume a great deal of many people’s lives. Finding space, time and resources to grow fruit and vegetables is not always an (easy) option. But when involved in local gardens with appropriate pace and energy, it is possible to grow green fingers and food with a low carbon footprint.
A local, environmentally friendly approach to production, processing, packaging and transport of food reduces carbon emissions. Furthermore, experiences from John Miller at Braehead Community Garden, and Muriel Whitfield and Chris Steedman at Stirling Allotment Association, also show us that communal benefits and social connections can grow out of sharing the garden work and pleasure.
Braehead Community Garden is a two-acre facility located central in Stirling. The place was established with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. The community garden was established in 2015 and gives local residents an opportunity to rent a ‘micro plot’ for growing fruit and vegetables. There are 88 outdoor beds and 48 indoor ones. Of the outdoor ones, 73 are generally for members, 12 for market garden and 3 given free for community use. With community spirit and social connections at its heart, the community garden also engages people in polytunnels, an apiary, hens, a wetland, workshops, clubhouse and events. The social beds allow local school classes to join the gardening.
John Miller, trustee and treasurer at the community garden, explains the different kind of memberships, “The growing members have access to their own raised bed, and social members can attend garden events. Both groups can join activities at the shared market gardens.”
John adds that the gate is also regularly open for the wider public. For example, there’s an open stall, volunteer days and most Tuesday and Saturday mornings, when there will be someone in the garden to greet visitors who are interested in knowing more about the place.
Social aspects are at play via organised workshops, for example when there have been events about how to prune trees and maintenance of gardening tools, as well as when working together. “Recently, we have gotten a new hen roof for our 15-16 hens. The material was covered via the garden’s fund, but all the work was executed by volunteers,” says John.
Challenges are also faced together. If the collected rain water runs out in the driest of months, John and others bring water to the place. There’s a high demand for water, among other things to prevent tomato and chili plants drying out in the polytunnels.
John explains that community gardens differ from allotments by offering smaller beds for individuals, and have social arrangements and shared spaces at its core. The community garden’s individual plots require less time to maintain but are known for being more expensive in rent than allotments. The raised beds in the community garden come with access to gardening tools and a clubhouse where people meet up to chat and share tips and ideas on gardening. A community garden aims to provide planting areas to people living nearby, without a long waiting list.
John has been involved in the community garden since it opened seven years ago. It is notable that societal changes which were unknown when it was established, may affect access to the spaces. He reflects on their prices for renting individuals plots in the light of the energy crises and concludes, “It’s worrying if the fee puts people off from getting involved. We aim to be as inclusive as possible.”
Even though the garden is able to cover its basic costs from membership and sales of produce, any new developments and maintenance of the infrastructure require funding. For example, solar panels have been installed with grant funding.
As a new initiative, the community garden has engaged a development officer who is reaching out to people. In that way eight people from The Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling got engaged in the garden over four days. Other groups are involved in regular activities, for example apprentices from Stirling Council spend a few hours per week at the place.
With working groups on different topics there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn skills at the community garden, whether it’s tree nursing, taking care of the chickens or take part in the bee hive group. Compost is also a topic and is one of John’s favorites. What got him started was his gardening passion and skills. The development of many friendships was a highly appreciated surprise.
If you are interested in knowing more about Braehead Community Garden check out their Facebook site.
From the Stirling Allotment Association there is a view of the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. The more than 70 allotments on the banks of the River Forth are located quietly beside the railway and the river. In a poly tunnel sheltered from torrential rain, Muriel Whitfield and Chris Steedman shared their experience on working together on her allotment.
When asked what Muriel likes about having an allotment garden, she answers, “Everything! It can be as simple or as challenging as you want. It was a major lifeline for me during the pandemic. I could come down for the day, bringing a flask and a sandwich and spend time safely outside, still meeting distanced, like-minded people/friends. It is such a healthy hobby both mentally and physically. As everyone knows – fresh air and physical exercise are good for you but also the surrounding countryside, hills and open green spaces lift your mood and improve your mental health. There is such satisfaction in developing and caring for “your space”, deciding which type of plants to grow, watching the growth and - if not very successful, as can happen - researching how to improve year on year. The level of input is your choice.”
Some challenges Muriel identifies in the allotments are – keeping the allotment rabbit free, spells of extreme weather and doing some maintenance jobs on her own. To get around the latter issue, Chris helps out occasionally in Muriel’s plot.
Chris Steedman and Muriel Whitfield in her allotment in the summer time.
The two of them met at the Transition Stirling Tool Library where Chris volunteers and Muriel borrowed tools with Chris’ helpful guidance. Chris has an interest in growing fruit and vegetables but doesn’t have a garden. He heard about a charity-run garden, but it was next to a petrol station and they needed more time than he was able to give. Then Muriel suggested he could come and help in her allotment, when his time allowed, and he could benefit by having a share of the produce in return.
“It actually transpired that Muriel did the growing and I did the woodwork and repairs around the plot. We also worked on some big and unwieldy jobs which would be difficult and frustrating for one person. This is an arrangement which benefits both of us,” Chris clarifies.
This arrangement started in the beginning of 2022, and Chris aims to be going at least every two weeks. After a couple of years on the waiting list in the same association, he recently got a starter plot, but still wishes to help and work with Muriel.
The best outcome of this arrangement, although not surprising - Muriel underlines - is their genuine friendship. Chris applauds, and also mentions the enjoyment of learning about gardening and growing. When walking around the site he chats with people and gets a look into how different people go about maintaining their plots. Tenants often help each other in various ways and share skills, ideas, surplus produce or materials. You get to know people of all ages and backgrounds in your community and are sure to learn something and to find like-minded people.
If interested, contact the allotment committee through www.stirlingallotmentassociation.org. The Allotment Association is a self-governing constituted association and run on a day-to-day basis by an elected voluntary committee. Rentals are paid on an annual basis and depend on the size of the plot.
Allotments have become very popular in recent times but any access to a garden or to some land for ‘growing your own’ is a great idea and as they say, “Local food always tastes better.”
Do you have any stories to share about local or community food growing? Please send an email to email@example.com
Text by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate.
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