Categories: General Date: Aug 25, 2009 Title: Dug, Planted and Eaten !
On the day Buckingham Palace announced they had created their own ‘allotment', Exeter's largest allotment site called ‘Guys & Hylton' opened its gates to 100 guests who came along to discover what life on an allotment is all about.
Volunteer plot holders met and welcomed the guests, taking them on a tour of the site and a special visit to individual allotments, conducting informal ‘Gardeners' Question Time' as they went.
This was a visit about ‘doing': after their plot visits, the visitors were arranged in 6 groups, each following the same programme of events but staggered so that they didn't all arrive at the same time at the BBQ and Pizza-Making oven! Inspired by the RHS Hampton Court show in 2008, there were workshops throughout the day, including a "sack mound" workshop with Ronnie Kazibwe from Uganda. We met Ronnie in Exeter last winter: he is in Exeter studying computer programming but when we learned he has an organic farm in Uganda, we begged him to join us to show how growing in a sack with a core of stones can produce a huge crop with minimum watering. His workshop was a huge success with adults and children alike and, thanks to a local farm supply company, we had plenty of hessian sacks to give away so that people without gardens or an allotment could go home and, inspired by Ronnie, could get started.
The Allotment Association had set aside half a plot for this project so that ‘Potato Pete' Lovell, one of the volunteers, could plant it up with potatoes in March ready for the Dig It! day. And ‘dig' they did! Children were eagle-eyed at finding those potatoes which slipped back under the soil and everyone had beautiful new potatoes to take home and cook.
It was not all about ‘take': visitors worked on the other part of the empty plot, preparing the soil, sowing carrots, beetroot, peas and putting up bean poles for the runner beans, leaving a potential bumper crop for the new owners taking over the plot later in the month.
All this activity and talk of ‘food', as well as walking round the huge site of 200 or more plots, helped to work up a mighty appetite. Ian Shears was on hand with his award-winning mobile wood-fired oven to show everyone how to make their own pizzas with their choice of topping, including fresh basil grown on the site, which they enjoyed with ‘allotment salad' and a superb dressing donated by Jill, one of the volunteers. And there was a barbecue of wonderful organic beef burgers and pork sausages from the famous Devon ‘Orange Elephant' farm (the name given to the large orange-coloured cattle they breed).
With lots more to learn about composting and wormeries with Exeter's Recycling Team, it was soon time to test how much everyone had learned. The Prize Quiz, created by Gina, another St David's Neighbourhood Partnership volunteer, had a range of prizes - the star prize being a year's subscription to ‘Kitchen Garden' magazine, worth £38. The lucky winner, Mr David Davies of Heavitree, will soon be receiving his magazine to help guide and inspire him through the gardening year.
Before leaving, visitors were asked to go and talk to ‘Queen Bee' (Hannah, conducting the evaluation of the event) to tell us (a) your thoughts about the event and (b) one thing you have learned about growing, planting or allotments. And some of the comments?
"That allotment holders are passionate about what they do"
"You can grow loads of things in a potato sack" (child)
"There's a plant called a ‘greengage' plant. Its fruit are like green plums" (child)
"This day reminds me how precious our earth is and how valuable it is to have good food we grow ourselves"
"Absolutely brilliant, so well organised. So nice to see so many children and young families coming to find out about growing your own."
Thanks to the sponsors of the event, everyone went home with a lovely jute bag containing pens from recycled material, recycled note pads, seeds and a hessian sack.
The final comment to one of the many volunteers working on the day was by the Leader of Exeter City Council, Cllr Adrian Fullam, who came along, informally, with his two young daughters. "Allotments are not just about growing vegetables, are they. There is a spiritual dimension." Indeed, it may not be Buckingham Palace grounds, but it's paradise to us.
The project was conceived and managed by St David's Neighbourhood Partnership with St Thomas Allotment Association and a "Change4Life" initiative. It was sponsored by:
Devon Community Foundation (Grassroots Grant), Devon County Council, Exeter City Council , St Thomas Allotment Association, St David's Neighbourhood Partnership and Suttons Seeds