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Incredible Edible South Somerset
The evening was organized by Somerset Community Food as part of our Land and Food Project.
Linda Hull presented the results of a detailed survey of allotment provision and demand for land in the district, and readers can find the factsheet from this survey here.
“Despite the fact that there are more than 97 acres of allotments in South Somerset, we now know that 277 people are on allotment waiting lists in the district. If we count those who might not know how to get on a list or those who think it’s pointless to do so because the list is too long, we could probably say latent demand is double and more like over 500 would like a patch of ground to grow food on.”
The areas with the largest waiting lists included Wincanton (26), Yeovil (28), (Bruton (25), Chard (40) and Crewkerne (45), all of this following the creation of 399 new allotment plots created in the last two-three years.
Speakers from Somerton and Brymptom Allotment Associations told their stories about how they took control of searches for land to create new growing spaces in their areas at no cost to the taxpayer. Some groups searched for 6 years (read Somerton's story here), while others found land within months.
"Communicate, communicate, communicate!" was the advice from Dave Robson from Brymptom Allotments who could not emphasise enough how important it is to talk as a group and communicate clearly with landowners, parish councils and prospective growers. "We're going from strength to strength," says Dave. "You just can't keep people away from the site!"
Rebecca Sandover, a PhD candidate and allotmenteer in Somerton had been using two allotment sites in Somerset as case studies for her research. She described both the sites as "Spaces of community creation" in her study of learning transfer and community cohesion through informal growing on allotments
The group also heard an inspiring talk from James Divall, the Health Inequalities Project Manager at South Somerset District Council talk about the success and story so far of Milford Community Garden. Allan Cavill from the National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners also commented that there is no reason why the self-management model for allotments cannot be scaled down for community sites in more urban areas. The fact is, the model works, as Allan can prove on his 50th newly created site this year under this style of management.
All speakers commented on how bare fields had been transformed into beautiful sites where people had learned to work together to provide wonderful, fresh produce for themselves.
“It’s clear that people who really want to grow food can find ways to access land. What we need now is landowners to come forward particularly in the areas where the waiting lists are longest,” said Linda Hull.
“There’s a reasonable income to be derived from leasing land for community growing, certainly better than grass keep. Both public and private landowners can benefit – public landowners can turn maintenance costs into revenue streams and local farmers can make use of marginal land and even develop captive, loyal, local markets for other crops. Not to mention the fantastic community spirit that is generated!”