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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Community gardening

Posted on August 10 2010 at 5:19:14 0 comments

Stripy courgettes

Hannah Genders looks to the future of food production, from English villages to urban America.

We have now completely settled into our new village in the Lenches, and much of this is due to the lovely community here and the people who have made us feel really welcome. This was particularly true when we had an invite to David and Liz’s a couple of Sundays ago.

Liz cooks a large meal for her neighbours most Sunday evenings and it involves sitting in the garden, chatting, eating great food and drinking a good quantity of wine, which was all excellent – but I have to say that the thing that completely stole my heart was the garden.

David and Liz live in the end one of five cottages which all share a communal outdoor space. Although each person knows exactly where their garden starts and finishes, none of them are marked out or fenced off at all, giving each resident access to all the neighbours’ gardens.

David grows lots of fruit and vegetables in his garden, with at least half the plot turned over to crop production. A stripy courgette caught my attention – David wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but was determined to save some seed and see if he could get it to do the same again next year!

By saving seed and keeping these varieties going, whether it’s for a novelty factor or because you just love the taste of a certain vegetable, growing on year after year in the same garden means the seed “adapts” itself to your plot and micro climate, providing a plant that is more disease-resistant and helping keep a wonderful variety of plants alive – which can be shared with neighbours. 

Wandering from David’s plot into the other gardens you begin to see how the spaces have developed over time, with meandering paths, borders and lovely areas to sit out and enjoy the space. Francis next door is into flowers, and has grown some lovely cottage garden plants in her borders.

With open access, you can choose to be in your own garden or go and see your neighbour for a chat and cup of tea. David informs me that as the evening sun disappears from their garden early on, they migrate over to Tony and Jan’s at the other end of the row to get the last of the sun’s rays before it sets.

Ilene, who lives in one of the middle cottages, is elderly so everyone helps keep her plot and provide her with some vegetables should she want them.

David and Liz have lived here since 1969 and the gardens have been without fences for as long as they can remember. In fact, David tells me that when they moved in all the gardens were vegetable and fruit plots – they had been that way since the wartime Dig for Victory campaign, which got everyone in the country feeding themselves from their back gardens. 

These little community gardens reminded me of an article I’d read just a few days before, on urban farming in Detroit and how growing vegetables is regenerating a very deprived city on a large scale. Detroit was the home of the US motor industry, which has since died and left the whole city bankrupt. With 30,000 houses derelict and burned out, about one third of the city’s population has upped and gone.

A charity called Urban Farming has moved in, taken over all these derelict plots and started growing food for the poor community who live nearby, creating a massive run of small vegetable gardens that could add up to 40 square miles – enough to feed most of the city’s population.

Like the cottage gardens in my village, there are no fences and people are encouraged to get involved and help themselves to what they need. They have seen no incidences of vandalism and people take only what they require, knowing their neighbours will go without if they get greedy.

From small beginnings, the charity now sees Detroit reviving itself and becoming a showcase for what other cities across the world could do – in fact a similar project is due to start in a very run-down area of London later this year.

So from a little village in Worcestershire with a history of community gardening to Detroit, our future has to be with growing our own food and keeping it shared and local.

For more information on the Detroit project visit http://www.urbanfarming.org


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