Tuesday, 31 July 2012

"Give us grounds to grow! ... Hard times call for some smart thinking..."

In November the Society will be holding an event in the Community Centre and the guest speaker will be John Hancox, Director of the Commwealth Orchard and chair of Scottish Orchards. Plotters and others who regularly visit this site may wish to read a recent piece written by John for a national newspaper.  

Give us grounds to grow! John Hancox , Director of the Commonwealth Orchard

Hard times call for some smart thinking, and my view is that it¹s well time for a new Dig for Victory Campaign. All round Scotland there¹s no shortage of unused land which the public own already. There are also plenty of people who are desperate to get hold of land to grow their own healthy, delicious food. In these difficult economic times it makes very little sense to have unused land sitting idle, while people who¹d love to use it for  productive food growing can¹t.

Over several years now, The Commonwealth Orchard, has been helping schools and community groups to develop orchards, food gardens and healthy eating projects. Our mission is to create a Fruitful Scotland with trees growing in parks, gardens schools and wherever there is room, looked after by local people. People really love planting and harvesting their own food. It¹s cheap, good for you, tastes great, and I¹ve yet to find anyone who thinks it¹s a bad idea.

And it¹s fresh  if you pick an apple off the tree (I picked the first of this season¹s apples this week,) it¹s as fresh and delicious as it can be. It¹s a well known scientific fact, that what you grow, and pick yourself tastes far better. You don¹t need to import fruit from France if it¹s growing outside your window in Glasgow. Growing your own saves money, saves carbon, and saves the planet. If everyone agrees that it¹s a no brainer, why is it so very hard to get land to grow food?
In real exasperation we took a Petition to the Scottish Parliament in June, calling for Government agencies who hold public land such as Forestry Commission Scotland, the Crown Estate, local authorities, health boards, and environment groups to make much more land available for people to plant, grow and harvest their own. We were pleased to get cross party support from the MSPs on the Petitions Committee. We really hope this will lead to positive action, soon.

Our call is for a Right to Grow. That would mean that people wanting to grow on unused land could do so, unless there is a good reason why not. We are not calling for changes in land ownership as much land is already in public ownership. The Right to Grow would be rather like the ³Right to Roam² which came about after WW2 and now allows access for walkers into the hills. While this was opposed by landowners at the time, it¹s now the norm and works well.

Government agencies have done various one-off food growing projects. Great though these are, for instance a community garden project in Fort William isn¹t much use if you live in Falkirk. We don¹t need ³pilot studies² now: community orchards, and gardens and also school orchards have been well tried and tested. We need to get on and do far more, and we need the bureaucracy to be removed. Everyone needs somewhere to grow something. The Dig for Victory campaign worked in wartime and can work now.

We don¹t need self appointed experts getting us bogged down in complexity.
During World War 2, when loads of unused land an estimated 1.4 million allotments across the UK- was brought into production with people growing vegetables, fruit, as well as keeping bees, chickens and even goats  and the effect was that the Nation¹s health improved dramatically. People were just given encouragement to get on with it  it was so simple. If it worked then, why not now?

Providing land for food growing, helps people to help themselves. People don¹t want to sit home and watch daytime TV - they want something useful to do. This is true for people young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural. Being able to go and get your hands dirty and grow things is so important to people. And it¹s vital that children learn these skills so they know how to feed themselves in what is an uncertain future.

Growing your own food builds confidence and health and without these the country can¹t recover. The wartime Dig for Victory campaign has lessons for today. Sustainable economic growth clearly isn¹t a term understood by our economists or bankers, but it¹s what drives the people who plant community orchards - you plant trees for future generations - not for immediate personal gain. We are in an economic mess and it¹s time to allow ordinary people to get land to grow, and let them dig us all out of it.

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