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Plotting a sharing food economy

Bristol allotment

Dominic Knight is a Bristol resident and allotment holder. After finding himself with surplus this season he contacted FoodCycle Bristol and begun taking them weekly donations. Realising the potential within his own allotment group he set up a donation shed to allow others to contribute surplus as well. In our latest blog post, Dominic considers the potential for this concept to take hold across the city.

For a world that produces enough food to feed the entire population, we have food poverty on a catastrophic scale. In the UK, 4.6 million people live without the funds or means to access “enough healthy food for our nutritional needs.” For one of the richest countries in the world, this is disgraceful.

The issues surrounding food poverty are diverse and complex, but are not out of reach of being dealt with if the desire is there. Access to fresh, healthy produce should be a human right, yet in many cases it is the richest that can afford the locally grown, organic produce that is most suited for our nutritional needs.

After two years on the waiting list, and completely out of the blue, I was offered my first allotment plot. It’s not been my first time growing, but my first large plot of land, and growing on that scale has been a steep and fast learning curve. I had propagated a vast array of crops at home in DIY cold frames and windowsills, and by the time it came to planting, I realised I had way too many plants for the spaces that I’d allocated. Being fairly green, I planted lots of them anyway.

Skip forward to harvest time and I had more produce than I could give away to friends, which gave me the realisation that as a novice I had not been economical with my planting. On the other hand, all this excess food needed a home, and hadn’t really cost me much more than a lot of sweat and a sore back.

Sometimes when an idea forms, it slowly rolls out of the mind over weeks or months. This one hit me like a stone chucked over the fence by an unruly child! If I have this much excess food – fresh, organic, healthy food – then if only a handful of other people on our fairly small plot had too much, that would suddenly make up a lot. One cog fell out of my ear after the other. If a plot with roughly a hundred people on could find five people to donate a few leaves of kale, some carrots and a few handfuls of beans, that would quite quickly become a substantial haul of produce. The more donations, the more food. Upscale to each allotment plot in North Bristol, that could feed a good proportion of the local food clubs and community kitchens. Upscale further across the whole of the Bristol postcode and there could be a surplus of fresh produce. Upscale to the South West, then all allotment plots in the UK…oh wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

With more than one in four children in Bristol living in poverty, the need to provide fresh healthy produce to the food clubs and community kitchens that help feed families, is crucial. If links can be made between allotments and food charities, then the community widens and together, we can help feed those most in need of a balanced nutritional diet. Diet and mental health are inextricably linked, meaning that with access to better food, not only can it feed individuals physically, it also has huge mental benefits.

On a small scale, I have made weekly donations to a community kitchen in Barton Hill, (FoodCycle Bristol) and with the addition of donations from other allotment holders, it has been an ample amount to feed the people coming through the door for a free meal. If more growers got involved on my small allotment, there would most likely be too much for this one project. This leads me to believe that there is scope on a city wide scale to form a community of growers providing fresh food for a whole range of different kitchens, food clubs and community projects. 

Using my allotment as a troubleshooting template for logistics, volunteering and time management, the wider plan would be to bring this idea to as many allotments in Bristol that would be interested in participation as possible. It would not need to require involvement from everyone on each allotment, but from experience, a few allotment plots can go a long way in regards to providing food.

Although the timing of this project is past its prime this year (as the main harvest season is slowing down), there is a lot of room for logistical planning and community linking to be done over the coming months and into next year. There are conversations to be had and plans to be made with scope to broaden this project from a simple food share to wider community work. Workshops for those wanting to learn to grow, how to cook different types of vegetables and more. The dirt is our oyster, or something similar!

Growing your own fruit and veg, no matter the amount, is great for wellbeing, unbeatable for freshness, and puts the food you eat in your own hands. Whatever space you have available, now is a great time to get growing. Watch back to our #BristolFoodKind webinar featuring Sara Venn of Incredible Edible Bristol looking at practical ways to grow food using the things you have around you at home.

Read a Going for Gold blog post from last September by Anwen Bowers of FoodCycle Bristol: Anwen gives an overview of the amazing work they do transforming surplus food into huge benefits for the environment, people and communities.

If you would like to get involved with this project, please contact our Going for Gold Public Engagement Coordinator Florence Pardoe on florence@bristolfoodnetwork.org.