soil scientists want more allotment plots to capitalise on the revival of the green-fingered hobby, as researchers this week claimed that soils under the urban vegetable patches are healthier than those on intensively farmed land.
Fruit and vegetables harvested from the nation’s allotments have an important role to play in feeding the growing population and can reduce Britain’s reliance on imported food, experts say, with a study by the University of Sheffield showing that allotment holding in urban areas produces food sustainably without damaging soils.
Dr Jill Edmondson, from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences who led the study which saw data gathered from sites in Leicester, said: “We found remarkable differences in soil quality between allotments and arable fields. Our study shows how effectively own-growers manage soils, and it demonstrates how much modern agricultural practices damage soil.
“An estimated 800m city dwellers across the world participate in urban food production, which makes a vital contribution to food security. Our results suggest that in order to protect our soils, planning and policy making should promote urban own-growing rather than further intensification of conventional agriculture as a more sustainable way of meeting increasing food demand.”
Peter Melchett, the Soil Association’s policy director, welcomed the findings, which have been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
“Allotments have a vital role to play in meeting food demand in this country. The Government claims that overall allotment numbers are not down – but this isn’t enough. We need more allotments to be made available, cutting waiting times so that more people can start growing their own fresh, home-grown food. This will help people eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut food imports - better for climate change and better for our health.”
Tony Heeson, the region’s representative for the National Allotment Society, said allotment holding now has broad appeal.
“The make up of allotment members now is probably less than half retired people, the number of families with young children is growing, some to enjoy fresh food, some the exercise and some just to enjoy family time together in a good environment.”
Farmers’ commitment to caring for the environment was defended by Caroline Drummond, chief executive of Linking Environment And Farming. Huge amounts of work is done by farmers to encourage wildlife, benefit soil and water resources and support farmland birds through European-funded environmental stewardship schemes.
Ms Drummond said: “Farmers are increasingly adopting sustainable farming methods and approaches such as LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management in order to deliver high quality food whilst caring for the environment. Allotments and community growing initiatives have an important role to play in helping connect people to food, but in order to feed the growing population large-scale commercial farming is essential.”