Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Garden Organic For Schools

We made it. We're still alive. It's the fourth week of school. Two hours a day so far. Time to start exploring the 'Garden Organic for Schools initiative'. Before we delve into how it is relevant to the National Curriculum - let's start with how it came about. See this link:

As readers may remember - Garden Organic and their wonderful staff have accompanied us (in spirit) on our family's 'Organic Food Journey' since my daughter was born. I breastfed my daughter - so she had a great start in life. When she was six months old - I attended a 'Garden Organic For All' training weekend in Ryton, near Coventry. I'll never forget the help and support I experienced there, it really helped set our family up for life. (I have particularly fond memories of the first class restaurant and the chocolate bread and butter pudding - they really pampered us). The 'Organic Food for All' programme has ended now, I think but it existed to reach out to people with limited resources to help them get growing.

Anyone reading this blog who looks at our allotment plot now might get the impression we've been growing food organically all our lives. Not so people. Four years ago, when my daughter was born I was on a very fast learning curve. On the training course Garden Organic taught us about crop rotation and tested us on the main vegetable families - in the fog of new parenthood, I recall my embarrassment as I didn't know any of them properly. Four years on, things are different and I feel a lot more confident about how to grow organic food. So there is hope for all you newbies! Writing this blog has helped too.

Our school choice was heavily influenced by access issues and the fact that the building is close to our allotment site. Some of the parents (and staff) we meet at the school gate are fellow plot holders. So, hello folks. I know that some of you subscribe to the posts on this blog, I'm always really glad to know that someone is actually reading this stuff! And thanks for all your hard work in our allotment community.

Allotments and growing spaces are sometimes hard to come by round here and lots of households don't have any access to them. People think our city is quite rich - but the recession affects the leafy-laned schools too - there are two main industries here: finance and retail - and both of these industries have been hit hard. There are masses of two-up-two-down houses in our district which only have a courtyard and no growing space. Tourism is all very well - but tourist facilities often benefit only large companies based elsewhere and not the local council-tax payers who actually live here.

Our school used to have an allotment on our site, but recently I understand they've had to give it up. I was told by a fellow plot holder that although the allotment was just across the road from the school - they couldn't spare the time away from the curriculum to ship all the children over there and back again. Just shows what sort of target-driven pressures they must be under these days (see: A Parent's Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage) http://www.parentsguidetoeyfs.wordpress.com/

All things are connected. At any rate, we have a school garden - that's a start.

The baseline is: although our school has a food policy - we feel they have not yet made the connection between growing and eating. We're due to start school meals next week - but as far as we know - although the food is fairly balanced - none of it is organically grown or locally produced. Our parental assessment tells us there's definitely room for improvement there.

There would be plenty of scope for a community composting initiative. Let's hope they're reading this.

And then there is Climate Change. As a family - we started measuring our household carbon emissions years ago and our child will grow up with an awareness of social and environmental responsibility - with the knowledge that although the situation is critical, there are things that can be done. NOW. See: The Carbon Trust site for ways in which schools and small and medium-sized enterprises can save energy and money.

But it all comes down to a question of listening doesn't it? I'd like to say our allotment was a gift. But it wasn't. It was completely derelict when we took it on. Due to my other half's disability I've done all the heavy manual work on it single-handedly for years. That's getting easier now the soil is better but it was really tough at first and without the support of Garden Organic I'm sure I would have given up a long time ago. I've seen people throw in the towel because they made mistakes, underestimating the work involved or didn't know anything about labour saving techniques.

I've also seen newbies give up because our council doesn't seem to know much about horticulture. They cleared the plots opposite ours with bulldozers - removing all the top soil and not realising what they were doing. These plots were plagued with flooding problems for years.

It's very clear to me that local authorities (and schools) should be making growing easier for people. There should be proper access and consultation (not just lip service) for people with disabilities to empower and enable. And the council should adhere to the statutory equal opportunities policy. If they want people to live healthily - combat food insecurity and cut carbon emissions - then they have to make it easier for people to 'grow their own'.

I was once criticised by someone who reckoned that instead of 'complaining' about conditions in society - I should just 'get on with it'. As our allotment - and the rest of our decades of voluntary activities - (including our contributions to the local committees we are a part of) show: the truth of that is: we've been 'getting on with it' all along...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Battle for composting toilet on site rages on

There has been some controversy about our site's plan to build a composting toilet (just one!). Our site is one of the largest in the U.K., I believe.

One brave Liberal Democrat councillor I talked to has agreed to donate £500 of his expenses allowance to support the plan. In a street surgery he told me that some other councillors refused to support the project saying it was 'too political'. (Obviously there is a revolutionary plot behind the idea isn't there?) No seriously, given the diversity of social standing of our plot holders - we've got everyone from people with flash cars and huge gardens at home to people on the breadline - I can't think of anything which would be less political - and if you ask me, the phrase 'it's too political' is just a poor excuse to do nothing.

On the ground, as an organic gardener - I'm well aware we have less than basic facilities which don't appear to be anywhere near the national standards or best practice seen on other allotment sites.

Dozens of plots are off the mains altogether. Watering is often a problem for this reason - as organic gardeners we mulch a great deal, according to Organic guidelines to save water - but at present we have one small corporation water butt between thirty-odd plot holders - no stand pipe - and this butt is often unusable - in hot weather the water pressure is non-existent and you turn up at the plot with a few hours to spare only to find there is no water because the butt isn't refilling fast enough. Many of us have installed extra butts to collect water from our sheds, but the situation still represents a difficulty for anyone with any sort of health challenge as all this often means carrying water for quite a distance.

Our lack of basic facilities also affects our ability to reach out to the community. One fellow parent remarked in exasperation one day: "They ought to try toilet training a toddler on a site with no hand-washing facilities - a mile or more from the nearest loo..." I couldn't agree more.

So much for local and national government rhetoric about healthy living and encouraging people (and children) to take more exercise and eat more fruit and veg. Much of it seems to be nothing more than lip-service.

We have disabilities in the family - and whilst if you are able-bodied, squatting behind the shed or over a bucket may be an ( adventurous) option - for anyone with a disability - it presents problems. When we have an Open Day, or visitors to the site - I lose visitors. As soon as they find out the toilets are so far away, many with 'toileting challenges' have to head for home.

It's time our Council shifted their priorities and started to understand the true meaning of the word 'sustainable development' . They've just spent £15 million odd on new headquarters for themselves which allow them to sup champagne whilst overlooking the racecourse in comfort. See this link: Still - what can you expect - it's only a few years since they they tried to sell our site off to build a tennis court....plot holders have got long memories, thank goodness.

Attitudes to people with disabilities could do with a shake-up too. After attempting a discussion about disability rights with a council representative on Friday I was told that 'disabled people' needed plots 'near the road'. I had to point out the Equal Opportunities basics here: that not everyone has a disability you can see for starters - (what about mental health issues?) - and not everyone is in a wheelchair(so access requirements are different).

Finally - surely what we should be aiming towards is empowering people - not shunting them off in some sort of car park ghetto. We have no intention of moving to be 'near the road' - when we've put in sustained effort to convert our plot from derelict for the past four years and are just beginning to reap the benefits.

So - readers of this blog - who WOULD like to learn more about the benefits of composting toilets and recognise their advantages in terms of saving costs - and water - I'm enclosing this link - there is a wealth of information out there if you search for 'Composting Toilets' but this link is good to start - click here.

AND dear readers - don't log off without signing our petition please! You don't need to put your postal address down, and you can click the options to hide your email address too, if you wish. Thanks very much fellow plotters - we really appreciate your help. Sign the petition here.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Composting Toilets!

Your support is needed for a petition to secure composting toilets for our Hoole Allotment Site.
To sign the petition follow this link.

Sustainable Food Evening

Off to this sustainable food evening tonight...organised by Friends of the Earth.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hoole Allotments - new community website

At last our allotments have a new website. Here's the link: Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Autumn Raspberries

I'm back. Earlier than expected. Thanks all you readers for wishing us well. School start - so far, so good. Here's a picture of some of our autumn raspberries. Variety All Gold. As far as we're concerned, they really are the original fast food. Little One loves them- (ours often never make it home, but just get eaten on the spot). It's understandable - they're delectable.

If you really want to add something to them, try searching for a recipe for Raspberry Pavlova. Or even simpler - I made one up for raspberry 'mess'. Crushed meringue. Lots of raspberries and whipped cream.

One word of warning. Pick them frequently. I turned up on the plot today after a week's absence only to find quite a few were wasted. They were overripe and because the weather has been quite wet, some had started to go mouldy. They could really do with picking every day.

Some people think the yellow ones are strange - but they look so pretty as a contrast to red ones. And the best thing: I went to a supermarket this week and autumn raspberries are selling for £2.5o for a very small punnet - and they're not organically grown either. I reckon this year we must have had at least thirty punnets worth...