Once the domain of the middle-aged man in green wellington boots, smoking a woodbine, and brandishing a tartan thermos flask, the humble allotment has a burgeoning population of young enthusiasts across the UK, tempted by the range of benefits that local organic produce can bring to your body and mind.
Currently, there are approximately 300,000 plots of land being used as allotments in the UK – with over 90,000 people in long waiting lists for an allotment space. In addition to this, some allotments have an eye-watering 40 year waiting list, some in central Edinburgh with a 90 year waiting list! So what explains the growth in popularity for the humble allotment (last pun, I hope!) – particularly amongst young people?
It seems obvious that long hours of weeding, pruning and sowing in the summer sun, the driving rain of autumn and frosts of winter, will improve your physical fitness. Having recently taken over a plot myself, I can attest to how physically demanding just an hour every evening on the allotment can be. Your step-count will go through the roof! However, rather than simply being damned hard work, there is something about the weeding and digging that leaves you with an irresistible and satisfying feeling of tiredness when you sink down into your well-earned bed at night. And much of this is due to the allotment’s ability to nourish your mind…
It is clear from a plethora of studies that being out in the open air on a regular basis can improve your physical well-being; however, the body and mind are inextricably connected and you will reap a whole host of benefits to the mind by managing an allotment space. Firstly, they provide a mental challenge: how will I manage the space, what will I plant, what protection am I going to need from the inevitable pests that threaten my beloved vegetables… Such forward thinking and planning, both in the short and long term, helps engender critical thinking. Secondly, nurturing fruit and vegetables over the seasons is incredibly therapeutic. My plot is a haven. Far from roads, traffic, and life, I can spend many hours in relative peace, away from modern life. In many ways, you go back to basics – and it is the simple life that many feel is of benefit to a work-tired, stress-filled brain.
That said, it would be a shame indeed if your allotment was simply a get-away from other people. In actual fact, one of the recent evolutions of these green spaces has been to develop them into a family space, where children can roam free to play, explore, and learn the fundamentals of gardening. Some families have created family-friendly spaces with cultivated space for summer afternoon picnics, with beds where wild flowers are grown, and herbs fill the air with pleasant scents. There is something irresistible about this idyllic image.
Not only can the humble allotment improve the health of the entire family, but (fingers crossed) it can provide a glut of wonderfully fresh organic produce for much of the year. Provided the slugs, caterpillars, and butterflies have not struck early, you can harvest great red stalks of rhubarb, regal-looking globe artichokes, creamy white potatoes – the list is endless. Rather than visit a packed supermarket, with its excess of plastic wrapping, you can take a short walk to your natural haven and pick your raspberries or courgettes fresh from the ground – and make a delicious meal of it.
Written by Mr Thurlbourn
Images courtesy of Steffi Perreira and Markus Spiske @unsplash.com