It’s not just fruit and vegetables that grow at allotments; friendships blossom there too, as Julia Bryce discovers when she speaks to green-fingered locals.
Given the current global pandemic, community is something many people have leaned on for support throughout the past five months.
Be that neighbours picking up essentials for those shielding, individuals signing up to receive local produce boxes, or even people volunteering to help those in desperate need of supplies and donations.
Kindness has come in every shape and size of late and it is those big-hearted individuals which so many local allotments or community gardens depend on to ensure they can get their ready-to-eat produce in front of those who need it most.
Established in 2002, National Allotments Week raises awareness of allotments and the key role they play in helping the local community live healthier lifestyles and grow their own food.
In Aberdeen, The Allotment Market Stall (TAMS) is one project putting the wider community first.
Made up of more than 50 allotments across the city centre, the group also grows a range of seasonal fruit, veg and flowers for the local community to enjoy at very reasonable prices.
Setting up market stalls in Duthie, Victoria and Seaton Park on Fridays from 9.30am to 1.30pm, 50% of all sales go back into helping grow and develop the different allotments and keeping them up to scratch.
Aarrone Sangster, digital marketing director of TAMS, said: “It was started by Catherine Mackay in 2013. She was seeing how much waste was happening in all of the allotments that she was growing in. She decided to round up all the spare produce and sell it at a reasonable price. This initially took place at Castlegate but sadly they ended up shutting down the market.
“TAMS decided to branch out and settled on Duthie, Seaton and Victoria Park to host the markets. We run them during the summer months and organise them as much as we can during that period. We’ve partnered with allotments across Aberdeen and we collect the produce ahead of the market on Friday. We have a cold storage facility where we store the produce and prep it before it goes on sale. We’ve just started to sell on Saturdays at Bonnymuir Community Garden between 10.30am and 2.30pm, too.
“With the sales 50% goes back to the allotment. We tally it up over the season and at the end of it, they get a payout which helps them pay for fixing fencing, getting more soil, seeds and that sort of thing. It just helps to keep it in really good condition.”
Donating any leftover produce from the markets to a range of local food banks, the board behind TAMS say they are being met with incredible demand and have put out a call for additional volunteers to lend a hand, and to find more allotments to help donate food for TAMS’ newly-launched veg boxes.
He added: “Anything that isn’t sold at the market stall goes directly to food banks. We want to get to a stage where we are able to take a portion of sales and purchase more food for food banks or give even more of our produce to them so that everyone can have access to fresh fruit and veg. At the moment we’re giving what we can.
“The board has six people on it. That’s everyone involved in running it day-to-day and getting funding etc, and we have constant volunteers who either come for a day or are long term. They help run the market stalls a lot, too. We don’t have enough volunteers and when we manage to get more we can run the market stalls for longer.
“The amount of people who want to buy produce from us is so much more than the amount of people we have run it, and the amount of produce we can generate as well. We’re trying to connect with more allotments to get more produce to meet the demand.”
Focusing on growing items which run in line with the seasons, the new veg boxes will feature a range of fresh produce. Soon to be made available for all, those self isolating, shielding or most vulnerable are first priority at the moment.
Aarron said: “We’ve launched new veg boxes delivering them across Aberdeen. They are £15 and full of a mix of vegetables. They will be delivered to your door and what we’re trying to do initially is to get the boxes to those who are at risk or self isolating. We have a limited amount of produce, but once we have more allotments and the programme starts running more smoothly we’ll be opening this up to everyone. They can be easily purchased on the website.
“It is all what’s in season. It is very natural and it could be anything from broccoli, marrow, beetroot, raspberries, gooseberries, courgettes, herbs, flowers (lavender bunches, decorative flowers, edible flowers etc.) – everything you can imagine.
“Gregor Welsh is one of the main people who keeps the allotments going. He’s a real green thumb kind of guy. He’s really instrumental in the Bonnymuir set up and links a lot of the allotments.
“There are still a lot of allotments who don’t know about TAMS so we’re hoping the new website helps with this.”
A map of all the places where food is grown in Aberdeen by Aberdeen City Council.
One group that gives away food to the community is Food is Free in Carnoustie.
Set up to provide free food for all, the local project was inspired by a global movement which started in Austin, Texas, raising awareness of how easy it was to transform neglected areas into thriving sources of food.
After hearing a talk, Laura Tierney, one of the co-founders of the Carnoustie group, set out to establish a space where people could grow their own fruit and vegetable crops and share the fruits of their labour with others.
Setting up the project with Pauline Marr, Libby Mcainsh and Laura-May Kennedy, the four ladies have been running Food is Free in the area for more than six years. With the help of a few local businesses, they turned this unused space into the thriving community asset it is today.
Laura said: “Around six years ago I had been looking to start a community garden in Carnoustie. There was this big piece of land that wasn’t being used. I wanted to find more people who were interested in starting up something similar and ended up at a talk where someone was speaking about the Food Is Free movement which started in Texas.
“I really liked the idea and got speaking to people. I was still eyeing up this bit of land and was on a mission to find out who it belonged to. Eventually, I found out that the owner of Smyth Composites owned it and he has been beyond supportive. He has to pay for the water for the land and allows us to use it for free. He’s gone above and beyond for us.
“It is a massive piece of land and DJ Laing came in and helped clear everything when we were first getting set up. From the start people really got involved. I’d phone the farms around the area and see if they had any polytunnels they could give us and Angus Growers ended up giving us a 90 foot polytunnel at no cost. People would donate plants and flowers, too, which was great.”
Fully funded and run by the team behind it and volunteers, Laura and the other founders have never pursued national funding and have only ever applied for local funding if needed.
She explained: “We decided not to go for big funding as we wanted to keep the small community feel it has. We didn’t want to set up all these rules. We do apply for local funding if we need it.
“We’ve built it up with our brilliant volunteers. Everyone chips in. To begin with we had been putting out some boxes for people to help themselves across Carnoustie, but people seemed a little nervous about taking stuff for free. When we moved to doing this outside a cafe people would take the produce and more people started bringing their own surplus veg and leaving it too which was really brilliant. Last year we organised a stall just as you go into the doctors’ surgery and ideally I’d like to take that further and have a herb garden outside.
“Lockdown changed things as we now can’t use the surgery to put the food outside. We used to put it out first thing and it would be gone in hours. We’ve also had to change some things in the community garden because of lockdown, too.
“We’re now just leaving it on a table at the garden and we’ve been posting on Facebook to let people know when there is produce to be picked up. Word of mouth has been great this year too. We grew things people were looking for more but we’ve got melons, grapes, aubergines and that sort of thing as well.”
And Laura says the garden is not just a good way for the local community to engage with nature, but for them to meet new people and learn new skills.
“It took years to build up where the garden was and it is such an amazing project. It went from an empty field to being almost a home for many. A lot of people use it a way of socialising and meeting people. Some volunteers are nervous because they can’t garden, but everyone is welcome and anyone can do anything they like – they can make tea and coffee, plant seeds, weed or just provide support,” said Laura.
“We don’t really give to food banks as such, but we always offer free food to anyone who needs it. It is a great chance for people to taste vegetables the way they should actually taste.”
But what is next for a project that has already done so much for its local community?
Laura said:”I’m hoping to run a tea workshop as I’m getting into herbalism and I’ll invite people down to the garden and show them how to use dandelions and nettles – really basic stuff, just so people know they can do stuff with them. The nurseries usually come in and have their wee areas to plant so we’ve missed having them in this year.
“People don’t really grow veg in their gardens anymore so I think every street should have some space to grow food. It’s like a whole generation was skipped and we went from growing veg to not. So many people have said they are now growing veg at home after being at the garden.”
Garthdee Field Allotments Association – Aberdeen
Garthdee Field Allotments Association is run by a group, it is open to all plotters from Garthdee as well as others interested in allotments. Volunteers are also welcome.
Bonnymuir Green – Aberdeen
This walled market garden is welcome to everyone and even has its own weekend cafe, too. The community space is sustained by a group of volunteers. Yoga classes and a range of other events also take place in Bonnymuir Green.
South Road Allotments – Dundee
Made up of 20 plots, this smaller allotment is run by a committee. For members only, this group of individuals pay for their plot at South Road Allotments and the site was officially opened just under a decade ago in September 2010.
City Road Allotments – Dundee
The community garden is a great space for those green-fingered enthusiasts to put their skills to good use. The allotment site has been in existence since the 1940s and has evolved over the years to house 71 plots. Leased from Dundee City Council, the association manages the lot which promotes the growing of fruit and veg in the city.
North Perth Allotment Association – Perth
The North Perth Allotment Association is a community garden in Tulloch which boasts 14 full and half-size allotment plots including two community ones and a community garden. Established in 2012, the association is run by five individuals passionate about growing your own produce.
Blackthorn Allotments Association
Based on the south east side of Inverness, Blackthorn Allotments is a community allotment which features 34 different plots. Housing some community plots for local groups and charities, locals can also lease anything from small to large plots to grow their own fruit and vegetables.