VEGA News Item

Allotments and Food Production - 25/02/2010

New Responsibilities on Smallholders and the Treatment of Animals in Food Production

1. The National Trust is almost a third of the way to meeting its goal of creating 1000 public allotments in the UK by 2012, with enough growing spaces established over the last year to produce 850,000 lettuces and 16,000 sacks of potatoes.  The NT is a conservation charity working in collaboration with the Landshare website, which the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall set up last year.  The Soil Association is also fostering these initiatives.  Its members have chosen Monty Don as its President.  According to the NT more than 300 allotments have sprung up in restored kitchen gardens, farmland, and vacant land close to Trust properties.  The Trust hopes that its 3-year project will encourage communities and families to connect with the soil by growing more of their own food.  The Landshare website acts as a database to link up would-be growers with available land.  It claims 45,000 followers.

2. The NT plans to create a further 500 allotments this year on its land, in places such as Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire and Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset.  The newly-established growing spaces range from a community garden at Minnowburn in Northern Ireland to land at the Gibside estate in Northumberland, where 30 plots are being used by mental health charities, 4 schools, a rehabilitation service and a homeless shelter.  Organizations such as the Prison Service run smallholdings worked by prisoners and staff, in order to ensure a good supply of fresh produce.  A scattered collection of small market gardens near Porthcurno in Cornwall, which fell out of use after WW2 have been restored as allotments and 2 hectures of land at Wembury have also been set aside for 40 plots for growing fruit and vegetables.

3. Allocations of land and farming adjustments for set aside and cross-compliance can affect corridors for use by wildlife, even with co-existence with growing non-edible crops (eg as biofuels or manufacturing oil, such as rapeseed).  Many are occupied by sanctuaries with populations of rescued animals, petting zoos and farms, and orchards run in traditional fashion with sheep to graze and consume windfalls; and ornamentals may be grown, but such enterprises suffer from severe competition from exotics grown for prime early markets in more clement climes.  Some smallholdings and gardeners keep livestock, eg pigs and poultry, for the pot and for their eggs and for anglers fishing in lakes for catches for eating.  Deer, like sheep, contribute to meat-supplies.  For them free range is an apt description, but of a far-from—easy existence: such severe winter conditions for the pregnant ewes trying to give birth in the aptly-named Less Favored Areas spell out appalling stresses  from barren territories of harshness and risk. And then there’s the poacher  filling his bag for rabbit-pie and the verderer expressing his rights for estover  and turbary for his pigs feeding on the acorns and gathering wood for the fire  warming his home.

4. The years ahead call for clear and adaptable thinking on the strategies for farming, food, health, and the land.  They require critical and continual overhaul of some factors hitherto glibly accepted and still propounded.  At the moment the weather conditions do not offer much support for proponents of long-term global warming, although atmospheric CO2 levels are alarming.  They present opportunities for calculations with little more substance than prudent estimates and experience of thrifty and well-informed practice.  Convenient and fast foods come at too high a price.  Yet another report has appeared assessing supply chains and the workings of retailers, middlemen, processors, and producers and the effects of powerful supermarkets.  Charges of a lack of competition usually falter when they are directed at the supermarkets: in fact, consumers are bewildered by the vigor of the influences to maintain or increase demand.

5. Customers appear to be losing their concern for provenance of foods and the effects of price still hasn’t been killed off – as the trade first expected with the recession – the middle class’s concern for quality and animal welfare and the environment.  A new government will not be able easily to override these factors, which are likely to prosper as other countries tackle the challenges of blood-sports and increasing areas of concreting and threats to wildlife. Vigorous fiscal measures are needed to favor staple crops and usage, which would include the fruit and vegetables and food changes and trends furthered by the Food Standards Agency, mindful of the needs of populations denied the delights of choice in a cornucopia of foods, and the increasing interest in Mediterranean-style healthy foods offering satisfaction surpassing the excesses of gut-full and feckless spending.

6. Schooling comes up as a hot topic in the controversies preceding the election – and quite rightly.  History appears to be a subject losing its attraction, yet the history of food offers scope for urgent action and assessment.  For today’s senior citizens post-WW2 history is repeating itself.  Britain emerged bankrupt from the war and has only in the last few years paid off the debts it owed to the USA for ensuring food supplies and other benefits.  It was not so long ago when Tony Blair called together the farmers and other users of the land, including the tourist industry.  The occasion arose as an epidemic of food-and-mouth disease erupted.  The farmers opted for the usual procedure at the time of culling livestock ruthlessly and burning the victims in pyres (rather than burying them in pits or as landfill).  The tourist industry wanted a vaccination policy to be pursued in the manner of many other countries, so that restrictions on travel and accommodation were much reduced.  The tourist industry’s interests prevailed.

7. Have we learned nothing from the BSE epidemic and the enormous costs the government incurred in rescuing the live/deadstock industry and re-stocking it?  The farming industry is new resisting efforts by the government to share such costs of indemnification and insurance with the industry, which will have to meet much increased costs; they will have to recover these from the butchers’ and manufacturers’ customers.  This is one of the factors contributing to the demise of the dairy and export industries.  Our Portfolio of Eating Plans and other contributions to the debate have gained in significance enormously since the end of WW2 and in 1976 when we launched Comprehensive Green Plans.

8. Perhaps situations are set to reverse.  Will Kenyafam be sending Oxford consignments of dried milk and GM Maize, because a decadent Britain had ignored the lessons and disciplines in a prudent husbandry of its resources?

9. And problems will arise-and are already-when smallholders begin keeping livestock on their “vegetable” patches and gardens?  Poultry are feasible propositions and even pigs.  Plastic pens for poultry are on sale and claimed to be fox-proof and some country towns are now being invaded by straying sheep and feral (escaped) pigs, bringing threats of spreading disease and interferences in breeding plans, not to mention complaints by neighbours and mingling with animals intended for keeping as pets.  Welfare of all animals involved-and their progeny-also has to be considered.

10. In this context local councils and citizens and animal welfarists generally must exercise rights of entry and supervision accorded to such organizations and to EHOs and TSOs and the RSPCA to premises where livestock of all sorts are kept, handled, or owned for commercial purposes.  Such rights probably exist already, but they should be strengthened for commercial enterprises.  The Scores on Doors scheme much apply to more than restaurants and all premises in food production, which would include slaughterhousing and housing on farms and zoos and for breeding purposes and rearing of animals for experimentation.  In most instances CCTV musts be installed to ensure surveillance strong enough to provide evidence fit for the purposes of litigation.  More though must be devoted to the supervision of “sports” and leisure activities in the open air, whether or not the land is privately owned or in the common estate.



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