Growers Hub

Open letter to North Somerset From Roots Supporters

Written by
July 18, 2023

The UK has a proud horticultural history associated with food growing where in 1945 we had over 1.3 million allotments and growing was on the curriculum at schools. Over the last 60 years there has been a drastic reduction in the emphasis to provide people with a space to grow and opportunities to educate the general populace on a key skill that was once considered essential to our nation's survival/autonomy. Today we only have 250,000 plots, a much larger population and little to no growing education happening at schools which is causing a fundamental disconnect in our society’s understanding of where their food comes from and how we as a species can find ways to create spaces that can work with and create opportunity within natural systems.

We as a nation are seen as global leaders in horticulture with events such as The Chelsea Flower Show, Real Oxford Farming Conference, Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival and many, many more. At these events there is an underlying theme of creating shared spaces for food production that benefits humans as well as the natural world, where the understanding is shifting from fields of single use for crops or animals, towards a more dynamic way of approaching land management and creating a stronger resolution to UK food security.

As we progress into an uncertain future from a societal and climate perspective, it’s becoming evidently clear that our food system is set up in favour of imported food, where the classification of food being ‘British’ is only if it’s been processed in the UK not grown or reared. This has led to a frightening statistic that 80% of food consumed in the UK is being imported, what are we going to do when major food producing countries, which we rely on, are suffering from climate change and need to make a decision between feeding their populus or exporting to us? The past few growing seasons have been drought ridden across the world, following the 2023 growing season in Spring we have already faced unprecedented dry conditions with Spain and Portugal suffering from the driest climate for at least 1,200 years.

There is a blatant societal need for us to create more home grown food strategies. From market gardens to allotments, enabling the spread of horticultural knowledge to the general population as a means for improving food security and our nation's resilience to global adverse weather conditions, and allowing a disconnected society to reconnect over nature.

Our own government, alongside DEFRA have recently made a U turn on developing a modern day horticultural strategy to start fixing an incredibly broken system. This combined with resistance to new entrants, such as Roots Allotments, and many planning permission issues with setting up market gardens is setting an incredibly dangerous precedent for land workers and hopeful allotmenteers across the nation. The last 100 years of conventional agriculture have ultimately failed to deliver a stable food system by creating produce that is secretly ladened with chemicals that do damage to human health as well as biodiversity from the soil up. It is of paramount importance for the Government and Councils to come to terms with this reality and address it with compassion shown to those who want system change for the better of people and planet.

When looking specifically at the Leigh Woods allotment site there are a number of things to be taken into consideration circling around community, biodiversity and the historical use of the land which is agricultural.

Every field’s story can be told via its soil. To understand its previous use you need to look at what is below the ground before considering the conditions above ground. From our research and analysis, the soil samples we took contained a 2.5% organic matter, no-intact baseline soil food web (fungi, nematodes, protozoa), compaction and bacterially dominated - these are all past signs of previous ploughing and pesticide usage. 

This means that claims that the field is an ancient intact wildflower meadow are incorrect when looking at the story the soil is telling us of previous agricultural use and looking at the previous management scheme. The local farmer who has previously grown and ploughed on this land, David Smith, used to grow potatoes in this very field years ago and unfortunately, champions ploughing being the way forward for agriculture. However, the science shows that this practice and the petrochemical industrial agricultural complex has stripped the planet of half it’s top soil over the last 150 years and looks to strip it further if we don’t change our ways.

There would be no objection to a farmer ploughing this field for crops, or topping the grass for hay in the summer months. When we visited the site in August 2022 there were no long grass borders left over after the topping for hay which also shows there hasn’t been an ecologically considerate management of the land - something we wish to change for the benefit of both humans and nature alike.

Biodiversity net gains‍ in creating a shared space for food production and nature

- Roots would create a biodiversity net gain of 25% for terrestrial and 100% for linear habitats with our ecologically sensitive management plans.

- We would be planting over 1,800 meters of native British hedgerow, which once existed through this field (50% of British native hedgerows have been lost since 1950’s)

- Introduce more shrubs and greater diversity of native flora to 20% of the site

- Establish even more native woodland at the bottom of our site which borders Leigh Woods

- Retain a wildlife corridor at the top, middle and bottom of the proposed site

- Maintain a wide width of permanent flora during the growing season around the site to ensure there are substantial nesting opportunities, rather than the all area cut hay practise that is currently in place

As part of the no-dig ethos and looking to create more circular systems of carbon sequestration with what we as a society produce, we source green waste compost to use as a growing medium which is used by allotments and growers up and down the country. Our initial delivery was not up to our expectations so we got it removed and have changed suppliers in order to provide a better growing medium and food source for the soil that amongst other natural treatments will look to fix and enhance the soil food web of the field from previous conventional agricultural practices. There is an element of plastic found in green waste, cow manure and even bagged compost from garden centers which is a direct reflection of our societies and worlds need to move towards a plastic free future which would solve many barriers to creating better circular economies.

Whilst rebuilding soil health we can rebuild our communities around new meanings of interconnectedness. 45% of UK adults feel lonely occasionally, and there’s over 3.3 million people in the UK who feel lonely all the time. On top of this we are witnessing a mental health epidemic where 1 in 5 people are suffering from depression. 

We’ve ended up becoming a disconnected, unhappy society and growing food helps create a common ground for us to connect with each other and the natural world again. Governments and councils need to find a more progressive way of helping people form communities. The modern day definition of community has a dual meaning of those within your local area or having a common interest/passion - both of which we can provide when considering the population of Bristol is only 1.3 miles away from the field. 93% of our Bath growing community reported a wellbeing boost from spending time outside and growing their own food, and 60% met someone new! 

A lot of allotments across the UK have tracks and car parks, this is not something new when it comes to allotment infrastructure, farms, farms shops and also market gardens. Whilst a recent survey of our hopeful Leigh Woods members revealed that 65% would cycle, there is still a need for cars to make growing as accessible as possible for people of varying mobilities and transport needs. The move towards more greener forms of transport require a governmental led shift in change to encourage electric transport and improving public routes of access across the country from cities/towns to their suburbs. We have set up a cycle to grow scheme to help members obtain access to 0% finance on electric bikes and actively encourage members to travel to site as sustainably as possible by highlighting public transport links such as the ‘X4’ that is at the bottom of the site and takes 10 minutes to get into the city centre of Bristol.

Finally, there are many businesses that operate within the gardening industry, from tool makers, compost producers, seed suppliers, plug plant growers, fertiliser makers, the list could go on and on. The concept of private allotments has been around for years, we are looking to make it a lot easier for people to get into chemical free growing and supply them with everything they need to get going without feeling overwhelmed such as; online video educational content, organic seeds, organic plug plants, compost for planting, growing focused workshops, talks and events. By putting on an all inclusive membership to get people started and keep them engaged we have to work with a mix of companies and charities to provide a second to none-service - all of which needs capital to be possible. With UK allotment waiting lists at over 150,000 they represent only the tip of the iceberg when looking into the issue of land access for people to grow their own food. We are not saying we are the only solution, we do not want to take over currently established council run allotments, we want to offer a complimentary service that gets people growing instead of missing season after season of opportunity to learn something new, be outside and look after their mental & physical health and connect with other like minded members in society.

The ramifications of your decision on this allotment site may create a disastrous ripple effect throughout UK agriculture, allowing for more say and control of people who do not participate in this sector having more of a say of what happens through agricultural practises on Greenbelt where farming has taken place for 100’s of years.

1) No digging needed! Your Back Will Thank You

Yes, it’s true. You’ll be picking bountiful harvests without needing to dig, turn or fork the earth! Your back will thank you because digging takes about 2 x times longer than No dig. Beds are made by covering your growing ground in cardboard and placing nutrient rich compost on top - giving you a surface that’s ready to plant straight away!

2) Less weeding 

Weeds get suppressed by the layer of cardboard and compost, they then die off because of no sunlight! If soil stays undisturbed then weeds and their seeds are more likely to stay locked into the ground instead of sprouting when disturbed on a traditionally dug allotment.

3) Feeding the soil creates healthier plants

By building yearly layers of organic matter and not disturbing the soil’s ecosystem, you will increase the amount of good microbial activity. Good microbes help plants access nutrients and water, so the healthier your soil - the healthier your plants! 

4) You’ll do less watering!

No dig beds retain moisture better because you’re introducing organic matter, not taking it away. By keeping the soil’s ecosystem in-tact and encouraging bacteria, fungi and worms to do their thing will create better layers of soil that save water for when your plants need it - instead of bare dug ground that leaks moisture! Water is a precious resource and no dig helps us make the most of every drop!

5) Higher Yields Are Scientifically proven!

No dig has been proven to produce significantly higher yields by Charles Dowding over the last 9 years at his Homeacres Farm. He has been weighing the results of identically planted dug vs no dig beds and over that time the results are 100’s of kg’s greater.

6) Reduce Single-Use Plastic! <3 The Planet!

Every harvest throughout the seasons means you’ll be totally cutting out vast amounts of single use plastic that is used in supermarket produce! The supply chains we rely on use way too much making no dig a great way to start reducing personal consumption of single use plastic.

7) Experience Less pests & diseases

The result of great soil health by the no-dig method helps good bacteria, insects and animals thrive! Using natural methods of pest control we can learn to work with nature instead of against it - a single teaspoon of healthy rich soil can contain up to 1 billion bacteria!.

8) You’ll help fungal networks and they’ll help your plants grow

Fungi are a super important part of running a productive healthy patch. When soil is full of life and undisturbed there will be miles and miles of fungal networks beneath your feet trading nutrients with each other and your plants.

9) Save time and be 40% more productive by no dig!

When you don’t need to spend hours and hours digging, turning and prepping the soil for planting, you’ll be able to spend it doing the fun creative side of gardening - planning, planting, pruning your patch to create your own edible zen garden.

As a bonus you will also feel the mental and physical boost of growing your own

Gardening and feeding yourself with incredibly fresh nutrient dense food has amazing positive side effects for both people and the planet. As time goes by you’ll feel closer and more at one with nature.