Saturday, 30 August 2014

Bus v BMV Soil Part 1

Last Wednesday Planning Group B voted in favour of the bus route that will see a bus only road take out 60% of my allotment site, half of Feed Bristol, Avon Wildlife Trust's award winning community food growing project and Stoke Park, the last Thomas Wright designed landscape that is still in one piece in the country.
The soils in this area are known as Bristol's Blue Finger, a finger shaped piece of Best and Most Versatile soil that stretches out of Bristol along either side of the M32, out into South Gloucestershire. These soils are special not just because they are incredibly fertile, but they also withstand the vagaries of both flood and drought, which heading into a future where we are not sure of the effects of climate change, will be vital to ensure we can produce local food for local people. Historically this land was Bristol's Market Garden, supplying fruit and vegetables to the city seasonally. 
The planning committee meeting was what can only be described as disappointing. It became obvious as the process began that no matter how many people stood up and spoke passionately about saving this land, the allotments, Feed Bristol and Stoke Park, complaining that consultation had been minimal and hadn't engaged with groups who are on the statutory list of consultees, let alone the allotment holders themselves, that this was not about communities or saving local food production, but was about money and corporate greed. It was about moving the population from their homes to a few large areas of trading and business in South Gloucestershire, and then back again at the end of the day, something that puts well used bus routes that run now, at risk. The chair of the committee at one point even laughed at how he had been on the planning committee that passed permission for the M32, which not only covered acres of BMV soils in the 1960's but also split the city in two, in a way that can never be changed. The councillors on the committee were bullied and harangued, told funding would be gone if the consent wasn't passed and to say the chair was patronising and rude would be kind.
I was appalled, and I know I was not alone. 
Of course what is needed is for BMV land to be given policies that surround it to stop this kind of development. What is vital to remember is that less than 3% of the UK's soils are BMV so a policy stopping development on it would leave 97%+ of soils left. There is a strategy document written by Defra that states that by 2030 BMV soils will be immensely challenging to develop but that is still just strategy. This needs changing at local and national levels.
But what also must be looked at is why we have to move people around the city to work in often low paid jobs, when we should be working on local jobs for local people, as well as how the decisions made by the city's councillors should show the concerns of the people of the city. There has been much discussion of the facts that this route doesn't serve any hospitals, or any of East Bristol, which is desperate for decent, affordable bus services.
So what next? There are 19+ groups, including The Blue Finger Alliance, Alliance Against Metrobus and the Civic Society, continuing the fight against this dreadful decision. There is also a letter from the National Allotment Holders Assoc stating that the land set aside the replace the allotments is of poorer quality than the plots are on now, a fact that breaks the Allotment Act of 1925 which says if allotments are to be moved it must be to equivalent or better soils. There is talk of direct action and protest. But whatever happens it is a sad day when a committee decides that whilst being European Green Capital in 2015 it is a good idea to concrete over BMV soils to serve big business.
It seems independent Bristol has a long way to go. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

the Importance of Being.......Soil

I hope this post isn't seen as a rant about allotments as, although this post is about allotment land in Bristol, it's actually about far more than that. It's about soil and food security going into an uncertain future where the vagaries of climate change and it's effects are still to be seen.
When I moved to Bristol I was regularly told that there were no allotments to be had in the city, they were all full, and until I did some digging around this seemed to be the case. It took a Twitter conversation to find out that allotments are available here as long as you're not fussy in terms of where you have one. So I took a journey out of the city centre to Stapleton, and looked around Stapleton allotments with the site rep and took on Plot79. 
Now I knew this site was under threat, and I also knew it was Grade 1 agricultural soil, and if I'm honest I probably knew that I was going to get caught up in the fight for the allotments, but first and foremost I had my plot and for me, that was the most vital point. 
Did I take much note of the Grade 1 soil status? Not really, until I began to get the most incredible yields from crops that had been really late sown and that, in all honesty, I hadn't thought I'd get much from. We had periods of real dryness and yet still the produce kept coming-lettuces and leaves, French beans, tomatoes, chillies and squash to name but a few, and buckets of flowers. 
At this point it began to dawn on me that I was pretty darn lucky to have this plot and began to get my head around not just the fact that it was under threat but also that there were groups of people, such as The Blue Finger Alliance, working really hard to save this land.
The stretch of land heading out of Central Bristol on either side of the M32 is called The Blue Finger, and it's called that because on a map of soils land of this quality is coloured blue. The finger stretches right up into South Gloucestershire and is home not just to our allotment site, but also to Feed Bristol, an outstandingly beautiful community food growing project and to Sims Hill, a community supported agriculture business, as well as various small holdings. Look on a map of Bristol from years gone by and the land the allotments and Feed Bristol is on was called The Nursery and the history of the land is that it was always Bristol's market garden, producing food for the city. This history is phenomenol, and tells tales of lives past and of families that still live in the area to this day.
And yet in our greed for time all this could be lost. The planning committee meet next Wednesday, the 27th, to determine whether a bus only junction should be allowed that will take out 60% of the allotments as well as an enormous chunk of a Feed Bristol and part of the Stoke Park Estate that is on the opposite side of the M32. Not only will Grade 1 agricultural land be lost, forever, but this land is all Green Belt, which national policy dictates should only be built on if there is no option to build elsewhere, which there most definitely is, and much of the land has specifically been managed for wildlife and nature. The stunning wildflower meadow at Feed Bristol will be turned into a road with an enormous bus stop in it, and effectively what allotments are left will be part of a roundabout for a bus.
But, I hear you cry, they have to offer alternative plots, and this they are doing. However, the Allotment Act states that any allotment that is bring moved must be put onto land that is as good or better than the land previously used by the allotment holder, this is, of course, impossible when the land being moved from is Grade 1.
At this point I have to say far be it for me to argue that Bristol doesn't need a better public transport system. As a bus user and non driver I agree it needs to be high on the agenda. But, and here's the crux, Grade 1 soils make up less than 3% of the country's soil and has proven it's resilience over and again against drought and flood, holding onto it's structure and nutrient content when lesser soils would have failed. Since the a Industrial Revolution we have consistently used the same 38% of land in the UK to grow food and much of that land has reached and gone over it's peak health and is now struggling. We have expected these soils to produce higher and higher yields through the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and now many of them are starting to struggle, particularly where they have had to manage flood or drought. Surely we need to create policy to secure this Grade 1 land across the UK, and safe guard it for the futures of generations to come?
Imagine returning to a reality of local producers using this land and land like it in pockets across the country, to feed local food to local people. Is this a pipe dream? I think not, and more and more I am speaking to people who believe this could be the vision for food security in the UK. Let's put food growing at the same level and importance as transport and create holistic policies that look at transport, food production, health, education and wealth on the same level. And let's make specific soil policy so that these soils are protected going into the future.
Below is the link to a petition asking the Mayor of Bristol to help stop this. At this juncture I feel compelled to say that the Mayor cannot just stop this as there are contracts in place that would mean Bristol would have to pay huge penalties if it pulled out, but none the less it is to the Mayor's councillors we are looking to say no at planning committee. Please sign this petition and then please look at the following link, produced by The Blue Finger Alliance, which is the alternative vision of The Blue Finger, and what we would all like to see happen.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Career in horticulture? Featuring The Young Horts and a 3 year old.

Something has come to my attention. I should really not be at all surprised by this thing but what it has done is make me look at horticultural education and think about why we are losing the skills in this country to be excellent nursery folk, growers and plants people.
Recently as part of Incredible Edible Bristol, I've been visiting primary schools who want to begin or get support with growing food on their sites. I support this wholeheartedly as there's little as powerful as growing something to eat when you're a child, as I found aged 3. However what I have found in the schools that already have gardens is that not every child has access to the garden, and often the garden is used for calming purposes for children with a range of issues, but mainly behavioural. This made me ask what this was putting across the the rest of the pupils and strangely it didn't take much to work out the message being portrayed. 
So gardening, as horticulture is seen by these children, is already side lined for those who are struggling in one way, shape or form. To me that's not just a sad state of affairs but also a dreadful missed opportunity for our future high fliers in horticulture, as well as for those who might not be highly academic but for whom horticulture in one way, shape or form, could make a good and steady career. But no one wants the job that's seen as being for the kids with issues do they? And the answer is a resounding no.
Ask teens about what they want to do in their future lives and few will even be aware of the huge variety of jobs that come under the banner of horticulture. Gardening is something they avoid doing, or that grandad does on his allotment, not a career surely? But when you mention sales, science, growing or writing they prick ears up immediately, and will then tell you that no one, in most cases, has ever put horticulture forward as a career choice. In fact often even farming hasn't been mentioned by career advisors.
So here's where I tell you a tale. Aged 3 a little girl grew peas and sweet peas with her next door neighbour, and was so proud to take them home to her mummy and new baby brother. As time went on she grew more and more with her neighbour, got involved with her Grandmas's garden, and even began to look after a garden at school, to the gentle amusement of all. She went off to university, studied art and grew her degree show, which was full of plants grown from seed from every continent. She went on to have a reasonably successful career in catering whilst rushing home each day to tend garden and allotment. And for all this time no one had mentioned that the thing she lived for could be a career. 
That little girl was me. I was lucky, as I realised and was able to make the, really scary, leap and ended up working at a wonderful place that ensured I got the training needed and pushed me to be successful and believed in me. However, what if that hadn't happened and for how many is it an impossible dream due to financial constraints brought about by careers that are successful if unfulfilling.
The answer? Well I'm not sure I have it but growing as part of the schools curriculum has to be a start I should imagine as well as encouraging outdoor learning that inevitably brings in the outdoor environment to the curriculum in a way that uses nature and plants as learning tools. But more importantly, opening a discussion with children and young people so that they are aware of the possibilities. Having watched with deep interest the rise of the YoungHorts on Twitter and the effect they are having on the industry, I hope to see this initiative fly, and for these young people to be the horticultural ambassadors for future generations. 
Apparently by the age of 7 we all have come across and settled on the thing that will hold our attention for the rest of our lives. I was three when then happened and yet all through school, as a child that was academic and capable, no mention of anything practical came about and no adult ever encouraged me other than my neighbour and my grandma. So please be aware of the children you might be influencing as you garden with them, and make sure they know there are career paths open to them in horticulture and an industry that really would love them to turn that interest into a successful and fulfilling career.
Tiny Trowels or our horticultural future?