Allotment gardens are characterised by a concentration in one place of a few or up to several hundreds of land parcels that are assigned to individual families. In allotment gardens, the parcels are cultivated individually, contrary to other community garden types where the entire area is tended collectively by a group of people. The individual size of a parcel ranges between 200 and 400 square meters, and often the plots include a shed for tools and shelter. The individual gardeners are organised in an allotment association which leases the land from the owner who may be a public, private or ecclesiastical entity, provided that it is only used for gardening (i.e. growing vegetables, fruits and flowers), but not for residential purposes. The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association, and have to abide with the corresponding constitution and by-laws. On the other hand, the membership entitles them to certain democratic rights.
An allotment is a small area of land, let out at a nominal yearly rent by local government or independent allotment associations, for individuals to grow their own food. This could be considered as an example of a community garden system for urban and to some extent rural folk.
The allotment system began in the 20th century: for example, a 1732 engraving of Birmingham, England shows the town encircled by allotments, some of which still exist to this day. Following the Inclosure Acts and the Commons Act 1876 the land available for personal cultivation by the poor was greatly diminished. To fulfil the need for land allotment legislation was included. The law was first fully codified in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, it was modified by the Allotments Act 1922 and subsequent Allotments Acts up until 1950.
Under the acts a local authority is required to maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. The rent is set at what a person "may reasonably be expected to pay" (1950), in 1997 the average rent for a 10 square rods (250 m²) plot was £22 a year. Each plot cannot exceed 40 square rods (1000 m²) and must be used for the production of fruit or vegetables for consumption by the plotholder and their family (1922), or of flowers for use by the plotholder and their family. The exact size and quality of the plots is not defined. The council has a duty to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand. The total income from allotments was £2.61 million and total expenditure was £8.44 million in 1997.
The total number of plots has varied greatly over time. In the 19th and early 20th century, the allotment system supplied much of the fresh vegetables eaten by the poor. In 1873 there were 244,268 plots and by 1918 there were around 1,500,000 plots. While numbers fell in the 1920s and 1930s, following an increase to 1,400,000 during World War II there were still around 1,117,000 plots in 1948. This number has been in decline since then, falling to 600,000 by the late 1960s. The Thorpe Inquiry of 1969 investigated the decline and put the causes as the decline in available land, increasing prosperity and the growth of other leisure activities.
Increased interest in "green" issues from the 1970s revived interest in allotment gardening, whilst the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), and the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society (SAGS) in Scotland, continued to campaign on the behalf of allotment users. However, the rate of decline was only slowed, falling from 530,000 plots in 1970 to 497,000 in 1977, although there was a substantial waiting list. By 1980 the surge in interest was over, and by 1997 the number of plots had fallen to around 265,000, with waiting lists of 13,000 and 44,000 vacant plots. In 2008 The Guardian reported that 330 000 people held an allotment, whilst 100,000 were on waiting lists. The keeping of an allotment is colloquially referred to as allotmenteering.
In 2006, a report commissioned by the London Assembly identified that whilst demand was at an all time high across the capital, the pressures caused by high density building was further decreasing the amount of allotment land. The issue was given further publicity when The Guardian newspaper reported on the community campaign against the potential impact of the development for the 2012 Summer Olympics on the future of the century-old Manor Garden Allotments. In March, 2008, Geoff Stokes, secretary of the National Society for Allotments, claimed that Councils are failing in their duty to provide allotments. "[T]hey sold off land when demand was not so high. This will go on because developers are now building houses with much smaller gardens." The Local Government Association has issued guidance asking councils to consider requiring developers to set land aside to make up for the shortfalls in allotment plots.
Against the falling trend of land set aside for allotments is an increasing awareness of the need for cities to counter issues of food security and climate change through greater self-sufficiency. This drive to expand allotmenteering is also a response to food price inflation and surplus provision of land in post-industrial towns and cities in the developed world. It finds some inspiration in the urban agriculture response of Cuba to the United States embargo against Cuba in 1962. Some of these themes were taken up in a recent urban agriculture project in Middlesbrough in the Tees Valley.
The history of the allotment gardens in Germany is closely connected with the period of industrialization and urbanization in Europe during the 19th century when a large number of people migrated from the rural areas to the cities to find employment and a better life. Very often, these families were living under extremely poor conditions suffering from inappropriate housing, malnutrition and other forms of social neglect. To improve their overall situation and to allow them to grow their own food, the city administrations, the churches or their employers provided open spaces for garden purposes. These were initially called the “gardens of the poor” and were later termed as “allotment gardens”.
The idea of organised allotment gardening reached a first peak after 1864, when the so-called “Schreber Movement” started in the city of Leipzig in Saxony. A public initiative decided to lease areas within the city, with the purpose to make it possible for children to play in a healthy environment, and in harmony with nature. Later on, these areas included actual gardens for children, but soon adults tended towards taking over and cultivating these gardens. This kind of gardening type rapidly gained popularity not only in Germany, but also in other European countries, such as Austria and Switzerland.
The aspect of food security provided by allotment gardens became particularly evident during World Wars I and II. The socio-economic situation was very miserable, particularly as regards the nutritional status of urban residents. Many cities were isolated from their rural hinterlands and agricultural products did not reach the city markets anymore or were sold at very high prices at the black markets. Consequently, food production within the city, especially fruit and vegetable production in home gardens and allotment gardens, became essential for survival ( Berliners cultivate vegetables by the ruins of the Reichstag in June 1946). The importance of allotment gardens for food security was so obvious that in 1919, one year after the end of World War I, the first legislation for allotment gardening in Germany was passed. The so-called “Small Garden and Small-Rent Land Law”, provided security in land tenure and fixed leasing fees. In 1983, this law was amended by the “Federal Allotment Gardens Act” (Bundeskleingartengesetz) Today, there are still about 1.4 million allotment gardens in Germany covering an area of 470 km².
Nevertheless, the importance of allotment gardening in Germany has shifted over the years. While in times of crisis and widespread poverty (from 1850 to 1950), allotment gardening was a part time job, and its main importance was to enhance food security and improve food supply, its present functions have to be seen under a different point of view. In times of busy working days and the hectic urban atmosphere, allotment gardens have turned into recreational areas and locations for social gatherings. As green oases within oceans of asphalt and cement, they are substantially contributing to the conservation of nature within cities. What was previously a part time job is nowadays considered as a hobby where the hectic schedule of the day becomes a distant memory, while digging the flowerbeds and getting a little soil under the fingernails. However, in situations of weak economy and high unemployment rates, gardens become increasingly important for food production again. (Schrebergärten voll im Trend)
In 1895, the first allotment garden of Sweden was established in Malmö, followed by Stockholm in 1904. The local authorities were inspired by Anna Lindhagen, a social-democratic leader and a woman in the upper ranks of society, who visited allotment gardens in Copenhagen and was delighted by them. In her first book on the topic devoted to the usefulness of allotment gardens she wrote: “For the family, the plot of land is a uniting bond, where all family members can meet in shared work and leisure. The family father, tired with the cramped space at home, may rejoice in taking care of his family in the open air, and feel responsible if the little plot of earth bestows a very special interest upon life.” Anna Lindhagen is said to have met Lenin when he passed through Stockholm from the exile in Switzerland on their return trip to Russia after the February Revolution in 1917 . She invited him to the allotment gardens of "Barnangen" to show all its benefits. However, she did not win his approval. Lenin was totally unresponsive to this kind of activity. To poke in the soil was to prepare the ground for political laziness in the class struggle. The workers should not be occupied with gardening, they should rather devote themselves to the proletarian revolution .
The Swedish Federation of Leisure Gardening was founded in 1921 and represents today more than 26000 allotment and leisure gardeners. The members are organised in about 275 local societies all over Sweden. The land is usually rented from the local authorities.
In 2003, the first allotment garden of the Philippines was established in Cagayan de Oro City, Northern Mindanao as part of a European Union funded project. Meanwhile, with the assistance of the German Embassy in Manila and several private donors from Germany, this number has grown to five self-sustaining gardens located in different urban areas of the city, enabling a total of 55 urban poor families the legal access to land for food production. Further four allotment gardens, two of them within the premises of public elementary schools are presently being set up for additional 36 families using the Asset Based Community Development approach. (Health Promoting Schools, Ecological Sanitation and School Gardens in Mindanao) Some of the gardeners belong to the socially most disadvantaged group in the city, the garbage pickers of the city’s landfill site . Aside of different vegetables, the gardeners grow also herbs and tropical fruits. In some gardens, small animals are kept and fish ponds are maintained to avail the gardeners of additional protein sources for the daily dietary needs. Each allotment garden has a compost heap where biodegradable wastes from the garden as well as from the neighboring households are converted into organic fertilizer, thus contributing to the integrated solid waste management program of the city. Further, all gardens are equipped with so-called urine-diverting ecological sanitation toilets similar to practices in Danish allotment gardens described by Bregnhøj et al.
Perspective: Calm of the Garden Is Key for Neville; Peter Bacon and Nick Booth Report on Another of the People Behind B:cen: The Birmingham Community Empowerment Network
Jan 27, 2005; Byline: Peter Bacon and Nick Booth Imagine you are a bird soaring southwest from Spaghetti Junction. Near council flats, in a...