Why is it so hard to find an allotment in Ireland?
One Change: Growing your own food is one of the most impactful changes we can make for environment
One of the most impactful single changes we can make for the sustainability of human life on this planet is to grow our own food.
One of the most impactful single changes we can make for the sustainability of human life on this planet is to grow our own food. The benefits to our physical health and mental wellbeing are legion too. Every mouthful of home-grown nourishment alleviates some of the damage that large-scale agriculture is doing everywhere, from over-grazed Connemara hillsides to deforested Amazonian jungle.
Most vegetables are remarkably easy to grow, and the availability of polytunnels, irrigation systems and home compost bins have made is easier still. There are gardening classes running all around the country, and some online garden supply shops have excellent step-by-step video instructions too, such as quickcrop.ie and giy.ie. Your local garden centre can also offer valuable advice.
The mental and physical health benefits of gardening have been well proven
For many, the key challenge will be finding suitable land, which is where allotments come in. For almost 100 years there have been references in Irish law to allotments as public amenities which local authorities should provide, but we don’t have nearly the same rights and protections as other European countries. In the UK, district councils have a duty to provide land if six or more people request an allotment.
The situation in Ireland is far murkier, as anyone who has tried to get their local authority to allocate land will know. Yet the few allotments that do manage to get established tend to be remarkably vibrant, with neighbours, families and friends working together, exchanging ideas, information and the fruits of their harvest. As well as being communal, they are also intergenerational, with children working alongside parents and grandparents, learning how food is grown and how the seasons dictate our lives.
The mental and physical health benefits of gardening have been well proven. Research from Bristol University and University College London found that microbes in soil stimulated the brain cells in laboratory mice to produce serotonin, altering their behaviour in a similar way to antidepressants such as Prozac.
We should remind local councillors that the Government has specified them as a key part of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan
Yet, unless we begin to demand and agitate for them, we will never get allotments on the scale they exist in Europe or in English cities like Newcastle, which has more than 3,000 plots available at 61 sites.
We should all ask our local council if allotments are provided in our area, and remind local councillors that the Government has specified them as a key part of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020. Currently, Cork city has only one local authority allotment site, while Galway city has two. Dublin South Central has seven, but most tend to have long waiting lists, as do many of the private allotments, such as Glencullen Farm in the Dublin foothills.
An interesting alternative is Malahide Allotments, run by the Epilepsy Care Foundation, which has 250 organic plots available, as well as an organic seed and supply shop, and year-around classes. If you rent yourself a plot this spring, by summer could be fitter, healthier and happier, and with a tasty harvest bounty, too.
One Change is a weekly column about the changes – big and small – that we can all make in our daily lives for the good of the planet.