In 2006 I took an allotment in Chingford. What a dump it was. Considering the land was/is owned by LB Waltham Forest, surely they had a duty as landlord to keep it in good nick. It was a massive uncultivated plot full of elephant-high brambles, and rubbish such as wheels and iron bits obviously thrown in by other allotment holders as they tilled their neat patches. Next to it was/is a bee hive inside the thickest blackberry bushes you’ve ever seen with ripe blackberries no-one would dare gather. That enterprise was managed by the allotment manager’s brother
Despite the shortage of allotments in the borough and believe me, I had to do the running around myself to find one and that was miles away, most allotment owners actually owned more than two plots each on the same grounds! Allotments were gold dust.
Recently I overheard hipsters say how they rent half an allotment. Make no mistake though you need muscle for even a quarter of a plot …all year round. You get a manager breathing down your neck waiting for you to default, report you to WF Green Spaces, then evict you so he can give the plot to his family allegedly.
So in 2006 I lost three stone in weight carrying water, heaving away junk, and sweating under the unshaded relentless World Cup year sun. All trees were ground-hoggers and cut down. I know! In hallowed Waltham Forest! There was one tree on my plot which served as shelter in the torrential rain and shelter for the horse-radish. I’d hide my tools under a corner of weeds which would not budge. They were always moved but at least not stolen. If my bladder were full, tough. The only toilet was locked and up to today I await the requested key. Obviously only menarchial women harvest under the moon. I was nagged and nagged to get rid of that tree.
I’m glad I had the experience. I made sure my sister got that plot. Others made sure their families were allotment-holders so what suits the Chingford Whites suits me. She was targeted and threatened with the closure of her tenancy because while she was on maternity leave she “neglected” her site. She never knew how the powers were over-charging her for years but knows they never apologized. They picked on the wrong woman for a squabble. She used her mouth and answered back holding on to her hollyhocks! Sure the management stinks allegedly but the ground workers collude as they join ranks and keep something to themselves for themselves. Selfish land-grabbers.
Meanwhile seven years on I lament the loss of dried mud on supermarket potatoes never mind cry at the price charged for washed anaemic spuds. I used to farm and tried to munch my way through over stocks of veg. The indoor drawers would be full of tomatoes in newspaper; every neighbour’s house like mine would stink of sulphuric boiled cabbage. Onions hanging on rafters would bang your head whenever you entered sheds. I built greenhouses from scratch with another person helping. We recycled abandoned wood frame windows from renovated old croft houses. All this before the revolution. To eat healthy you must work donkey.
I am looking forward to the Cultivate Waltham Forest conference at the end of March this year. It’s the first of its kind and is a natural result from the initiatives inspired by the dynamic new population arriving in Walthamstow. Beetroot is the new black y’all!
You can see it all now: potato prints, mushroom collages, smoothie pop-ups.. again, odes to onions. All good but hoping Leyton people get a look in. In Leyton it seems that any space, back garden or otherwise, is taken up by concrete for the car, low-maintenance blown-leaf clearance, or a bed for a mattress. And farming the land doesn’t necessarily carry social prestige in any community. Minds have to be fertilised to view what’s on our doorsteps if we want change in our health and community living. The Cultivate conference will aim to do that surely besides it being a ra ra forum for self-congratulation over green projects.