One town and 26 public gardens = free food
Public gardens take root in parking lots and even a huge Victorian cemetery in Todmorden, England.
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Under British law, if six people band together and demand an allotment, a local council must try to provide them with one, and for a reasonable fee, usually about $50 to $80 a year. (London is the only area exempt from this rule.) But locating suitable land takes time — the average allotment is about 300 square yards — and some councils worry that the renewed interest in allotments is little more than a fad.Skip to next paragraph
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Such worries have not stopped a swath of initiatives. The mayor of London has pledged to create 2,012 new vegetable patches across the capital by that year. British Waterways, the caretaker of the country's canal network, is offering unused land along canals to community gardening groups and says it will turn old work boats into floating gardens.
In February, the National Trust, a preservation group, pledged to create 1,000 plots over the next three years, many of them on the grounds of stately homes, including Gibside, the ancestral estate of the queen mother's family.
"It's like gardening in the world's grandest garden," said Mark Heath, a 32-year-old volunteer who tends pumpkins and other vegetables at Gibside.
Or why not plant in the backyard of that house across the way, where the residents clearly have no interest in gardening? That is the idea behind landshare.channel4.com, a website with more than 40,000 users that was launched on the back of a TV gardening program. It acts as a nationwide matchmaker to fix up those with unused land with those who want to garden in it.
In June, Queen Elizabeth II ordered that part of her garden at Buckingham Palace be dug up for vegetables. (Royal officials emphasized at the time that the queen's patch was planned before first lady Michelle Obama launched one in the White House backyard.)
Back in Todmorden, the Incredible Edible scheme is taking root. Maps are posted around town listing the 26 public gardens that residents can visit to collect their dinner ingredients.
It is unclear how many people do that, and a handful of residents interviewed expressed doubts about eating food grown so close to exhaust pipes and within reach of teenagers. But by and large, the idea has been warmly embraced, and at least one nearby town has adopted a similar scheme.
"They are the cheapest artichokes in town," said Steve Martin, an office administrator sitting in a Todmorden pub next to a vegetable garden. "I drag hundreds of people down from the pub to show them, 'No, peas don't come from bags in a supermarket!' And then I take some home myself."