Growing strain on Norfolk and Waveney allotment land as more people grow their own food

Whether it is growing chillies on a kitchen windowsill, potting up tomato plants on a patio or cultivating allotment plots or the back garden – it seems our thirst for the 'Good Life' is still going strong.

In fact, even more green-fingered folk are growing their own fruit and veg because of people tightening their belts during tough economic times and the rising cost of food, according to a survey.

Nearly a third of all British adults now grow their own food, while 64pc of those interested in growing their own say it would be to save money, a poll for the City of London found.

The popularity of celebrity gardeners and chefs means that it has never been so easy to get information and advice on how to grow your own. But it also means that demand for allotment plots across our communities has never been so high.

A snapshot survey across Norfolk and Waveney shows that the majority of councils and allotment associations have long waiting lists.

And with many areas in the Greater Norwich and A11 corridor earmarked for large new housing schemes, the majority of landowners are looking to sell their greenfield sites off for homes or employment land development, rather than selling to meet the growing demand for allotments.

It comes as celebrity chef Raymond Blanc and actress Joanna Lumley launched a project earlier this month to promote green spaces and for communities to grow their own food as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

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A survey by the EDP shows that waiting lists vary from 795 people in the Norwich City Council area to two allotment vacancies in Watton.

James Debbege, who runs Green Pastures Plant Centre and Farm Shop, in Bergh Apton, near Norwich, said people were growing more because of tighter budgets and more gardening and cooking shows on the television.

'About four years ago, the interest in growing your own exploded completely because cooking became trendy and chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have got people interested in where their food comes from.

'It can be cheaper, but it depends on what you spend your money on. A greenhouse is an investment, but saves money in the long-term. You do not need to have a big vegetable plot, you can grow things on your patio and in hanging baskets.'

Mark Broughton, clerk at Attleborough Town Council, said there were around 50 people on the allotments' waiting list, which was growing by the month, whilst council officials and officers deliberate over where 4,000 new homes will go in the town by 2026.

'We have a substantial waiting list and with the issues with the expansion of the town, no one wants to sell land. We have had a lot of interest in allotments in the current climate,' he said.

Lynn Nichols, secretary of the Great Yarmouth and District Allotment Association, said the town had 14 allotment sites and currently there were about 50 people on the waiting list.

'They are very much sought-after because the cost of food is more expensive and it is cheaper to grow your own. Our youngest allotment holder is 17 and the oldest is in their 90s,' she said.

Beccles Town Council has 13 households on its waiting list and Halesworth has two vacancies after creating more allotments on a playing field in Swan Lane. Dereham has a short waiting list for some of its seven sites after it began sub-dividing larger plots when they came up for renewal.

In Harleston, there are currently nine people on the waiting list and in Diss there are 13 households waiting for an allotment plot to become vacant. There is a waiting list of six in Worstead and 15 in Tunstead, in north Norfolk.

But whilst allotments have been popular for a number of years, community farms are beginning to crop up, which involve like-minded volunteers and members who establish their own small-scale farms and benefit from the produce. Sites like FarmShare at Postwick, near Norwich, and the Diss Community Farm show that people can grow more, despite a lack of new allotment space.

Angela Lamb, of the Diss Community Farm, said there was a lot of financial support out there for groups from organisations such as the Big Lottery Fund to get community supported agriculture projects off the ground.

'They do seem to be cropping up and growing in popularity. You need dedicated volunteers prepared to put in a lot of hours on the practical side and organisation and the way we run means we only employ one grower and we rely on members to share the responsibility,' she said.

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