Living at 8,000 feet in a Colorado valley between the Wet Mountains to the east and the Sangre de Cristos to the west, I have great respect for the 60-day growing season. The local… I want to write “joke,” but in reality it is a very thin joke… local folklore has it that the last spring freeze date is August 1st and the first fall freeze date is August 1st. There is no telling. The freezes are unpredictable, and at our elevation, the summer sun is hot enough to blister any plants that have made it through spring planting. And then there’s the wind. But that is another story. Another reason to forget about growing anything.
So it is hats off to the Sustainable Ways folks of Custer County who have seen fit to defy the odds. Not only have they fenced in a community garden surrounded by allotment plots, but they have planted an assortment of fruit trees and celebrated their bounty with a harvest festival.
Meanwhile, here in London, allotments are more scarce than hen’s teeth. The waiting period varies, but the average wait for a garden plot is five years. In keen gardening neighborhoods, that wait can be ten years. Not to be put off, communities are rising to the challenge and finding space in unexpected places. One of the unexpected places is the roof of Budgens, a grocery store in Crouch End.
I took a look when I went to Word for Word writers’ group last Wednesday. And I was blown away. From the parking lot, I climbed three flights up a fire escape to a volunteer garden planted in forest green, Haringey, recycling boxes. Each 18 by 24-inch box was chuck-full of plants. The boxes snaked here and there; the spaces between the boxes paths.
You name it and volunteers were growing it. At first, I wondered if the boxes served as small allotments. Perhaps one small family had three boxes and a larger family had opted for six or seven boxes. But, no.
The boxes were held in common, and the volunteers were seeing if they could raise enough food that when sold “downstairs” in the grocery store, the proceeds from the sales would equal the expenditures.
How cool is that! I was so impressed. This effort goes beyond growing for personal gain. This effort is putting a philosophical construct to the test. Can growing and eating local work outside a textbook?
Needless to say, the volunteers brought a lot of expertise to the project. Imagine, first off, how they convinced Budgens to donate their rooftop. I need to ask, but that is another blog. And from whence cometh the soil, the fertilizer, and the seedlings? All questions to be asked. What I did see was a lot of effort and forethought. I particularly liked their wall of clear, empty water bottles. The bottles were nested, one neck into the bottom of the next. Clearly the bottles could not hold water, but just the bottles themselves would go a great way towards extending the growing season by taking the chill off those colder nights.
Peter Budge was my genial tour guide. When I asked about the number of volunteers, he laughed: “How long is a bit of string?” Like most volunteer efforts, there is a core group and then there are the people who come and go with the wind. As for the “garden,” it has been up and running for about 18 months, and at this point the volunteers are seeing what plants grow best and also, equally important, what sells best in the grocery below. At present, they sell seeds, seedlings and vegetables in the market. Bags of mixed salad greens topped up with edible flowers “for color” sell best.
I am heartened. One of our daughters is here in London. Once a week I try to catch a lunchtime concert at St. James, Piccadilly. As I explained to our daughter, “Hearing live, classical music weekly gives me hope: the beauty of the music and the mastery of the musicians lifts my heart. Surely with such talent, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket.”
Likewise, the Budgen’s all-volunteer garden gives me hope.