Simon Baddeley, of the Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG), writes:
Our Community Development Trust will include, or be neighbours with, a significant amount of green space in the form of gardens, parks, playing fields and, of course, allotments, with Uplands, just outside the ward being the largest allotment site in northern Europe and arguably one of the most successful when it comes to growing food. I myself have a plot on the new Victoria Jubilee Allotments next to Handsworth Park. I mention allotments and other green spaces because I would want to ensure that the city council’s low key, but quite intensive, long-term plans (matching those in others cities in the UK, especially London) for producing more food locally are included in future agendas of the new CDT.
The need for local food production as opposed to supermarket products arriving here from centralised packaging and distribution centres involving hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of road haulage is obvious enough in an age of increasing energy costs. It helps that in this area we have many food retailers who are sourcing their food more locally and selling, not in shopping malls but in outlets on our high streets – Villa, Lozells and Soho Roads.
There is also the matter of health as this arises from the quality of locally sourced fresh food – not only vegetables. We even have that rare thing these days – a local abattoir in Hamstead Road. There are many trends from government in Brussels downwards, working against the maintenance of local sustainable food production. Our CDT can play a role in educating the community about their role in growing, retailing and consuming local food, as well as influencing those agencies and individuals at national and regional level who already support or, if better informed, will support polices for local food both in the home and via the procurement policies of our schools and other institutions.
The Faith and Food Festival on Saturday 19 May this year is an important conference in which many of us are already involved. I believe the worm is turning in the matter of localism and food.
At present our green spaces, obviously our parks (unlike in time of war), but also our gardens (in many cases being turned into parking spaces), but even our many allotments are inadequate to present a serious challenge to the food production and distribution capacity of the big four retail outlets that are increasingly monopolising our food supplies – ‘big box’ food selling, even now sucking business from the existing food retailers for which our area is well known and where our diverse population of consumers, still accustomed to buying from local shops, is feeling the produce as they buy!
A British farmer – Julian Rose – remarks: “the European Union doesn’t like small scale self sufficient units that look after local people with good quality fresh food. No, it likes large scale monocultural farms employing as few people as possible and turning out thousands of tons of bland, lifeless foods to be sold in some vast bland and lifeless shop at the other end of the country. The EU wants farmers to be business men and make decent profits so they can be taxed and provide a decent revenue to the government.”
At the moment my emphasis may seem counter-intuitive, given other imperatives – housing, education, transport – but we all share a keen interest in our local ‘environment’ and most of us recognise the national and international implications of what is now known about the reality of human influenced climate change. The way our food is produced and consumed is intimately connected to that challenge, described by successive political leaders as a more significant threat than terrorism.
I very much hope that the East Handsworth and Lozells CDT, when established, will give, in its early policies, serious attention to the area’s agricultural potential, and give corresponding attention to its green spaces – resisting the ever present inclination to surrender them, via the temptation of planning gain deals, to further building, on the mistaken assumption that losing growing space to bricks and concrete enhances the local economy, rather than putting profits into the pockets of people and institutions habituated to sucking money out of local economies.