Images: © Elizabeth Dalziel/ Greenpeace
A 30m-long living artwork made of seed paper was unfurled and displayed at Westminster yesterday (11 Sept) by artists and allotmenteers.
They are urging the government to enable people to exercise their rights to allotments as part of the solution to food insecurity, the cost of living crisis and the climate and nature emergency.
The artwork, which was taken to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is embedded with clusters of seeds as well as ash from burned Amazon forests, spelling out the message ‘We the 174,183 demand allotments’.
It is a visual representation of new data collected by Greenpeace UK and the artists via Freedom of Information requests to all councils in England, Wales and Scotland.
The data show there are now at least 174,183 applications sitting on local authority allotment waiting lists across Great Britain – with England figures almost double what they were in 2011.
Waiting times average at three years, and the longest average waiting time recorded was 15 years.
The local authority with the longest waiting list is Bristol at 7,630 applications, followed by Sunderland, Portsmouth, Southampton, Edinburgh and Manchester.
Campaigners argue that the numbers of applications for allotments demonstrate a huge desire from people to be part of the solution to the multiple crises we are facing related to the cost of living, climate, nature and health.
Against a backdrop of soaring food prices, the growing number of food banks and more families falling into poverty each week, the potential of this figure is staggering.
One allotment is designed to feed a family of four so if each allotment request on today’s lists were granted, they could collectively feed cities the size of Nottingham and Leicester combined.
‘Allotment waiting lists demonstrate a huge desire from people to be part of the solution to our broken food system but without access to land, the many benefits of community food growing to people, nature and the climate are being stifled.
‘The government must support councils to act as well as take seriously its own role in creating systemic and lasting change to the food system. Crucial steps include proper support for farmers to transition to climate-, people- and nature-friendly farming as well as measures to reduce our climate footprint abroad including a ban on imports of soya and other agricultural commodities that drive deforestation in places like Brazil.
‘Climate scientists say we need to halve meat and dairy consumption globally by 2030 to tackle the climate and nature crises, but in the UK we eat far more meat and dairy than the global average so we need to eat 70% less to reach climate targets.’
Greenpeace UK forests campaigner
The three artists JC Niala, Julia Utreras and Sam Skinner are passionate about highlighting people’s right to access land for community food growing as well as the injustices caused by the industrial food system.
Alongside the artwork, the artists took a letter addressed to Secretary of State Michael Gove, but it was refused by security.
In the letter, which will now be posted, they pointed out ‘the opportunity [that allotments afford us] to address food insecurity and reduce our reliance on environmentally harmful industrial agriculture’.
As a collective, the artists specialise in making interactive public artworks grounded in research and were selected for funding and support from Greenpeace UK via the NGO’s Bad Taste project earlier this year.
‘With the acceleration of climate change and the persistence of structural inequality within the UK and globally, food has become both an emblem and an embodiment of the troubles around us.
‘Allotments quite literally provide a lifeline for some. They bring good local food back to people and take away the bad taste of the global industrial food system. They improve people’s mental health and wellbeing by creating a sense of purpose and increasing opportunities to connect with others as well as spend time in nature.
‘Everyone has the legal right to request an allotment and councils are legally obliged to provide a sufficient number of allotments. A little known fact is that if six people from different households apply for an allotment together, their council has an obligation under the 1908 allotment act to find them a space.’
Lead artist, writer and allotments historian, with a doctorate on urban gardening from St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford
The artwork, The Waiting List, will be used to reclaim land from the industrial food system in a further intervention later this week, demonstrating how land owned by industrial food giants could be transformed into areas for community food growing.
It will be scaled up for this moment to form the actual size of an allotment, which is roughly the size of a doubles tennis court, and will then be dug into the ground at a location to be revealed.
The seeds embedded within the artwork have been specifically chosen for their ability to remediate soils and remove contaminants, helping to prepare it for food growing.
The ash from the Amazon, also embedded, is a reminder of UK food giants’ reliance on imports of soya for meat and dairy production from places like South America, where it’s driving deforestation and human right abuses. Millions of tonnes of soya is used every year in the UK to feed chickens, pigs and dairy cows.
The industrial food system is also a major driver of biodiversity loss, making the UK one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
At present, 70% of the UK’s land is farmed, with nearly all of it used to produce meat and dairy. Just 15% of UK farmed land is used to grow food directly for people.
Four million UK children can’t access healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food – yet almost 10 million tonnes of food is wasted each year. In the UK, one in four people from an ethnic minority group experience food insecurity – almost twice the rate as for white people.