Len Grant takes a look at the Gorton allotment project that’s keeping rural skills alive in the city
Growing your own has never been so popular. For many allotment holders it’s all about producing fresh, tasty organic food, with an eye on self-sufficiency and reducing their own carbon footprint.
At the Faith in the Community allotments in Gorton, they’ve taken it a step further. Here local people are being encouraged to not only use whatever space they have – back yard or window box – to grow vegetables and herbs, but they can now learn how to keep ex-battery hens.
“We’ve got 14 chickens, six ducks and five geese at the moment,” says Rev David Gray, whose wife Elaine, runs the allotment. “And all the chickens have been rescued from battery farms.” Apparently Britain’s 20 million battery hens only have an 18-month productive life before they are slaughtered. Increasing numbers are now being rescued by the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (they’re either given away or sold for up to 50p each) and found new homes. With a little ‘TLC’ the hens recover physically from their ordeal and reward their new owners with fresh eggs.
“Almost anyone can keep chickens,” explains Rev David, “you don’t need an allotment like this. It would be great to see people across the city building pens and keeping rescued birds.”
It’s a popular prospect for many. Already David and Elaine are offering workshops in ethical poultry care and fox-proof pen construction. “Over a generation we’ve lost many of our basic skills,” explains Rev David, “looking after animals and growing and preparing fresh food would have been second nature, but fewer people now know how to do it. We’re trying to pass on some of those skills before they are lost forever.”
Over the last twelve months Elaine has hosted sessions with local volunteers, schoolchildren and young people on probation, demonstrating how to grow fruit and vegetables from seed, and most of all, how to prepare food for the dinner table.
As part of this month’s Food and Drink Festival Open Day, one visitor, Pushpa Lad, has come along to see what’s what amongst the leeks and marrows. “I’ve never been on an allotment before,” she confesses. “My husband is very interested in starting one up and I’ve come to take a look. I can imagine we’d grow coriander, spinach, aubergines, all sorts.”
“What we’re striving towards,” says Rev David, “is a whole network of local producers who can not only satisfy their own needs but have sufficient surplus to feed vulnerable people across the city. We’re making connections between different groups to achieve this, and the community allotment here is just a small part of that broader picture.”
To find out more about the network of producers helping to feed the vulnerable, visit the “Pharoahs Barn” group on Facebook or email Rev David Gray on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Battery Hen Welfare Trust is at www.bhwt.org.uk