How allotments lost the plot | Julian Baggini | Comment is free | The Guardian:
The Allotments Act of 1832 was designed for the "welfare and happiness of the poor", with the land it provided used primarily as a source of turf and wood, cut for fuel. Over time food became a more important crop but, as living standards rose, people saw less need to toil away on hit-and-miss crops. More and more people abandoned their plots, which became largely the preserve of the ageing working class.
Allotments, now shorn of their association with poverty, provided a site where all these interests came together, providing a discrete, manageable contact with nature.
They are all about solidarity and co-operation: sharing surplus crops, water troughs, tools and piles of manure. It also turns food cultivation into a kind of social display, reflecting allotments' transformation from symbols of low status to status symbols.
Because allotments are hard work, those who are attracted to them for the wrong reasons don't last long. Growing vegetables provides not carefree communion with nature but a struggle with an unco-operative Gaia. Those who stick with it know the real rewards. The satisfaction of eating your own produce is not that it's better than other people's, just that you grew it. If you find cultivation speaks to you, you don't care about what it might say about you.
The story of allotments could be seen as the story of western society in microcosm. First, we did what we needed to survive. Second, we acquired for the sake of acquisition, mindlessly consuming. Third, we turned to non-material goods but still bought them like good customers. Finally, perhaps we will come to enjoy what is good for its own sake. That would be a victory worth digging for.
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