Over the last few months of restrictions and lockdowns, I have tried to find ways to get outside and feel less confined by my restricted day-to-day life. Lockdown has had its ups-and-downs -
benefits being it's sometimes nice to stay in and watch TV - but I’ve realised that my allotment has become an increasingly important hobby during these times - a place that has meant
more to me than just having somewhere else to go.
There are obviously a lot of unwelcome restrictions going on around us, but communities are finding ways to live with them. Muddy Fork is an example of this. There are a mixed bunch of benefits that you can get from allotment gardening, and since getting my own plot I’ve felt a lot more connected to the seasons, from sowing seeds in spring, to harvesting produce in winter, or perhaps just being happy because I have an excuse to wear my ridiculous dungarees and get muddy. And through my allotment, I have become aware of local charities, and have started getting involved with some activities at Muddy Fork.
The benefits of Muddy Fork are especially easy to understand during lockdown. I believe most allotment gardeners would agree that the pandemic has been made more bearable because of their plots. These spaces help us to feel unified by a common interest to do with the productive use of shared land, with mechanisms in place that are not just observable, but contextual too. People come together in joint participation working together to care for the plot's soil health, local ecology, and each other’s welfare. Luckily Muddy Fork has remained open to people throughout the pandemic, offering access to green space in a socially distanced setting and in accordance with government guidelines.
It would be good if more people had access to allotments through charities like Muddy Fork. The fact is, emotional isolation and loneliness is rising, but shared space can help overcome that, with allotments allowing people to find meaning in local land. Sadly, these benefits are often overlooked due to land ownership being largely monopolised. In his book, The Book of Trespass, Nick Hayes informs us that the English public are unable to access 92% of land and 97% of waterways by laws of trespass. This seems to me to demonstrate the barriers that communities face when coming together to use land productively. And, with very few incentives to overcome these barriers, why would people bother to push for greater access to shared green spaces?
It is not just pride in where we live. There is also the distinction between urban space, contrasted with green spaces that make us feel connected and productive to soil and produce. Since lockdown, many people have felt confined, especially those not lucky enough to have a garden. But with financial clout, comes lifestyle choice, which includes easier access to green spaces. For example, in the last year there has been an annual house price rise of at least 5%, with houses in rural locations beating the odds. It seems like the pandemic made the need for green space more felt in terms of financial worth.
With allotments, you don’t need to have the money required to move to a new house in order to find green space. This is because allotments focus on the context within which people find themselves. There whole point is to is to provide people with land they don’t have access to. This idea of shared land is in comparison to state or market forces that limit our ability to choose how we get food. Simply put, if there are no available spaces for us to grow vegetables, we do not grow vegetables. We learn from the context we find ourselves in. For me, that means being on a waiting list for 5 years before accessing my plot. To other allotment communities, like Muddy Fork, the focus is on promoting health and wellbeing through garden therapy. But these initiatives are stalled by lack of available land – or simply a lack of access to unused land.
This is something Muddy Fork is pushing to improve via their green prescribing initiative, which provides a way for healthcare professionals, and interested individuals to gain access to green space. The idea is:
a. People will benefit from getting their hands in the soil, and
b. People will gain access to a community of like-minded individuals, individuals you might not have met otherwise.
Increasingly, and in light of rolling restrictions, and in relation to our progressively isolated communities, we have a real need for Muddy Fork. This is a place that provides community and shared space, which gives people the resources to find a hobby in cultivating land, and diversifies community skills. After all these months of isolation, communities are in even greater need of control over their local land, especially in urban areas, where access to information about who owns unused, or poorly managed land is hard to come by. Muddy Fork demonstrates the idea that we don't need to own a large garden to access green spaces. What we need is more shared green spaces.