Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Boris's Jolly Olympic Gardening Jape

An Olympic scheme to turn the capital's wasteland into vegetable plots has been backed by Mayor Boris Johnson. But will this turn out to be a jolly jape with locals pushed out? Perhaps he should visit Cuba and Havana to see how it is really done and why. Or is that a tad too Red Ken for Boris's taste.

Londoners will be encouraged to turn derelict land into mini-allotments as part of a scheme to grow food on 2012 vegetable plots across the capital by 2012. The Capital Growth project is the brainchild of Rosie Boycott, chair of London Food. 

The Orange Party is sure both Boris and Rosie's hearts are in the right place. But we'll have to wait and see how many of these schemes actually get of the ground and how many will be run by locals rather than Monty Don wannabes. 

And why stop in London. Isn't this Olympics supposed to benefit the whole country? 

We used to have these plots here. They were called allotments. Now they are being gobbled up by greedy councils and developers. Anyone who fancies a potter has to wait years. In London apparently it's ten years. 

In Cuba, city-dwellers didn't have a choice. It was either find a plot of land or starve.

After going on for more than 20 years, Cuba now has more than 7,000 urban allotments or 'organoponicos', adding up to thousands of acres. 

More than 200 gardens in Havana alone grow more than 90 per cent of the city's fruit and veg.

Take a stroll through downtown Havana and they are everywhere. On tiny plots in the centre of estates (see picture above) and between houses. And with a chemical blockade, it's all organic. 

The danger with the London scheme is that it could turn into the latest lifestyle fad for the liberal elite. And true locals will be pushed out. Safeguards need to be put in place to make sure real people benefit.

There is a wider issue here. To encourage folk here to grown their own food on anything like a large scale takes a huge change in the mindset - and a willing labour force. 

Fat chance of that with a government happy to import cheap migrant slave labour to prop up the intensive agricultural industry. Or allow food to be grown in forced labour camps abroad to be flown thousands of miles to allow supermarkets to boast cheap food and farmers to grow biofuels.

Come the revolution we'll all be able to tend our plants while sipping a mojito. That's the good life. But over here, that isn't the real world.

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