Cheap, good to eat and home-grown: apples can help beat the recession

Cheap, good to eat and home-grown: apples can help beat the recession
The Guardian

Hard times call for some smart thinking, and my view is that it’s well time to make more fruitful use of our underused land. All round Scotland, and in good parts of the UK as well, there’s no shortage of unused land which the public own already.

There are also plenty of people who are desperate to get hold of land to grow their own healthy, delicious food. In these difficult economic times it makes very little sense to have unused land sitting idle, while people who’d love to use it for productive fruit growing can’t.

At the Holyrood Apple Day at the Scottish parliament last Thursday, MSPs were urged to help sweep away some of the bureaucratic blockages that stand in the way of getting fruit trees planted in our schools, hospital grounds, streets, parks and around public buildings such as the new buildings being constructed for the Commonwealth games in 2014.

Our dream is that all our children will experience the pleasure of planting picking and eating some fruit they have grown themselves: our Fruitful Schools initiative has begun that process, with planting packs of fruit trees and berry plants ideal for school grounds. There has been a boom in school orchard-planting, with about 350 across Scotland now, and the start of a surge in community orchards.

We want the next generation to know that food actually grows on trees and doesn’t have to come shrink wrapped in plastic. People really love planting and harvesting their own food. It’s cheap, good for you, tastes great, and I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks it’s a bad idea.

And it’s fresh – if you pick an apple off the tree and we are in the middle of harvest now, it’s as fresh and delicious as it can be. You don’t need to import fruit from France or Chile if it’s growing outside your window in Glasgow. Growing your own saves money, saves carbon, and saves the planet. If everyone agrees that it’s a no brainer, why is it so very hard to get land to grow food?

In real exasperation we have taken a petition to the Scottish parliament, calling for government agencies who hold public land such as Forestry Commission Scotland, the Crown Estate, local authorities, health boards, and big environment groups like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to make much more land available for people to plant, and grow their own.

We are pleased to get cross party support from the MSPs on the petitions committee. We are also pleased to get lots of support from various public agencies.

But what we really don’t see is any evidence on the ground that it’s any easier for communities and for children to get their hands dirty, to dig holes and to get planting. Fine words are encouraging – but we need to see this translated into action.

Our call is for a "right to grow". That would mean that people wanting to grow on unused public land could do so, unless there is a good reason why not. We are not calling for changes in land ownership as much land is already in public ownership.

The "right to grow" would be rather like the "right to roam" which came about after WW2 and now allows access for walkers into the hills. While this was opposed by landowners at the time, it’s now the norm and works well. Commercial apple growing has been in decline in Scotland since before the war: there is almost no commercial growing here now.

Providing land for food growing, helps people to help themselves. People don’t want to sit home and watch daytime TV – they want something useful to do. This is true for people young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural.

Being able to go and get your hands dirty and grow things is so important to people. And it’s vital that children learn these skills so they know how to feed themselves in what is an uncertain future. It’s not a great thought that our children and their children may struggle to feed themselves

Growing your own fruit, and food builds confidence and health and without these the country can’t recover. The wartime Dig for Victory campaign has lessons for today. Sustainable economic growth clearly isn’t a term understood by our economists or bankers, but it’s what drives the people who plant community orchards – you plant trees for future generations – not for immediate personal gain.

We are in an economic mess and it’s time to allow ordinary people to get land to grow, and let them dig us all out of it.