Girton College Allotment: the Story
by Amy Jeffs
We are at the dawn of a new age. The age of the gardener has begun.
Individuals find their way into environmental awareness for many diverse reasons. Mine was because I really like food. I also like to sentimentalise it. I like to pluck a home-grown tomato and cut it into quarters and share it out like my Dad used to do with the emaciated product of our annual tomato crop. I was literally indoctrinated to believe it tasted so much better because it was ours - a doctrine to which I am and always will be, stubbornly faithful.
Clichéd as it may sound, I suppose there just is a miracle in making things to grow; a kind of satisfaction in seeing a job through to the crunchy, edible end. Eating is good. Getting outside is good. Using land which would otherwise be sitting around generally lawning uselessly is good. I think there is a little something missing in a society of which around 90% of the people in it rely on someone else's labour for their basic necessities like food and clothes. In our position of genuine privilege, we may be able to talk for hours about Roman political thought or quantum physics but we're still not entirely sure what goes into our day to day survival.
Basically, I decided that I personally wouldn’t feel particularly educated, competent or peaceful if I did not know, at least in theory, how at least a couple of the most basic things I need to survive were produced. If I could get more involved in the food-side of my survival, which I wanted to do anyway, I would conveniently cut out one of the big energy sinks in my life. So fundamentally, I've become quite passionate about the environment because I really like food, I am programmed to think the food I produce for myself tastes better (and it does) and I get a nice sense of achievement from cutting down on energy consumption. Win win?
These were the thoughts that made me want to get involved in Girton Allotment. I could almost call myself a founding member...but that would be lying. I talked a lot about its genesis and then shamefully hid while all the hard work went under way. It was founded in 2011 by Jonny Bruce, third year Art Historian at Girton who promoted the initiative, got permission from college and dug three raised beds in the garden of a college house. I just brought cider as penance for my laziness and as an excuse for it afterwards.
In just over a year, we have grown a hefty quantity of produce including raspberries, spinach, cabbage, peas, beetroot, potatoes, courgettes, herbs and lots more. At harvest times we rally together everyone who has contributed and have a feast. After the summer harvest, we cooked a stew big enough to feed thirteen, with stuffed marrow to start and apple crumble and courgette cake for desert.
We have a small budget but we try to recycle as much as possible when sourcing equipment and other objects for the garden. The main purpose of the space is to grow vegetables. The other purpose is to meet, to eat and to play music: passively enjoying the gentle industry of a productive garden. Most of us are new to gardening so there's a lot of learning that goes on too. As well as working on site, we meet for other activities such as apple pressing (30 litres of juice this Michaelmas) and woodturning and spinning workshops are in store for Lent.
For me, small initiatives like a college allotment, are part of numerous bigger missions. We need to rouse our resourcefulness, especially at a time when waste is such a huge problem. We need to look to the twenty-first century gardener, most beautifully exemplified in the permaculture designer, for systems of food production on a small scale with high yield which work with the most efficient producer of them all: nature. We need to make calm yet industrious spaces which strengthen relationships within the community; so crucial to a sustainable future. Like a lot of Cambridge societies or organisations, the little allotment at Girton, for those few that tend it, is a place where, excuse the awful pun, a seed is planted.