London's Gardens: Allotments for the People London's "allotment" gardens are an unusual system of community gardens across the city. Tended by immigrants, retirees, chefs and fans of fresh food, they make up a kitchen community like no other.
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London's Gardens: Allotments for the People

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London's Gardens: Allotments for the People

London's Gardens: Allotments for the People

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Today, Hidden Kitchens explores communal urban gardens. The Kitchen Sisters and Roman Mars(ph) present "Garden Allotments: A London Kitchen Vision."

(Soundbite of birds)

Mr. CHARLIE GREGORY (London Gardener): Apple tree there, black currant bushes and a blueberry in the corner, onions and shallots.

(Soundbite of Music)

Mr. GREGORY: I'm Charlie Gregory, Fitzroy Park Allotment, out in the fresh air. Everybody knows everybody. It's not expensive. For 27 pound a year, you've got this space (unintelligible) in this beautiful spot.

I'm a bachelor myself, I'm 78 now. If you want to keep fit and live to a good old age, get an allotment.

(Soundbite of Music)

Mr. OLIVER ROWE(ph) (London Gardener): I'm Oliver Rowe of Konstam restaurant, London. Anywhere there's a bit of unused green space it has the potential to be turned into an allotment. On the edge of a railroad siding, squeezed in a patch of disused land - give people a bit of extra fresh veg.

Mr. JOHN KELLY (Publisher, Prospect Magazine): Allotments started in the 19th century. Everyone was getting rickets and stuff like this in the industrial revolution. London was, as we all know from Dickens, a terrifying place. There was people who fled from agrarian poverty into the city. Land was given in perpetuity for people to cultivate vegetables. First and Second World Wars, we had the dig for victory. The allotment boom really happened in 1940s, 1950s. My name's John Kelly, and I acquired an allotment in North London beyond Muswell Hill, where the Kinks used to come from.

(Soundbite of song, "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks)

Mr. KELLY: There were most definitely different communities. The Polish people, the Italian guy opposite me was fixated on growing Tuscan grapes for wine, posh English ladies creating conceptual art, so you'd see these sort of scarecrows in hand-me-down Versace.

In our particular case, everyone had taken a pledge to be organic. If anybody dared to use a rotavator(ph), even by night, by stealth, there would be consequences.

(Soundbite of Music)

Unidentified Man #1 (Singer): (Singing) Color in sky, flush and blue. Scarlet fleece, ginger…

Ms. JULIE SUMNER (London Gardener): I'm Julie Sumner from Manor Gardon Allotments in the East End of London. You'd go past rambling old factories, and down a little alleyway, lots of rubbish everywhere. You'd open the gate, and there in front of you would be a little single-track bridge crossing the River Lea, the slopes at the side of the river covered in plum trees.

Mr. HASSAN ALI (London Gardener): That place is, I tell ya, dream place. Like we was living in heaven. My name is Hassan Ali. In 1968, I left Cyprus, I come here. Turkish, Greek, English, Irish, Welsh and French, always cook every day something. My friend Reggie, 17 years I know him. Every day we together, and he brings something from his garden, and I bring something - we cook and eat there, me and Reg.

Mr. SAM CLARK (London Gardener): Hassan had the most beautiful shed. His shed was built so it had a covered area, so even though it was teeming with rain, he could still have friends round for lunch. Wonderful sort of bean dishes with slow-cooked lamb and sorrel. My name is Sam Clark, Moro restaurant.

Mr. SAM CLARK: An Englishman's home in his castle, and an allotment owner's home is their shed. The shed is a mirror of British society, and as an Irish guy, when you got into a shed, it was old Ireland. He had John F. Kennedy, Pope John XXIII and Jesus in there assembled in the shed.

(Soundbite of song, "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart)

Ms. SUMNER: The person who set up Manor Garden Allotments was Major Arthur Villiers. He was so appalled by the treatment of working-class people during the First World War that he devoted his life to providing facilities for the poorest of the poor. So over in the East End, they build squash courts, swimming pools, cricket grounds. Major Villiers thought these kids need to be eating good food, so let's create some allotments for the parents to produce the food on.

He always said to the people who he gave the allotments to, these are going to be yours in perpetuity when I'm gone.

(Soundbite of Music)

Unidentified Announcer: The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012, are awarded to the city of London.

(Soundbite of Applause)

Ms. SUMNER: We heard the announcement, London, and it was just stunned, numb silence up at the allotments. We have realized that we were going to be somewhere in this proposed Olympic development.

We had a great hope they would be inspired by the idea of including allotments in the Olympic park and having it as a showcase, worldwide, for food growing and community and sustainable use. But in October, 2007, they bulldozed us.

Where Manor Garden Allotments was is going to be a foot path.

Mr. ALI: I'm not against the Olympics, but the first thing they done to us, they take the garden, and they give us another place, which is not garden. The soil is no good there. It was always flooding. You can't grow nothing.

Unidentified Man #3: Regardless of the 2012 Olympics, other allotments are under threat now because it's become desirable building land. Now I'm afraid the allotments have been turned into a bit of a bidding war. In the past, the allotment thing was sacred.

Unidentified Man #4: This is our new allotment, on Marsh Lane. (Unintelligible).

(Soundbite of song, "Strawberry Fields Forever")

Mr. JOHN LENNON (musician): (Singing) Let me take you down…

Unidentified Man #6: I'm an optimist, so I'm going to shove in these potatoes, and let's see what happens. The only real reason I'm staying on here is not for the vegetables anymore, it's more for the community. And they said after the Olympics, in six years' time, you can go back to where you were, but you know, one's honest, and a third of the people on the allotments are going to be too old to move back to the new site.

They're going to have to live out their gardening years on this bog, in danger of sinking. We've had some of the old guys go merrily into their plot, and then they get stuck, and you see these poor guys waving. So you've got to have an old-people check before you leave, otherwise they get locked in, and they get found the next day.

(Soundbite of song, "Strawberry Fields Forever")

Mr. LENNON: (Singing) Let me take you down 'cuz I'm going to Strawberry Fields.

SHAPIRO: After the games, the Manor Garden Allotment Society will move to a site within Olympic Park. Hidden Kitchens is produced by the Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson, and mixed by Jim McKee(ph).

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