10th September 2017

Butts Park Allotments, in Topsham, Devon

Since I am back in the UK for a few weeks due to a family emergency, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit and understand the allotment system in my hometown and contrast this with the community garden typology in Chicago.

A large concrete hut near the entrance to the allotment site provides gardening supplies at discounted prices for a few hours a day on Saturday and Sunday. It was in here that I met one of the allotment holders, Eddie, who was happy to show me his allotment (number 7) where he was growing sweetcorn, asparagus, and several types of soft fruit, amongst other things. According to Eddie, the individual allotments are laid out with a measurement system even more archaic than feet and inches – a unit of measurement called a rod. One rod is equal to 5.5 yards, or 5.029 metres.

Apparently five volunteer managers (themselves allotment holders) oversee the whole site to ensure that all gardeners are more or less adhering to the rules. I have arranged to meet with one of these managers, Ralph Hare, tomorrow.

The main difference between these allotments and the community gardens found on the South Side of Chicago is one of intent: here, allotments are maintained as a hobby, a weekend pasttime, whereas in Chicago, most of the community gardens seem to be serious food production projects. Allotment holders at the Butts Park site also appear to work their respective plots on an individual basis, perhaps sharing the odd surplus here and there, whilst the community gardeners in Chicago tend to work more collaboratively, particularly in the case of explicit urban agriculture.

Allotment 7 is five 'rods' in size and is leased by Eddie.

Fresh sweetcorn from Eddie's allotment. Cooked a few hours later - delicious.

The allotment access track. Communal space such as this is maintained by the city council.