National allotment week is upon us and this year the theme is 'Growing food for health and well-being', a reflection of the many benefits of growing and eating your own fruit and vegetables.  The president of the National Allotment Society, Phil Gomersall, says about this year's theme

"This year every week has been National Allotments Week, with more people than ever realising that growing your own food is a great way of eating healthily, getting some outdoor exercise in the fresh air and acquiring new skills. Plot-holders have also benefited from the contact with nature and the easy camaraderie on allotment sites, helping to retain their mental health and stay positive during these worrying times.”

And it is so true!  Coming down to the allotment has been like a small slice of normality for me.

The benefits of allotments

Social capital

Allotments offer people a way of meeting with those that have similar interests - growing your own fruit and vegetables. There is the opportunity to volunteer and join committees, run the shop, teach others how to grow veg and a place to meet for a cup of tea or a picnic. Social isolation is a massive risk to health, being the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or twice as harmful as obesity.  

Sharing gluts with others brings people together. There is nothing nicer than visiting your neighbours to offer them some of your courgettes, beans or tomatoes.

Contact with nature

Forest bathing is all the rage at the moment. It is a Japanese idea where contact with nature has been shown through research to have significant effects on health and well-being.  Being outside in nature on your plot has similar effects - working in all weathers, being close to the seasons and plants' requirements keeps us connected to nature as does watching the wildlife on your plot.

A study in the Netherlands showed that every 10 per cent increase in exposure to green space translated into an improvement in health equivalent to being five years younger, with similar benefits found by studies in Canada and Japan.

A sense of achievement

We all know that feeling when we get a good crop of a particular fruit or vegetable or we nurse something through a tricky time (I'm thinking of my perennial kale and the slug damage here!). There is nothing like the taste of home grown asparagus or corn on the cob and I particularly like to grow crops that the supermarkets won't sell because they are too tricky to pick, store or don't look right.  My loganberries are always an achievement. They are not sold by supermarkets because they are so hard to pick. They are only ready on a particular day and if left longer, will just dry up and drop off the plant. You have to pick them and eat them that day.  The strawberries that I grow - Mara de Bois and Malwinna don't appear in supermarkets. Malwinna are apparently too red, too big and have a white line around the leaflets that makes them look as if they are not ripe. However, the taste is out of this world!

Healthy activity

There is plenty of activity on an allotment - even more if you dig.  I go to yoga classes and often find myself in a yoga pose on the allotment, stretching so that I don't have to walk on the beds and so that I can just reach that last weed. There is a lot of bending and straightening and balancing.

Being outside also means improved vitamin D levels. This vitamin is all the rage at the moment for mental well-being.

Fresh, low mileage, seasonal produce

This is the main reason why I grow fruit and vegetables. Many allotmenteers also grow organically and pay particular attention to feeding the soil and all its living organisms meaning that the produce is even healthier.  And just as you start to think that you will look like a tomato if you have to eat even more, the season moves on and aubergines or corn on the cob take over.  Gluts encourage you to search for new recipes because we all hate to waste food that we have spent time growing.

So, why do you grow fruit and vegetables?

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