Andy's Allotment

This month, Laura Gaga is raiding allotments instead of yellow sticker aisles

It was my work bestie, Andy, who introduced me to yellow sticker shopping; almost 10 years ago now! We'd lunch together and he'd regularly be eating reduced price food. He explained that stores mark down the price of food on its use by or 'best before' date, to avoid it going to landfill.

I soon followed him into aisle 2. I was the Jedi to his Yoda, I like to think I have surpassed him now - but maybe don't tell him I said that! Andy would also bring into the off ice harvest from his allotment for us to help ourselves to.

Back then I'd not long started cooking for myself, so can't say I knew my way around his broad beans! But, he showed me how to de-shell them, and explained the best way to store, clean and cook other veg, too.

We even used to boil and peel fresh beetroot on the mini oven in the staff kitchen. We have also been known to roast asparagus spears at work, then picnic on them in the local park in our lunch break.

If you sat with us at lunch, the conversation would centre around what are we eating? What are you eating? What are they eating? Andy would help me think of ways that I could create meals with food I'd bought reduced and his allotment goodies.

An impressive idea was the stuffed pumpkin, topped with mashed potato, for a take on cottage pie. Andy retired as we went into the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, so not only had I lost my work bestie, but free fresh fruit and veg from his allotment… Cue the violins!

However, a retirement and a worldwide pandemic were not going to stand in the way of work besties reuniting… Cut the violins! As soon as we could, we arranged a meet up at his allotment.

\"Nothing's changed,\" said Andy, as I bounced in wearing pink wellies, chatting away, hurriedly updating him on life since we'd last seen each other, whilst demanding he gave me the spade so I could dig my own carrots.



He was right, not much had changed. Andy was still tending to his huge allotment plots, generously sharing the food that he'd grown, and had even picked up a reduced price, pre-packaged, vegan sandwich for me.

I went home with pumpkins, butternut squash, a variety of radishes, chillies, marrows, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, leeks, onions, shallots, kale and green peppers. I made a range of meals with it all, including savoury vegetable muffins, squash pasta, roasted vegetables, curries and stew.

There was no need for me to shop for some time; not even for yellow stickers! In fact, unlike a lot of the fruit and veg sold in stores, there was no sticking an unnecessary 'best before' date on Andy's produce.

And, there was no throwing away produce because it didn't meet a cosmetic standard. Andy won't even let me filter any photos of his produce that I upload onto my Instagram page, let alone throw it away because it's wonky!

There's no plastic or pesticides used in Andy's veg, and low food miles getting it - approximately 22. So much of our food is imported from overseas, contributing to greenhouse emissions and global warming. In 2003, The Guardian newspaper tracked the food miles of fresh food bought from a major retailer.

The carrots they bought were from South Africa… 5,979 miles! (theguardian.com) Not only was the haul from Andy seasonal and organically grown, but I got to see first-hand the conditions he was working in.

Sadly, UK supermarkets have been said to be profiting from migrant workers exploited in Spain where much of the UK's fruit and vegetables are grown (ethicalconsumer.org).

The sustainable benefits of allotments do not end there. They are home to wildlife, can encourage recycling practices such as composting, and make use of rainwater, reducing running water (swcaa.co.uk).

The site of Andy's plots also houses a community allotment. Community allotments can be set up for a variety of reasons and promote inclusion, belonging, education, well-being and life skills.

There are community allotments for exoffenders, children in care, those suffering with mental health problems, elderly who are isolated and any number of people who may be disenfranchised or socially disadvantaged.

Such communities can also encourage a greater connection with food, the act of sharing, an appreciation for the work required to produce food and lessen waste.

I'd be fibbing if I said that growing my own food extended much further than the chilli pot sat on my kitchen windowsill at this moment.

However, meeting Andy and his allotment enabled my relationship with food and sustainability to nourish and grow. If the green fingered life is for you, and you fancy tending to your own allotment, contact your local authority or apply on-line at gov.uk/apply-allotment.

And, let me know how you get on… I might pay you a visit!

For more from Laura, follow @reduction_raider1


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