Food Prices and Food Poverty
Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day]
Fiona Bruce (Congleton, Conservative)
That will not come as a surprise to some Members. We should promote the idea of making greater use of gardens. Indeed, many elderly people might appreciate having veg tended in their gardens in exchange for some of the produce.
The Sandbach Allotment Society has been going for just two years. Forty people came to the first meeting, and 120 to the second. It aims to encourage growing your own, and has found temporary accommodation on a 1.2 acre site belonging to a local farmer. That will provide 34 half-plots, each of which will provide a significant amount of vegetables for a family, at a fraction of the cost of buying them. It says that growing your own is not an old man’s domain; it is for families. It brings families and communities together. I know how popular it is: there is a 100-person waiting list for further allotments that it hopes to obtain.
Home Grown in Holmes Chapel is an innovative community action group that encourages residents of Holmes Chapel and neighbouring communities to buy locally produced food, shop in local shops, and work together to grow their own fruit and veg. It has been lent two previously untended plots of land in the village centre, one by the carpet shop and one by the health centre. The organisers say that, despite rain showers, on a blustery May day, nearly 40 volunteers turned up to the group’s first dig-in. Volunteers planted a variety of fruit and veg—strawberries, lettuces, cabbages, sugar-snap peas, and radishes donated by the volunteers, whose ages ranged from just 18 months to 75 years. Lissy Berry, aged eight, said to her mum:
“This is hard work, but I’m really enjoying it—it is so worthwhile”,
and other volunteers agreed. Another said:
“I have really enjoyed myself—it is a wonderful feeling to have achieved so much”.
I went to the group’s first harvest in October, and I can testify to the tastiness of the lettuce.
The group says:
“We want people to think about the way we live our lives…We are not trying to feed Holmes Chapel—just show what is possible with a little space, sunshine, water and love! It is great to eat vegetables that have been grown for taste, not for shelf-life, and it is great to be able to do so without driving the car anywhere or eating produce that has been flown half way around the world…We are growing community fruit and vegetables for the community to use!”
The group has great plans: it is starting to talk to the parish council and Cheshire East council about planting fruit trees around the village; holding a “shop local” week; and encouraging residents who have a bit of spare community land near their house to set up a community veg plot. It is working with Holmes Chapel primary school; I was pleased to see recently planted herbs and veg there, and there are plans for more vegetable beds. It wants to work with retirement and nursing homes in the village, and to see if it can get community groups working together to grow fruit and veg in those places. It says:
“that is enough to keep us busy for some time to come!”
Other initiatives in the constituency seek to reduce waste. Ray Brown, a farmer, proposes to convert an old Ministry of Defence fuel base into an anaerobic digester, with the support of Cheshire East council. It is anticipated that it will be able to take all the food waste from the entire population of Cheshire East, which covers not just my constituency but several others. That will raise Cheshire East’s recycling rates to a remarkable potential 90%. The scheme will also generate electricity and feed it into the grid. As I hope the Government will recognise, that should negate the need for an incinerator just 15 minutes away in Middlewich.
On waste, I cannot omit to mention the tremendous work done by the Congleton Sustainability Group, which produced the now-famous Congleton apple juice that many Members tried here recently. In 2010, it used 3.5 tonnes of apples that would otherwise have gone to waste, and its target for 2011 was 5 tonnes.
Those are just a few initiatives, but there are many more that I could have described. If we are to alleviate food poverty, it is important to promote, share and develop skills at all levels of food production. It could take us a considerable way towards tackling problems in the years and decades to come.