Sowing seeds for a healthy future

Hallamgate Allotments.  Mark Parsons  with some of the produce
Hallamgate Allotments. Mark Parsons with some of the produce
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At the age of 78, Ruth Davenport is living proof that growing your own is the healthy option.

Her skin is glowing and bright, she has a wonderful head of hair and is, quite clearly, fit as a fiddle.

Hallamgate Allotments.  Ruth Davenport plants parsnip seeds

Hallamgate Allotments. Ruth Davenport plants parsnip seeds

And ever since 2009 Ruth has been part of the ‘Grow Sheffield’ scheme for budding allotment keepers, which helps people to start growing their own food by providing shared allotments in council-run gardens.

The grow-your-own culture of self-sufficiency is spreading fast. There are more than 1,400 people waiting for an allotment in Sheffield.

It’s hardly surprising. Food prices are rising and obesity statistics are through the roof, with almost one in four adults, and one in 10 children, officially obese.

One of the causes is surely the proliferation of processed food and ready-meals – so what could be healthier than eating fresh home-grown fruit and vegetables as the solution?

The Navy help to make new allotments'Filed 31 May 1940

The Navy help to make new allotments'Filed 31 May 1940

Ruth doesn’t need much convincing.

“It’s brilliant coming here and using this garden to grow fruit and vegetables,” she said. “I love it. I get to see people, which I wouldn’t do if I was at home all day, and I get to grow my own food.”

The scheme is part of the Crookes-Walkley Transition Group, set up to help people adapt to a greener way of living.

Mark Parsons, aged 38, a father of two, has been using the allotments since 2009.

Jodie with one of her many varied chickens

Jodie with one of her many varied chickens

“I moved back to Sheffield from London a while back,” he said. “I was living down there in a flat in Tower Hamlets where I had no space to grow things. Being able to come here is wonderful.”

Mark eats the majority of the vegetables and fruit he grows. “We don’t solely live off this stuff though – it would be very hard to grow all the food you eat,” he said. “But you can grow some.”

For Ruth – a mother-of-three and a grandmother-of-five – growing your own is part of life.

In the 1940s, when Ruth was a child, the number of allotments was at its peak, with 1.5 million across the UK. The Dig for Victory campaign during World War Two encouraged everyone to muck in and grow as much food as possible. Even the Navy was encouraged to dig out allotment sites in Sheffield during the 1940s.

Ruth also lived on a farm in East Yorkshire, where self-sufficiency was part of the job.

Now she lives in a flat in Crookes, five minutes’ walk from the allotment, and eats much of what she grows.

“We get some lovely salads, I use the herbs from the garden, we have fruit trees and broccoli – it’s a real pleasure growing things and it all tastes delicious,” she said.

But for shoppers accustomed only to vegetables pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped, a mud-caked carrot isn’t a pretty sight.

And it’s this issue, Mark says, that puts people off eating home-grown vegetables.

“We’ve taken things to homeless shelters before, but because it was caked in mud they didn’t want it,” he said .

But Mark believes more people should understand where their food comes from as part of the solution to tackling obesity.

“I have two young children and it’s great that they see us pulling something out of the ground, washing it, chopping it up and then eating it for dinner.”

Both Mark and Ruth are keen to stress that growing your own doesn’t have to be hard work.

“That’s the beauty of coming here,” said Mark. “You can share the workload here, which is nice, and even come along for just a short while. Sometimes it makes you more productive to get out for a period of time and do something else.”

Ruth is a regular at the allotment – and the oldest. The youngest is a student in his early 20s. “The time flies when I come here, it’s great,” she said.

But the grow-your-own mission goes beyond Crookes. There are as many as 3,801 council-run allotment plots in Sheffield and the waiting list stands at 1,409 people, with new applications every day.

Jody turns hobby into a living

IT’S not just healthy fruit and veg that gardeners are growing at home...

The number of people keeping chickens to produce eggs in South Yorkshire has also surged – so much that Jody Fendick has turned her hobby into a living.

“I started off with about one or two chickens myself, which I kept as a hobby,” she said. “But then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started his campaign against battery chickens and it soared overnight.

“Suddenly everyone was asking me for chickens.”

Jody, 36, and a mother of two, took on an extra plot of land at Raw Green Cottages in her village of Cawthorne near Barnsley to hatch and sell chickens.

By this summer Jody will have as many as 200, which she sells along with coops and chicken runs as ‘starter kits’ to people keen to start keeping their own broods.

She runs courses on keeping chickens and even has a series of ‘hennels’ – the chicken equivalent of kennels.

“Chickens are really easy to keep,” she insists. “And you don’t need a huge garden in which to keep them. We do sell chicken coops but you could also pick them up on eBay for a reasonable price.”

One chicken costs around £15 to buy, the feed is around £4 per month, and a recycled coop can be picked up for around £70.

“A chicken will lay around 300 eggs in a year, so if you have two or three you can expect to have around 1,000 free range eggs a year,” says Jody.

“It can save you a fortune.”