An unlikely vegetarian

People usually laugh out loud when I tell them that I am a vegetarian! As a loud, pint drinking northerner I never did look like a stereotypical vegetarian but then who does?

Last month- January 2018 was known as ‘veganary’ as many people tried a Vegan diet. Possibly because of that vegetarianism seems to have cropped up (pun intended) in many recent conversations.

Years ago at a Weight Watchers meeting in Wigan my mum was told that in order to make a certain dish for vegetarians she just had to add chicken instead of red meat. Funny as it sounds there is still a lot of confusion around the terminology.

Basically. Vegetarians don’t eat any meat products including chicken, fish and sea food. But we do eat dairy and eggs. The technical term is Lacto-ovo- vegetarian. Vegans don’t eat any meat products as above but they also dont eat cheese, milk, butter, yoghurts or any dairy produce nor eggs .

Now inbetween these two definitions you have a lot of personal choice. You can eat eggs but not dairy and vice versa. Some people don’t eat red meat like steak but will have white meat like chicken. Some people won’t wear leather clothes and will check ingredients for animal by products like gelatine and rennit. The level people take this to is very personal and varied.

Thinking about writing this blog I wondered just how many people in the UK were vegetarian. I guessed about 10% but was shocked that the total was much less at just 2%

I became Vegetarian in February 1984 I was 12 years old and my friend Anne who was two years older and way cooler told me that she had become one and explained what it was.

My mum didn’t seem to mind when so announced my life change in fact I think she was relieved as I had never really liked meat. As I was only 12 she did take me to the doctor who was really positive and gave me some great advice 1) take a multi vitamin with Iron 2) watch your bowel movements (to check they were ok) 3) Eat a varied vegetarian diet. Plenty of Vegetables, a few portions of fruit and eggs, cheese and beans.

The problem was that as a typical 12 year old I actually didn’t like much fruit or veg! So my diet mainly consisted of cheese and bread in different forms! My mum told me that I would have to prepare my own food as she rightly, was not going to make a separate meal to everyone else. However as this was 1984 in Lancashire there weren’t exactly a lot of vegetarian options in the supermarket! There was however ‘sosmix’ and ‘burgermix’

However from the age of 14 I visited Italy regularly and found the variety and quality of meals I could eat was much wider only of course they didn’t call it ‘Vegetarian’ it was just ‘food’. In fact for many years I had to explain to many older Italians what a Vegetarian was. But the range and taste of the vegetables and fruit was amazing. There I tasted so many different pasta and vegetable dishes and living without meat was easy. Although there were a few problems particularly when I would ask many times if a dish contained meat, always to be told no but then I would sometimes find a chunk of meat in the dish and would be told not to eat it. It was only there to add flavour!

It was a huge problem to my husband when we first met. As a Sicilian, fish is a big part of his diet. He could understand me not eating red meat but no clams, mussels or white fish? Was I mad?

I have never been tempted to eat meat or fish and you may be surprised that even the smell of bacon doesn’t tempt me. You see to me it is about not wanting to eat flesh. I find eating animal parts as disgusting as someone cutting off their thumb and saying “this is gorgeous try this”!

Of course when I was young I was quite militant about my vegetarianism carrying around folders with ‘Meat is Murder’ on them but of course these fell on deaf ears. My friend’s were supportive although one friend’s mum used to give me ‘tomato sausages’ – I chose to believe her that they were vegetarian although they smelled tasted and looked like pork ones!

I am lucky that even through three pregnancies I have never been anaemic and have never needed Iron injections. I also dont ‘present’ as a stereotypical vegetarian . ‘Waif like’ would never be used to describe my physique!

Our children have never shown any interest in becoming vegetarian. I remember them chewing on a leg of chicken and asking me if this was once a real chicken. When I told them that it was and that it was just like one of own back yard chickens they shrugged their shoulders and carried on chewing. I have no problem cooking meat for my family but I wouldn’t like to carve a chicken or fillet a fish! I’m honest with the children about why I am a Vegetarian and I think that hopefully it will in the future help them to think carefully about the food they eat.

Cheese and bread still feature too high in my diet but I do try to eat as many vegetables and legumes as possible. I have to admit to being rubbish at eating fruit though. Well fruit here in England. With the exception of fruit grown on the allotment, most fruit I get here looks beautiful but tastes of nothing. I find it an expensive waste of time.

Having an allotment means we do eat a lot of Vegetables and they are organic, fresh and so tasty but no I don’t think that the plants scream in pain when I pick them!

I always get asked that if it was kill an animal or starve what would I do? Of course it’s a ridiculous question so the honest answer is that I don’t know.

Most of the meals I make are Italian. Indeed this is where I learned to cook. None of my immediate family is vegetarian so meals have to be flexible so that meat or fish can be added. I am very proud of the meals I make and so I will be sharing them on my blog and I hope you like them and try them yourselves! Please let me know what you think. I will be trying to use seasonal food where possible. I’m sure you don’t necessarily want to become a Vegetarian but I think the health benefits from eating some vegetarian or vegan meals regulary can not be ignored.

Here is a link to the vegetarian society website which has lots of information and some amazing recipes.

https://www.vegsoc.org/definition

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I hate February

Don’t get me wrong, it has been a llooonnnnggggg January and I am glad February is here but it’s my least favourite month. Let me explain.

The good things about February are the following;

  1. We FINALLY get some money after what feels like 3 months since the last pay day.
  2. No council tax to pay! (Yayy!!).
  3. Valentine’s day and carnival (IF you are lucky enough to live in a country which celebrates it).
  4. Longer days and shorter nights (just).
  5. Imbolc (half way point between winter solstice and summer solstice).
  6. We begin to see a bit of sun.
  7. It’s short.

Now let me use the counter arguments…

  1. Oh yes we get paid. Then we have to pay back all the money we over spent on Christmas and we are back to being skint again!
  2. Do we even notice not paying council tax? No didn’t think so. What we do notice is April when ÂŁ100+ suddenly starts going OUT of our account! WTF?
  3. Who actually celebrates Valentine’s day? Me and the husband do our best but it’s quite forced, over priced and over too quickly!
  4. I love longer days when it means I can get out in the garden or down the allotment. I even like the short days when you can light candles, switch on fairy lights and get all snuggly because it’s dark outside. It just doesn’t feel the same however when it’s light but grey and cold outside. Too dark to go out and too light to get properly snuggly!
  5. Imbolc should be a proper celebration here but I am one of only a few I know who celebrate. As I said some abroad get to dress up for carnival or Mardi Gras and eat gorgeous food. What do we get here in Britain? Shrove Tuesday or pancake day! Instead of exotic costumes we get soggy bloody pancakes and a bit of ash on our foreheads!!
  6. But this next point is my biggest bug bear. February is like a naughty glimpse at the unobtainable fruits of spring. “Yes” I say. “It’s so sunny!” I say “I will go out without my coat”. 5 minute later as I strut down the street in my cardigan and sunglasses I realise just how fricking freezing it is and then it rains or snows! You have more chance of snow in February in England then you ever will at Christmas. And the seeding… Oh the seeding… As a gardener I am desperate to start my seedlings but if you start too soon and it’s a rubbish spring then all your hard work can be for nothing if the seedlings don’t prosper and/or are too long and stringy. And that’s a disappointment I can’t take
  7. Lastly it is short. I can’t argue with that! Thank God for that. But soon it will be March and then the summer and finally it’s December and we think “where did that year go?”

I do hate February. To hit a serious note I lost my dad in the month of February and it seems to me that as I have lost quite a few friends and family in this horrid month so maybe just maybe I bare a grudge against it.

Here I am living in February 2018 when others aren’t. Then I remind myself of Mark Twains saying –

“Do not complain about growing old it is a privilege denied to many”.

I think this is how I have to look at my February and force myself to enjoy it for those who can’t any more.

So let me grab my sunglasses and cardigan and get planting those chilli seeds!

Farm Terrace Allotments – One year after we lost the fight to keep our plots.  

20171102_0943501883903839.jpg The entrance today

One year ago todaywe lost our fight to save Farm Terrace. We fought a good fight but the odds were stacked against us. Farm Terrace allotments stand behind Vicarage Road stadium in West Watford and date back to the late 1890s. There were over 128 plots which accounted for just under 10% of all allotments in Watford. Farm Terrace was the largest allotment site in the centre of Watford, a densely populated town of 80,000 covering eight square miles.

It was May 2012 when the Farm Terrace Community received a letter from Watford Council stating that the land was needed for the so called Health Campus to rebuild the hospital situated next door. It soon became clear that the hospital was not the priority and housing seemed to be the real pursuit of the land grab, leading the remaining Farm Terrace allotment holders to challenge the eviction. The initial reaction was to tell us we were wrong and force a legal battle but in 2014 the Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, admitted at a Mayoral hustings there would be no new hospital for Watford and only a possibility of new facilities. The campaign that followed to save Farm Terrace was bitter, raw and passionate. The Mayor of Watford swayed the public with untruths and unfulfilled promises. Ultimately the truth came out that the land would be used for a football carpark, housing and possible hospital facilities if there was funding. In the end the dubious council campaign did its damage.

We finally lost our four year fight at the Royal Courts of Justice late last year and were given just 48 hours to leave our allotments despite requesting a short extension to remove our belongings. This was denied and the council arranged a fence to completely surround the fence already around the allotment to prevent re-entry. Almost one year on the allotments remain abandoned and derelict with a season of fruit and vegetable crops rotting in the ground.

The council had to offer us new allotments that were close to Farm Terrace. Their proposal to the UK government was to replace the lost 128 plots on a site two miles away on the outskirts of Watford at Oxhey Village. To date only 22 plots have been replaced with 11 used by new tenants. The site chosen by the council was not accessible for most Farm Terrace users and eight of us reluctantly optioned to relocate to an existing site relatively closer than the Oxhey Village option.

As any allotment holder knows starting a new plot is daunting. Luckily we had experience and knowledge but it was hard work and bittersweet preparing the new space. In the first week we found our plots had been rotavated for us by the council but contained bricks and other building rubble. We dug deep and through hard work and perseverance similar to our four year court battle we have moved forward and pursued our true goal of growing vegetables. We now have new sheds, worked-over land and fresh compost that has led to a productive first season. Despite the group success we still felt like misplaced refugees in a place we did not choose after decades developing our Farm Terrace community.

We have turned our anger and bitterness into digging, building and planting. The fact we could do this side by side was invaluable. To retain some identity we named our plots in the corner of Holywell allotment site ‘Farm Terrace Corner’ so our old site will never be forgotten. It is still difficult to walk past Farm Terrace but as I began to write this piece I felt that I had to. It stands like a decaying museum piece and I fear for inner city and town allotments as developers continue to eye up short term financial gains rather than long term social profit of community assets like Farm Terrace. The partnership between Kier and Watford Council to redevelop the area around Watford Hospital is a good example of this. Farm Terrace was not lost because people didn’t want it or that it wasn’t needed but because of short term greed.

Dorothy Thornhill and her Lib Dem council now wish to distance themselves from the sordid affair and have already relabelled the Health Campus as the Riverwell Development which currently has permission for 85 ‘housing units elsewhere on the development’. No planning permission for Farm Terrace has been submitted yet. While we wait to see exactly what will become of our beloved site I worry how little value the government places on green sites over quick profit.

It has been depressing, demoralising and destructful but these feelings are being recycled and reused as physical energy as I weed and plant spring bulbs on my new plot whilst other allotment site continue to be closed and developed throughout the UK.

Is this the end? How do we feel?

It has been a few weeks since we received the Government’s decision on the third application to ‘deregulate’ (close) farm terrace. People keep offering their condolences and asking is this is the end of the line? Honestly I don’t know. How do we feel? We know the decision is morally wrong. We are thankful that our fantastic legal team have agreed to look through this latest document to see if it is legally wrong and we are comforted by the support of local residents and supporters far and wide.

And we have been here three times before.

The first time back in May 2013 was the worst. We were sure that the government would back us up. Andy our chairman and others spent weeks completing our submission, which still stands as a robust document, so when the Watford Observer called me for a quote about the fact ‘we had lost’ – it was the first I had heard and I was shaking with shock. I met my neighbours who also have a plot there and we cried in the street. Luckily in July 2013 we got legal support funded through crowd funding and challenged that the decision had been incorrectly made. In August 2013 the Secretary Of State acknowledged his error in the decision and through a Judicial review formally quashed the deregulation decision. But in September 2013 Watford Borough Council put in a 2nd submission to close the site.

In December 2013 the SOS agreed a second deregulation whilst stating exceptional circumstances for the first time as the statutory criteria to close had not been fully met. I heard about this when a friend called me. This time I was not so surprised but the exceptional circumstances threw me. It still does. On July 25th 2014 We took the government and the council to the Royal courts of justice for a second Judicial review and on October 31st 2014 we found out that we had won!

In January 2015 Watford Borough Council put in their third submission to close the allotments. They believed that it was simply a matter of updating the information that was referred to by the judge and that the decision would be made quickly. The update from the Council that ran to 44 pages and 43 appendices.

We were made to wait 15 months.

On the 26th May 2016, this year, I was sat on the park having a picnic after school with my family when the same friend called to tell me the news that the government had agreed a third time to deregulate. My phone didn’t stop ringing that afternoon. It was mainly the press but also supporters trying to make sense of the legal jargon.

I felt numb. I still do. As I have explained we have been here before but each time you hope that this time ‘they’ will see sense. That this time David will beat Goliath.

We know that there will be no hospital buildings built on the Farm Terrace land. We know that all the plots will be bulldozed over to build flats and car parks. We know that this unique green lung that has been with us since the 1890’s and surrounded by buildings and traffic, once lost will be gone forever. We are not unique, many allotments are being ‘sold’ to developers but we are the most high profile case.

One day I am convinced that school children will study our case. The question I ask myself is whether they will study it because finally we won or will they study it because we lost and it marked the end of allotment gardens?

Don’t worry. We will fight on!

Our appearance at Toby Buckland’s Garden festival at Bowood House Friday June 5th

SJ Shedfie  Toby and Martin

This Friday (The 5th June) we will be talking about the threat to English allotments at the prestigious Toby Buckland Garden Festival at Bowood House in Wiltshire.

Toby is an English Gardener, TV presenter and author. He is most famous for his time as the main presenter of Gardener’s world.  This is an amazing opportunity for us Allotment folk to tell our stories of threatened allotments, warn others of the dangers and help people prevent their beloved allotments being sold for profit.

But most importantly it will be a great opportunity to show case allotments and their absolute importance as an unfortunately dwindling part of the English countryside.

Allotments have always been central to politically uncertain times. From Winstanly’s Diggers to the Dig for victory campaign there have been various ‘Allotment’ campaigns throughout history, what perhaps is important about this one, our one, is that we have so much national support and not just from other plot holders but also from environmentalists, wildlife experts and even famous gardeners!  To be given the chance to come together and unite at such a wonderful Garden festival as Toby Buckland’s is quite something isn’t it?

It will be the first time that allotment groups under threat get together and have a strong united voice.

Like all Allotment parties, it is going to be a good one (Anyone who has attended a Farm Terrace one will vouch for that) and it is our intention to deck the marquee out colourfully and passionately, recreating as best we can the warm fuzzy feeling of well being and most importantly community that we get down on our sites! There will be a scarecrow, an old radio, a flat cap, bunting and homemade produce – you get the picture!

Allotment folk will get to mix with celebrities of the garden world with famous people like James Wong, Graham Harvey, Jim Butress and Toby Buckland himself of course.

Our main speakers are; Sara Venn, Martin Clarke, Maddy Longhurst, Dr Margi Lennatsson and myself.

There will be many other allotment holders present and there will be a debate which will hopefully be continued back at our stand in the main area.

So if you are free Friday 5th June (Or Saturday 6th as we will be on the stall Saturday too) and fancy meeting up with us all and celebrating the eclectic and eccentric world of allotments, while drawing attention to the fact that if we do not keep pulling together and supporting the fight to keep allotments, there will be fewer and fewer of us left.

Here are the details of our debate –

FullSizeRender (3)

For more information on the event itself please see – http://www.tobygardenfest.co.uk/pages/bowood-house

I will be there all day both days so please come and say hello and let me give you a Sign for Victory poster for your own #shedfie in support of our petition – https://www.change.org/p/eric-pickles-secretary-of-state-for-communities-and-local-government-help-protect-the-uk-s-allotment-sites

We look forward to seeing you there and sharing this unique experience with you! #SaveOurAllotments

Alys Fowler, The Guardian , Home Farmer Magazine and the next phase of the Poster Campaign…

Guardian pod cast

It has been an interesting week. The kids are back at school – phew! And I finally could get back on the computer – uninterrupted. First job was the web site. I hate updating this as it takes me ages to make one small change when I am sure an expert would say something like “instead of doing all that  just press F4!” But it has been done- slowly, please have a look and tell me what you think. http://savefarmterrace.wix.com/savefarmterrace  My friend Sian suggested we should put a timeline of events up. I think it’s a great idea as I already forget bits about everything that has happened to us.

On Wednesday I was very pleased to be invited to the Guardian HQ to do a pod cast on the importance of Allotments. The HQ was VERY cool as you would expect and I felt VERY old as the average age was about 30! Hosting the pod cast were Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone. I got completely star struck meeting both of them! Unlike me I was very quiet and shy to begin with. They were both absolutely lovely and I was thrilled when Alys took a picture of us all for her social media sites!

The debate itself was really interesting and it gave me a lot of food for thought (excuse the pun) I don’t want to give too much away before it is released on Wednesday but we talked about the political history of Allotments and the reasons why they are different from growing stuff in your own garden. Also there was the lovely Lia Leendertz (on the phone) and the very interesting George McKay author of Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden http://georgemckay.org/radical-gardening/

I will put a link for the Pod cast up soon as it is released.

Obviously I gave them all #SignForVictory posters and this reminded me that we need more famous people to endorse the campaign so let me know who you think we should contact and if anyone has any connections that would be most appreciated!!

Thank you to those of you who have been posting your #Shedfies.Agents of Field 2  #Shedfie

This is one of my favourites from @AgentsOfField !

You can download yours here – http://tinyurl.com/orcfv27

I am getting a bit frustrated as we need loads more signatures on the petition and although the poster campaign is going well we need a real surge now! This week there were more stories about allotment deregulation ‘fiascos’ which while it makes me sad at least they are getting press coverage. I should contact them with our posters –

http://m.newsshopper.co.uk/news/12903264.Neighbours_campaign_against_plans_to_build_Chislehurst_school_on_allotments/?ref=fbshr

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3047651/The-Good-Life-cancelled-allotment-holders-council-bulldoze-old-plots-build-car-park-football-pitches.html

Thanks to @kevmarriott for putting us in touch with @homefarmer Magazine who have done a great blog on us and are going to put a full pagr poster in their magazine. Interestingly Ruth from the magazine’s mum was originally from Bushy (Near Watford) and they are based in Preston (Near my home town Leyland) It really is a small growing world!http://homefarmer.co.uk/save-all-allotments/

I have been potting on more Tomatoes, my husband is addicted to tomato seeds (Particularly Italian ones!) and I have lost count of the different varieties we are growing. Must go and water them now. Will put up another blog next week. Until then please keep reminding everyone to sign the petition – http://change.org/SaveOurAllotments

And keep growing… x