A growing community

Jim Kitchen - 08 June 2012

Allotments at MinnowburnAlan is a bee-man, an apiarist. He tends half-a-dozen hives near Minnowburn, where the National Trust has established one of its five allotment sites in Northern Ireland. It’s a wonderful location, sandwiched between Belfast’s River Lagan and the renowned Giant’s Ring but it’s a bit short of wild flowers to feed Alan’s bees with nectar. So the allotmenteers and National Trust volunteers have planted a native hedge of holly, hawthorn and dog rose which will help to address the floral deficit.

That’s the sort of neighbourly co-operation that characterises this communal facility. It’s only one of a thousand new allotment sites that the National Trust has established around the UK but for the twenty-five people lucky enough to secure one of the plots, this is a particularly special little spot on the outskirts of the city.

The communal ethic extends well beyond hedge-planting. A sizeable polytunnel shelters some fledgling tomato and sweet pepper plants, along with seed-trays full of promise. The delicate herbs inside the tunnel are complemented by a shared bed of the hardier rosemary, sage and thyme that thrive outside. A line of fruit trees mark the plot’s boundaries, another group initiative.

This site is only three years old and most of the plots are tended by the people who have been here from the beginning. Two of these enthusiasts, Emma and Muriel, are planting out some seedlings, half-hidden behind the winter’s stand of broccoli. Another member, Martin, is more exercised by his work on the clay oven he’s patiently constructing, a new addition for the elegant pavilion that sits splendidly at the top of the sloping field. The pavilion, as with all the group’s community projects, was conceived and constructed by mutual agreement – an informal and effective process among the 25 members.

The Minnowburn plots sit surrounded by farmland, the sound of traffic on Belfast’s ring road just audible beyond the birdsong. It’s a real haven of sustainability, nurtured by people who recognise the value of fresh and seasonal food but there’s little chance of getting hold of a vacant plot – they’re like hen’s teeth, as they say in these parts. And talking of hens….coming soon to this community garden, I’m told.

Jim works with the Soil Association, managing a new project to develop sustainable food communities in Northern Ireland.

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