Incredible Edible Wakefield stands out for its dual approach whereby volunteers receive their own growing patches in return for their labour on communal grounds.
Andy Austerfield, one of the founders, believed it would be easier to sustain long term involvement if volunteers were getting something tangible back for their efforts.
He said: “We’ve found it easier to attract volunteers by having plot holdings, and by offering them on the condition of helping out with communal areas, its been easier to create and then maintain the Edible Garden spaces.”
The group calls its communal areas 'Edible Community gardens, and the individual growing areas within are termed ‘mini allotment plots’.
It currently has 22 such plots spread across three sites; a churchyard, a community centre car park, and a private garden.
There are another 28 plots in the pipeline; 16 on a council allotment plot and 12 in an old council housing association builders’ compound. This latter site is a bit like a tennis court where IEW are cutting out the tarmac and putting in raised beds.
The group has simple plot agreements, duplicate receipt books and a simple spread sheet set up for the year to administer the scheme. The revenue, though small, is starting to build as they set up more plots and is helping to pay for their basic costs.
Andy said: “I wouldn’t change the dual approach but we’ve started to make the gardens more low maintenance by making sure the paths are completed at the beginning when people are still enthusiastic and wood chipping the communal beds to keep weeding to a minimum.”
Other lessons the group has learned is to veer away from private gardens as they give less security to plot holders, and to avoid council land due to red tape. Instead, Andy prefers to approach small community based organisations, and the more overgrown their land, the more chance he believes that they’ll say yes.
He also emphasised the importance of a diverse and committed volunteer base.
A mixed bunch
He said: “You need a mix of types of people. For example when setting up the site in Ossett, a lot of the potential plot holders were semi retired ladies so I was left putting a lot of the plot edging timbers in place myself. They were happy to dig but not really joiners.
He added: “We had to point out to some plot holders that they needed to attend at least one in three communal sessions as they weren’t pulling their weight.”
But overall he feels the system works pretty well and with nearly 30 more plots on the cards, his confidence seems well placed.