Sowing seeds of a gender revolution

Dominic Bareham KITTED out in her green mac, gloves and wellington boots, allotment holder Susan Telford jokes about the smart new toilet cubicle recently added at the back of the shed at the allotments in Acle.

Dominic Bareham

KITTED out in her green mac, gloves and wellington boots, allotment holder Susan Telford jokes about the smart new toilet cubicle recently added at the back of the shed at the allotments in Acle.

“That was put there because of the increasing number of women who now hold allotments on this site. Before, the men used to go and take a pee in the River Bure at the back of the site!” the 41-year-old mum-of-two said.

But better toilet facilities are not the only sign of a growing female influence in a domain traditionally associated with older men in flat caps and waistcoats puffing on pipes as they shovel away soil. A peek inside the shed at the site near the Hermitage pub shows shovels and spades neatly arranged, and even a noticeboard with events and tips on gardening.

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Karen Kenny, eastern regional representative for the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, estimated up to 40pc of allotments in the east were now held by women.

But she said people of all ages were now coming forward to claim plots, including many more families of mums and dads with children in tow.

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She believed more people were becoming interested in becoming self-sufficient and reaping the extra health benefits from fresh vegetables.

She said: “It is a combination of people wanting to know what is in their food and families wanting to have an occupation that is good for health reasons. It is not just about growing food, it is about community as there is a community spirit on the allotments, and also very educational for children as they learn more about growing foods.”

Ms Telford, of Old Foundry Court, Acle, is one of six women holding one of the 19 plots at the allotments with a good view of Roman woods and Acle marshes across the river where Shire horses roam.

Her passion for gardening began with vegetables in window boxes, and developed into getting a plot off Acle Allotment Holders Association three years ago for an annual �10 rent.

She started out growing courgettes, but has since expanded her range to include new potatoes, sweet corn, cabbages, swede, beetroot, carrots, rhubarb, asparagus, spring onions, cauliflower and fruit including raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Squashes are also on the menu for Susan along with Brassica vegetables and runner and French beans.

The single mum, who combines her allotment duties with part-time work for Broadland Learning Project, said although getting the allotment started was hard work, she only needed two or three hours at weekends to tend to it.

Only one potato plant was needed to feed her family - including children Theo, eight, and Gina, four - and she said she had experienced the financial benefitst.

“It is like meditation to me really. It is very relaxing and calming to spend time at the allotment and you learn patience as well, which is a good skill for children,” Ms Telford said.

However, she had experienced varying degrees of success in leading her children down the garden path.

She said Theo preferred playing on his Nintendo games console as she tended the vegetables and would only get involved in specific tasks, such as digging the soil.

However, Gina had shown more interest and had her own patch which she has used to grow purple carrots.

The youngster, who attends Acle Primary School with her brother, said: “My favourite activity is picking strawberries from the bushes at the allotment, but I also like growing


Ms Telford said: “I get so much out of it, mental and health benefits, because it is such a relaxing activity. But you do need to be passionate about it. We had a couple of allotment holders who had a plot for a short while but stopped. You generally get out of it what you put in.”

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