On a rare sunny summer morning, Gloucestershire Vegans ventured on a hilly and occasionally swampy off-road route from Stroud to visit Amanda Godber’s vegan-organic allotment and to share a picnic.
As vegans our diet is entirely plant-based, which for some more curious vegans, makes it difficult to ignore where the plants we eat are grown and what processes go into their production.
Unfortunately we find that almost all of the vegetables we eat, even those organically produced are grown using the by-products of animal farming. Conventionally farmers use animal manure, slurry and also left-overs from the slaughterhouse or other animal industries such as blood, fish and bone. Not only does this sound unappealing (fancy a lettuce grown in abattoir floor-scrapings anyone? – no I thought not.), but the sale of animal by-products to growers supports animal farming industries – something which vegans try to avoid. Using animal by-products to grow vegetables also increases the risk that animal-borne diseases spread to humans through the food supply. Fortunately we do not need animal by-products to grow fantastic veg and keep soil healthy and fertile.
Amanda Godber is just one such person who is proving this to be the case. She is a experienced professional gardener who runs the inspiring local growing co-operative Down-to-Earth. They help people to grow their own veg in their own gardens, giving them confidence in growing, sharing knowledge and practical help. Her allotment is in Thrupp, a short walk out from the centre of Stroud on the brow of a steep and wooded hillside, looking out over Rodborough Common. She maintains the soil fertility by using home-made compost, created from plant matter such as grass-clippings and vegetable peelings.
Amanda is a composting guru, and gave a talk at the recent Edible Open Gardens explaining how she has several compost bays made from old pallets, which she fills with plant material and turns several times a year. She keeps the compost covered, to prevent it becoming too wet, and waters it during long dry spells. She never composts persistent weeds such as dandelions or bindweed, preferring to leave them in a bucket of water to rot. She allows self-seeded potatoes and nasturtiums to grow in her compost bins, which splay out from between the slats producing foliage and vivid orange flowers.
It is no wonder that Amanda takes her composting so seriously, as she relies on it to provide the fertility for her allotment veg. She uses it as a mulch layer on top of the soil, preferring not to dig it in and disturb the natural soil structure. Other vegan-organic growers use green-manures or mulches made from composted wood-chip, or straw, but Amanda prefers to make compost as she has a ready supply of garden ‘waste’ from her job.
Amanda’s allotment is alive and bustling with vegetables – despite it being one of the worst years for gardening anyone can ever remember. On the tour of her plot she showed us her greenhouse which has huge bunches of Pinot Noir grapes and a plump and wrinkled variety of tomato. She also showed us her wonderful runner beans, huge parsnip plants, multi-coloured sweetcorn and long blue squashes. All of these vegetables were nestled amongst vast colourful clumps of calendula, nasturtiums and feverfew. She grows flowers edible and otherwise amongst her vegetables to attract pollinating insects. She also has a wildlife area complete with small pond, hedgehog and toad houses, and a magpie bath. All of this she hopes will make her allotment more wildlife-friendly and attract natural predators to garden pests, which enables her to avoid using nasty products such as slug pellets.
There are a few other vegan-organic growers in the UK, some just growing for themselves on small allotment plots such as Amanda, others feeding the masses with farm-scale plots, producing veg-boxes and selling at farmer’s markets or shops. To find out more about vegan-organic growing techniques, visit the Vegan-Organic Network’s website. Or visit a vegan-organic farm: Tolhurst Organics is one of the nearest, and it often has open days organised by the Vegan-Organic Network.