By JOHN ROBERTSON
MIGHT Shetland be harbouring an army of frustrated vegetable growers longing to get their green fingers on a patch of land? If so, their time has finally come. The council is about to gauge enthusiasm for starting an allotment scheme – a concept perhaps familiar to most from watching Eastenders or wartime films about London in the Blitz.
In 2008 it’s not so much about supplementing war rations as cutting soaring bills and climate-wrecking food miles. Of course, the extra veg is also good for you and might actually have some flavour. The idea was planted by councillor Rick Nickerson earlier this year and grew into an enthusiastic report to the infrastructure services committee on Tuesday by environmental management officer Mary Lisk.
She claimed that, despite their modest size, the produce from Shetland allotments could improve the quality and quantity of the local food on offer. As well as being great learning tools for schools, they might also help combat disease, deprivation and poverty, help people achieve their full economic potential and promote the Shetland tradition of self-sufficiency.
As a first step Mrs Lisk is to be made the official responsible as the single point of contact for allotment enthusiasts. She will also get in touch with communities and other groups with a potential interest. If sufficient demand is demonstrated, the SIC may eventually give over small plots of land up and down Shetland for those who want to cultivate it. Grant funding may be available from outside Shetland to help.
Mrs Lisk believes demand for allotments is increasing in Shetland, which, along with the Western Isles, Falkirk and East Dumbartonshire, has no formal scheme in existence. According to her report, Scotland has around 6,300 individual plots on over 200 sites. There are 58 plots in Kirkwall and Stromness.
Councillors on the committee were generally enthusiastic about the idea, although councillor Allison Duncan warned that cultivating a good harvest might not be as easy as some think. He said the potato blight problem had forced some people to give up tatties and bad weather last year meant farmers at the Ness had barely been able to produce a carrot between them. There were also problems with invading geese, root fly and the soaring cost of chemicals.
Betty Fullerton hoped polytunnels would be allowed, although Jonathan Wills thought they just blew away. He said rabbit-proof fencing would be the biggest expense for the council in setting up effective allotments. The problem of blight could be tackled by sowing blight-resistant tatties, he said, and never in 25 years had he been forced to resort to chemicals. His big idea was to resurrect the planticrubs that dot the Shetland landscape.
Jim Henry said involving more schools would be good. He was surprised how little children know these days about how simple things grow. Alastair Cooper said Mossbank already had a community allotment with a polytunnel, hens and all the rest of it.
Laura Baisley said growing your own food was a particular hobby horse of hers. Even in Yell, where she lives, some people had no access to a bit of ground. As for the problems, she said people just had to rise above them.