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The Guardian/UK

Edible Playgrounds and Political Vegetables

From school playgrounds to digging up the lawns of the White House and Downing St, there are many wasted spaces where we could be inspiring people to grow their own food

Leo Hickman


A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Marlborough First and Middle school in Harrow, Middlesex, to congratulate its pupils on winning the national Charlie and Lola recycling competition held earlier this year.

Hundreds of primary schools across the country took part and Marlborough's pupils were awarded first prize for their hugely impressive playground mural made with hundreds of discarded CDs, bottle tops and other domestic waste items they had collected at home.

On a tour of the school's grounds afterwards, I chatted to the teachers about the concept of edible playgrounds and how the idea was growing in popularity. They said they loved the idea, and would start one as soon as they could, but that they were currently stymied by the fact that there was barely an inch of the school's grounds that wasn't covered in concert slabs or asphalt.

We discussed the idea of using stacked tyres as containers, but there was clearly a real desire to break some earth. They said they might even use the small patch of lawn in front of the school by the gates to build some raised beds but were a little unsure what those in the neighbouring houses that overlook the school might think.


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It all reminded me of an interview I did back in the late summer with Monty Don, the new president of the Soil Association, who said one of his main goals in his new role was to inspire communities to come together and start growing some of the own veg for a wide variety of reasons - health, environmental, social bonding, economic. But he admitted that the big challenge is to convince people to just give it a go. Once people try it and see the fruits (and veg) of their labour in their own hands they tend to be hooked for life. So what will it take to inspire people to pick up a pitch fork and join the radish revolution?

Well, opinion formers such as Monty Don showing the way forward is always going to help. That's why I really like the idea of the WHO Farm Project in the US. It's an attempt to convince Barack Obama to also reach for the spade when he takes the keys to the White House in January and symbolically dig up the famous front lawn in order to toss in some vegetable seeds. It's exactly what the Roosevelts did during the second world war and it helped to inspire over 20m so-called "Victory Gardens" across the US.

The garden at 10 Downing St isn't blessed with quite as many rods of prime growing land, but Buckingham Palace, and other world-famous sites across the UK, certainly are. It's not as if a decent veg patch needs to take up that much room. And just think of all those other wasted spaces where veg could easily be grown - parks, verges, roundabouts (OK, that might be a little dangerous) and all those monoculture corporate HQ landscaped gardens.

And if Gordon Brown, or any other leader, is thinking about their legacy, what would be better than knowing a vegetable variety has been named after you in recognition of your services to vegetable gardening. The problem for the grateful public would be deciding which vegetable should represent which leader ...

Leo Hickman is a features journalist and editor at the Guardian.

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