The man behind the ‘allotment’ music video that has been circulating around our local social media circles and speaks about the importance of having access to greenery in the city, especially now, during lockdown.
You may have seen a video being shared on your social platforms recently – a jaunty tune about the joys of growing your own produce in an allotment. In the clip, a man with a distinctive beard sings ‘heading down the allotment, working on me vegetables’, an earworm of a song. You can find the track at the bottom of this article, under his musical pseudonym, Pablo Fantastico.
This is Paul Baxter, a local resident, allotment holder and musical hobbyist, whose video about the joys of gardening is now being enjoyed by local residents. It is easy to assume this video is part of a community campaign encouraging allotments, but it is in fact just one man’s tribute to his love of having his own allotment, in the middle of a densely-packed city.
‘This song came about just playing around with my son really, just singing that hook, it just grew out of my love for the allotment,’ he said.
His nine-year old son, Hercules, also features in the video, joyously playing with his friends at Baxter’s plot in the Prospect Walk Allotment, which is just at the top of Usk street in Globe Town. As part of a family with young children who live in a flat (like many in this area), Baxter feels he is lucky to have a green space where he can grow his own produce.
‘I was getting a bit stir-crazy living in a flat before we got the allotment. To be honest, it’s changed my outlook on the city; it’s really given me breathing space. Having access to a green space, it’s a little oasis.’
No doubt, this feeling of stir-craziness will be familiar to one too many people during this current time of Covid-19.
Lockdown has certainly exposed the lack of immediate access to green spaces in his area for many.
‘Our allotment overlooks estate housing and a bunch of flats,’ says Baxter. ‘So you’re really aware of how lucky you are. Many people who live there – especially people with families, don’t have access to a green space. And there are families like mine, who live in a flat but do have somewhere to go.’
Allotments are small plots of land meant for individuals and households to grow their own food crops, usually on land owned by local councils. But they are not easy to come by. Especially in cities where population density is high and green spaces are relatively rare.
Tower Hamlets has six allotment societies, including Stepney City Farm, Reeves Road Allotments and Baxter’s Prospect Walk Allotment. But they are highly in demand – most have a minimum waiting time of five-plus years to get a plot. Baxter himself had an even longer wait.
‘We moved here about 12 years ago, and we were on a waiting list to get an allotment for about 10 years of those years. I’ve grown so much and gotten a lot of joy in it in the couple of years I’ve had it, especially for the kids.’
Baxter frequently works on the allotment with his younger son, often enjoying Sunday lunch there with the rest of his family.
‘It’s really a rewarding activity for kids I think, because you get to look after and nurture something, and see it grow.’
The reaction to this video in the local community, he says, has made him realise the scarcity of green spaces in his local area, especially for families.
‘We [at the Prospect Walk Allotment], were going to have our first “open gardens” next month, kind of like the open houses days we have,’ he says ‘And we were also thinking of having basic gardening lessons aimed at families, stuff like that. They aren’t happening now obviously,’ referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He hopes that in the future, events like these will help increase an awareness in the local community of the benefits of gardening.
‘That’ll be a lovely thing to see, more people growing plants where they can. After all of this is over, I would like to see more open gardens and gardening lessons.’
As allotments are hard to come by, and many of us in this area do not have gardens, does Baxter have any tips on how we can unleash their green thumb?
‘You can grow all sorts of things in your balcony or even just in pots around your house. Herbs, tomatoes are fun to grow if you’ve got a bit of space. Courgettes are also great if you don’t have a lot of experience.’
For Baxter, gardening is about learning through experience.
‘You don’t need to be a gardening expert to grow things,’ he says. ‘I knew nothing about gardening when I first started this plot.’ Now Baxter grows a variety of fruits and vegetables – chard, kale, onions and even a plum tree.
During a period where we are all appreciating the value of nature and spending time outdoors, Baxter’s music video shows the joy in cultivating your own fruits and vegetables. As being allocated an allotment can be a long wait, Tower Hamlets also has community food gardens that you can get involved in. Unlike allotments, these gardens are not owned by a private household; rather, they are collectively maintained by neighbourhoods.
If you would like to apply for an allotment, you can find more information on the council website.
If you liked this article, why not read more about the Cranbrook Community Food Garden?
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