Thursday, 19 July 2012

From cultivation to consumption

We’ve not run many events on the new Victoria Jubilee Allotments which only opened in June 2010. People have been concentrating on getting their plots to grow food, putting up sheds and polytunnels and, for those new to allotments, learning that growing your own food is not just about digging and sowing and harvesting - though that's hard work in itself - but about aligning the harvest with the needs of the kitchen, and knowing how to prepare, cook and serve vegetables you've grown yourself.
The trouble is that sometimes you're so pleased (if you’re like me) that your crop has arrived that you've forgotten to rotate your planting or sowing so that the right amount of food appears at the right time. It's all so much easier to go to the shops and buy what you need when you need it - or is it?
This is a pilot project in partnership with Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VJA) and Legacy WM. The aim is to raise awareness of recycling, composting, growing food and cooking them. It will work with young people from the Bangladeshi Youth Forum and older people from Birmingham Asian Resource Centre to demonstrate what can be done in people’s gardens and how food can be prepared. We will host two cooking events in the Victoria Jubilee Allotments and raise awareness of the benefits or eating organic food and encourage people to take similar initiatives in their own homes. It will also look at the negative impact of fast food on health, raise awareness of how food can be grown in gardens and the positive impact on health, increase recycling and composting and result in a reduction in land fill waste. It will also encourage young people to prepare and cook food.
The Victoria Jubilee Allotments are in Handsworth, Birmingham B20 2SZ. To find them you go to Handsworth and find Victoriana Way off the Hamstead Road (B4124) just before Handsworth Park if coming from the city centre. Go straight on down Victoriana Way about 100 yards through a new estate until it makes a T-junction with Nursery Drive. Turn left and you will see the double gates of the allotments ahead of you. There is car-parking inside the gates. From 5-7pm on Thursday 19 July 2012, Aftab Rahman will be there looking forward to seeing you joined by plot-holders from the allotments.
Abdul, Chani, Aftab and Jeevan ~ rehearsal for Thursday on the VJA
To run this short event we've had to be as conscientious as for something larger and more conspicuous. The £200 grant - a Small Environmental Bronze Award - was carefully checked bu Jo Burrill for Midland Heart with proof of Aftab's charitable status via LegacyWM, and must be accounted for in detail. On the allotments Jeevan must inform the City Council that we have carried out a risk assessment - what we did on Wednesday afternoon yesterday - that we have fire extinguishers and liability insurance or a formal disclaimer to be signed by everyone attending to ensure that the neither the Council nor the VJA carry liability for any injury to those participating in the event. We shrugged our shoulders, imagined contingencies, filled forms and accepted that doing this paperwork is a feature of the way we live now. We've checked that we have enough tables, plastic spoons, forks, plates and paper napkins. Jeevan our Hon Sec has lent me a key to the clubroom where there's a kitchen and chairs. Using the Handsworth Helping Hands transit van I have delivered our gazebo from home to use on the assumption there will be rain. I walked Abdul, Chani and Aftab round the allotments to tell more plot holders about the event and check that they might bring produce for cooking despite the enduring wet weather.
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The Victoria Jubilee playing fields - still not ready 
Last night at Welford School there was a ward committee. The main item - a good 30 minutes' discussion - followed a presentation by Ghaz Hussain responsible for negotiating the original planning gain deal on the Victoria Jubilee Allotment, explaining why even though some elements of the S106A had been delivered - the allotments and funding for Handsworth Park and a percentage of social housing on the Victoriana estate - the promised sports pavilion, children's playground, and playing fields had not despite the original agreement between the city and the developer being made in 2004. Ghaz said a cross-departmental group was being assembled to pursue the full implementation of the original agreement with Persimmon Homes. Ghaz was appropriately dispassionate in his presentation. Cllr Mahmood Hussein, chairing, asked if I had anything to add. I retailed the dishonest way the original private allotment holders working on land in trust them as a Friendly Association had been so tempted by the property value of their land that they had gone into league with an Edgbaston Lawyer and turned themselves, probably in the process breaching the rules of their Friendly Association, into a holding company and stopped letting plots so they could justify their action by claiming there was no demand for allotments. BBC made a short film with me about this, able to dig out data about these dealings now that as a private company I could look up public domain data on holdings of different plotholders on the internet. It turned out that a minority had been taking over more and more plots for themselves and their families using any excuse for cancelling individual's leases. The largest beneficiaries of the land sale to a developer were people who had left Handsworth. I spoke for about five minutes. Cllr Waseem Zaffar said it was clear that both the city and the developer were at fault for the delay in delivering the playing fields. "Let's get a result by 1 September". The meeting, well attended did not get impatient with the time given to this. I can still imagine nothing much happen but I do think the matter has regained impetus now that Ghaz is 'in charge'. Also at the meeting was a colleague Stuart Morgan who has replaced Alan Orr as our constituency planning officer.
A little work after the ward meeting ~ 17 July
The good news announced at this ward meeting was a Community Chest grant for £4000 to Handsworth Helping Hands, which, since our meeting on 12 July is now an official unincorporated association. Those of us involved as a Voluntary Advisory Group (VAG) to Central Handsworth Practical Care Project (CHPCP) are now an elected commiteee with Chair, Secretary, Secretary and Constitution. We will need to answer for our use of this grant in detail and a darn good thing too,
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From my scam file - some cheeky names, like 'déconner-kidding, to talk crap, casmir-cashmire':
Dear Simon. Sylvain Deconee is my name. I was the Personal Attorney to late Mr.Casmir Baddeley a national of your country, who use to own an oil servicing company in Togo Republic and a vehicles dealer as well, he deposited Ten million two hundred thousand United States Dollars in one of the security finance firms here. Herein after shall be referred to as my client. Please, may I know if he relates to you or if you know something about him? You are free to reach me for more details. Regards, Sylvain Deconee
This con is so transparent, with the same text and different names substituted found more or less instantly on the web, I wonder if there's a hidden motive. What exactly is being harvested or tested? Intriguing. Exploring this could kick off an adventure, or a novel, the spammer a trainee, perhaps a teenager playing with a purloined smart phone on the other side of the world or just down the street or a shrewd operator transmitting a coded message.

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