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Page last updated at 12:21 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009
A growing passion for allotments
By Tim Bearder
BBC Oxford

An allotment
Allotments are relatively cheap and accessible

Looking after your own allotment can improve your life in innumerable ways.

It allows you to get healthy exercise in the open air while producing good quality wholesome food.

You can learn a host of agricultural skills and improve the environment by recycling and looking after the green bits of city land.

Then there is the community and social aspects of being part of a fraternity of like-minded individuals. So how can you get started?

The biggest allotment site in Oxford is run by the Osney, St Thomas and New Botley Allotment Association. The city has around 165 acres of allotment land, 10% of which is run by the group on their two Botley Road sites.

The former Lord Mayor John Power is the association's secretary. Whilst he has said that demand for allotments is definitely going up it is more than possible to meet the demand. "There are pinch points here and there but overall you can get an allotment in the city," he tells BBC Oxford.

His own association does have a waiting list on its main 11 acre site but he points out that you don't have to go far to find an alternative: "We have vacant plots a few hundreds yards down the road at the Bull State Close site.

"South Ward allotments are even offering discounts on their plots to encourage people to use them."

Indeed at the time of writing their website is advertising three vacant plots and the annual rent is a mere £15 per ten pole plot or £7.50 for five poles.

A 10 pole plot equates to about 300 square yards and on the Botley Road the annual rent is even cheaper, just £14 a year. The prices do vary around the city, depending on the association.

Getting an allotment is just the start of your adventure into horticultural self sufficiency. The rest of the journey involves a lot of hard work and John is keen to dispel the myth that you will somehow be harvesting a significantly superior product. He was particularly amused by one particular meal time incident.

"I couldn't get over to my allotment to pick up the parsnips for dinner so my wife bought some from Marks and Spencers. My daughter came over to eat with us and said, 'Dad these are the best parsnips you've ever grown', which just goes to show."

He is also keen to point out that the supermarkets are difficult to beat on price: "I brought a bag of frozen carrots from Iceland for a quid. I can't buy the seeds for that."

So whilst having an allotment isn't necessarily going to become your ticket to fantastically cheap vegetables that could win awards at every country fair John is keen to stress the other benefits of having a plot.

Quite apart from the exercise, growing your own fruit and veg can be real community event. "We have a shop where we sell our products and we hold an annual party. This year there were over 160 people there," says John.

For the uninitiated it is the perfect place to learn how to grow food. John is a proud onion grower with some four pound examples to his name. People are often ready to pass on their skills and share their surplus produce.

So if you are interested in finding out more about getting yourself a plot you will need to contact your local council which will then be able to point you in the right direction. The Directgov website has a tool which allows you to find your nearest.

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