Allotments must be reopened before harvest, Cork enthusiast insists

Joe Mason, who tends a plot in one of the country’s largest public allotments in Ballincollig’s regional park in Cork, said growers are more than willing to follow physical distancing guidelines
Allotments must be reopened before harvest, Cork enthusiast insists

Some of Joe Mason’s produce from his allotment in Ballincollig.
Some of Joe Mason’s produce from his allotment in Ballincollig.

A grow-your-own enthusiast has called for the reopening of public allotments before their harvest rots.

Joe Mason, who tends a plot in one of the country’s largest public allotments in Ballincollig’s regional park in Cork, said growers are more than willing to follow physical distancing guidelines.

“Absurdly as the regional park is still open, we can now only walk along the adjoining path, in the company of dozens of others, and look through the fence at our produce going to waste,” he said.

“Given that there are about 80 allotments and we have at least 12 hours of daylight it would be easy to allocate one hour twice a week for each plot holder to carry out essential work, with only two plots being worked in each hour.

This would give more than adequate social distancing and could be arranged in a similar way to that which golf clubs use for their timesheets.

Mr Mason, whose daughter, Catherine, also tends a plot in the allotment, said most growers wear gloves, and they have access to several water-taps on site for hand-washing.

The Green Party backed what are mounting calls from people such as Mr Mason for the reopening of allotments and farmers’ markets. Both should be classified as essential services and are laid out in a way that would facilitate physical distancing, the party said.

“A trip to the allotment or farmers’ market surely presents a much lower risk of infection compared to a trip to the supermarket,” the party’s spokeswoman on agriculture and food, Senator Pippa Hackett, said.

Following the lockdown, several local authorities including Cork City Council, Dublin City Council, Dunlaoighire Rathdown and Fingal County Councils locked their public allotments.

In response to a recent parliamentary query, TDs were told that allotments do not fall under the food production exemption and are not exempt from the “stay at home” requirement.

A spokesperson for Cork City Council said they understand the importance of allotments, particularly at this time of year in terms of the growing season. But he said their hands are tied by national public health guidelines.

“It is regrettable that we had to close them, but public healthcare is of paramount importance at this time. As soon as there is a relaxation, we will reopen the allotments without delay and arrange appropriate disinfecting of shared spaces.”

Cork City Green Party Cllr Colette Finn said while public health considerations must be prioritised, allotments are sites of food production.

“We have the ridiculous situation in Ballincollig, where the allotment within the regional park is closed but just over the fence people are able to operate observing the guidelines of good cough hygiene, physical distancing, and hand washing.”

Mr Mason, who has planted potatoes, purple broccoli, cabbage, onions, leaks, broadbeans, peas, beetroot, rhubarb and a selection of herbs, said it would be a shame to see his and others’ harvest go to waste: “It took monumental work to get the plot to the stage it’s at now.”

“It’s better to get in there for an hour two or three times a week than to do four hours once a month. And it we’re going to have to adapt to a new normal after the lockdown, if life is going to have to change, then we need to start thinking now about how we can do these kinds of things.”

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