Grow, grow, grow your own

At this time of year, there's a niggling feeling that we should all be sprouting our own broccoli. But many of us are thwarted, not least by an oversubscribed national allotment scheme. A 2009 report from the New Local Government Network estimated that 100,000 people are on a waiting list for one.

My favourite campaign of the year so far aims to overcome these problems. One Pot Pledge is an initiative launched by the horticultural charity Garden Organic. By September this year, it hopes that 30,000 people will have pledged to grow something to eat. Already, 10,000 have signed up, including the chefs Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc.

The beauty of One Pot Pledge, like all the best attempts to change how we live, is that it doesn't expect too much; it suggests you start small and grow one thing - in a pot if you don't have a garden. It is typical of the many valiant green schemes that have been pushing food-growing up the agenda, independent of government funding or support.

The most successful include the urban network Guerrilla Gardening, which illicitly cultivates unused land, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Landshare project, which links up those who have available land with wannabe gardeners. By operating at community level, these projects combat the sense that veg-growing is for members of the green squirearchy who have time, money and acres to spare.

During the election campaign, despite David Cameron's previous eco-hype, green issues dropped off the agenda. Then, in May, the coalition government announced its programme, which included more than 20 commitments to the environment, but none mentioned preserving green spaces or promotion of food-growing. More worrying, some of Labour's most laudable measures are likely to fall by the wayside. In January, a "land bank" scheme was proposed as part of the government's Food 2030 policy, which aimed to give those who want to grow their own access to underused and uncared-for land. It is now unlikely the scheme will get off the ground. Along with all spending commitments from January 2010, its affordability is under review.

In its defence, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs promises to follow the framework laid out by Food 2030, which sounds like good news until you look at the reception that the report received. "The government's food vision is hardly worthy of the name," said Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator of Sustain - the alliance for better food and farming - at the time.

Throw the concerns about the new Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, a former director of a biotech company with close links to the agrochemical business, into the mix, and you see why Garden Organic's chief executive, Myles Bremner, is unsatisfied with the role government is playing.

It's not just funding that is needed, he argues, but also more support. "Although the grow-your-own movement should be owned and managed at a local, community level, there needs to be statutory intervention, including policy changes, to promote it," he says.

In keeping with the "big society" rhetoric, it looks as if the promotion of sustainable food practices will be left to people doing it for themselves. Given the surge of interest in growing food, it's hard not to feel disappointed. This reluctance to commit is unexpected, given that, according to David Cameron, this is the "greenest government in our history". Let's hope that his vision is still to be realised.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask