Diggin It, Plymouth’s hidden organic vegetable foodie secret.
Today I am cooking with chillies and garlic grown organically a mile from my front door. I live in the middle of a city.
How is this possible? Well not because some local with a garden spotted me some. But because hidden on an allotment patch behind a sprawling urban school lies one of Plymouth’s best kept foodie secrets.
Diggin It is a great community scheme, organic gardening project in Plymouth run by the Routeways Centre Ltd, a local charity. It is a community garden growing and selling vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers, on unused allotment land that has been made available by Plymouth City Council. In its own words:
The over-riding aim of the project is to provide an environment that will benefit a range of vulnerable or socially disadvantaged people, helping them to become better integrated within the community and bringing communities together. Those involved with Diggin’ It have gained skills and confidence, self-esteem and self-sufficiency; some have become ready for training or work, enabling them to participate more fully in society. Diggin It provides participants with an awareness of growing and producing their own healthy food as well as reducing waste through composting and recycling.
You’d have to have a hard heart to not appreciate that. And from a foodie point of view it is a little goldmine in a fairly concrete city. I visited late in the growing season but picked up the last of their garlic, a massive handful of chillies and a bag of salad that only three hours previously had been growing in the ground – including apparently edible nasturtium flowers. My pocket was lighter for merely £1.50. Also on sale were bags of herbs, pumpkins, courgettes, apples, carrots, potatoes and other things I cannot remember.
Given the preponderance of supermarkets in Plymouth (two Tescos, two Sainsbury’s, two Morrisons, an Asda and a Waitrose in Saltash – and that isn’t counting the “metro” versions) it is a crying shame more people don’t get down there and frankly take advantage of the good work they are doing. They didn’t have a huge array of goods on display, so hundreds trooping down would probably be a disaster. But if you are passing you have no excuse!
When I visited, Dave Sharp, the head gardener, was picking the last of the open air salad leaves, but he had plenty more in the polytunnels, plus spinach. There were lots of hardy tubers in the ground, a rhubarb patch, young apple saplings. There is even a bee hive, whose residents pollinate all the plants and also create jars of honey.
Additionally, just wandering around the patch of green in the middle of an urban expanse was very tranquil. A buzzard was soaring overhead believe it or not! The thing that I liked most though, was the amount of herbs growing around the place, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, those were the ones I recognised anyway. It made wandering around a truly sensory experience. Not sure how much they would like me to finger all the plants though!
The veg patch is already on the radar of a few people – they had a stall at the recent Plymouth University Farmers’ Market, which is where I met them, but it was for information purposes rather that sales. And they already supply chef Stephen Barratt’s Bistro One restaurant with goodies.
My argument is, why not go there and get some organic goodness. It is easier to park than the supermarket and will take you no longer to get to if you are in the city already. And you’ll be helping out a charity instead of lining Terry Leahy’s pockets with gold. Who can argue with that?
PS: Directions to Diggin It. Come off A38 at the A386 junction and follow signs for city centre. Continue down A386 Outland Road until you pass Home Park. You’ll come to a busy junction. Carry straight on towards Stoke and Devonport. You’ll eventually come to a crossroads with traffic lights. Take the first left and carry on down until you come to a left turn “Penlee Way”. Follow this to the end and you should see a sign for Diggin It. The gates will probably be shut but if it is between 10pm and 4pm just open them, walk in an do some good.