Growing pumpkins for the plate, not the bin

Halloween might be more than six months away, but dozens of community gardeners and children’s groups are to get free squash seeds to plant this month as part of Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival Gets Growing.

Sustainable food initiative Good Food Oxford has joined forces with Oxfordshire County Council, Replenish Oxfordshire and other organisations to encourage people to grow their own vegetables and fight food waste.

It is estimated that nearly 13 million pumpkins are thrown away uneaten in the country every Halloween, and the festival aims to get people into the habit of eating squashes, instead of just carving and binning them.

Rachel Burns, Waste Strategy Manager at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “Every year around Halloween we notice that a lot of pumpkins end up in the food recycling bins. This is a shame because they can be delicious to eat.

“We are encouraging everyone to enjoy growing their own pumpkin and making the most of eating them. Remember, any parts of the pumpkin you don’t eat can be home composted too.”

Around 40 community gardens and allotments, primary schools, Girlguiding and Scouts groups from across Oxfordshire are signed up to receive free packets of squash seeds along with growing instructions to run planting activities, seedling swaps and to grow their own edible squashes. Some of them will run their activities as part of the national Good to Grow Day, a weekend of action (formerly known as the Big Dig Day) during 23 – 26 April, so they should be ready to harvest in the autumn.

The popularity of gardening has soared during the coronavirus pandemic. Spending more time at home has led many to rediscover the joy and mental health benefits of growing food in their gardens or balconies.

And people without their own gardens have been able to take advantage of the rise in edible and community gardens. Among those taking part in Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival Gets Growing and Good to Grow Day 2021 are community growing initiatives in Oxford, Didcot, Wantage, Banbury, North Moreton, Chinnor and Bicester.

Nina Osswald, co-ordinator at Good Food Oxford, said: “Edible gardens directly connect us with our environment and the source of our food. Eating more vegetables and producing them as close to home enables us to shorten supply chains, reduce carbon emissions and increase biodiversity around our homes while eating tastier, fresher and more nutritious food.

 “We know that the majority of people are not getting their minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and growing food is a great way to get the whole family interested in eating more veg. Community growing spaces give those who are not blessed with their own garden a wonderful opportunity to get outside, do something meaningful with their hands in a healthy, green environment.”

Good to Grow Day will celebrate the many gardens in Oxfordshire that provide opportunities for people to get their hands stuck into the soil and grow healthy, tasty and fresh food close to home. Find your closest participating garden, or register your garden to take part on the interactive map at www.goodtogrowuk.org/

Oxfordshire Pumpkin Festival Gets Growing is also supported by the national Veg Cities campaign and Community Action Groups Oxfordshire.