Despite the rapid industrialization of our region during the 60s, 70s and 80s and the dominance of technology in our lives, driving in the summer months through the rural areas of our region still means spotting numerous ‘huertos or huertas’. These two words are normally used interchangeably although strictly speaking a huerto is a short plot of land, usually walled, on which vegetables, legumes and sometimes fruit trees are planted whereas a huerta is a bigger version of a huerto.
Huertos can produce crops all year round. However, due to the benign weather we enjoy in Spain, and particularly in our region, springtime is traditionally dedicated to sowing and planting with crops of fruit and vegetables arriving soon after. Families can get almost fully fed from the huerto from May to September. Early fruit like nísperos (loquats) followed by cherries and ‘brevas de San Juan’ (early dark figs) are just the prelude to a summer filled with an abundance of cucumbers, alficoz (local variety of cucumber), tomates, peppers, water melons and grapes to name a few. Over the last decades as young people grew distant from the countryside and its traditions, embracing ‘more sophisticated’ lifestyles, it has been the elderly, with their wisdom, experience and time, who kept this summer huerto tradition alive. You can see the family compounds staggered across the countryside with rows of canes forming crosses and proudly holding tomatoes ready to be picked – what a lovely sight! The huertos are definitely about the food but also a family focal point during the summer months.
During the worst of the recent pandemic many people, particularly in urban areas, suddenly had time in their hands and apart from embracing ‘Yoga with Adriene’ or daily workouts with Joe Wicks decided that it was time to stop frantically tapping their keyboards and attending pointless conference calls and embraced baking, gardening and veg growing. Who else did it? We definitely did! Many of us discovered how satisfying it is getting your hands dirty and feeding yourself with lovely home-grown food – much more nourishing than Netflix!
The movement of urban veg allotments in big cities has been there for many years, however it has grown exponentially following the pandemic. The veg allotment next to our London flat is now running a large waiting list and the council is expanding the site. During a recent visit to Hamburg in Germany we were amazed by the amount of green spaces in the city, ‘guerrilla planting’ in any available space led by neighbours and multiple community spaces filled with veg allotments with lots of people of all ages working on them.
Back in Alicante, Juan’s uncle has traditionally been the one in charge of feeding the very large extended family during the summer months with fruit and veg from his huerto. Unfortunately uncle is not feeling his best at the moment which means that Juan has been helping the family a bit. Every time he comes back from his hometown of Villena, Juan not only fills our kitchen with incredible fresh food but also due to the volume of food available we have been filling a few more fridges in the neighborhood. Sharing healthy food is a lovely way to create community.
We don’t have to go too far to see the huertos, the fertile campo o f Elche is filled with them. But, what about Gran Alacant? Hmmm … uncomfortable silence. It’s sad to observe how, despite the privileged setting in which we all live, we are very far from embracing this trend of greening cities and sharing community spaces in our hood. Instead the council keeps on giving out new building permits commoditizing every single available plot of land.
Walking around Gran Alacant has always been difficult due to the deficient urban planning, but now it’s also heartbreaking as new building sites are popping up everywhere. Invasive building techniques, greedy use of previously natural space, lack of green areas included in building plans and the persistent lack of community space are the norm. Will this ever stop? Is the council planning to join Gran Alacant with Santa Pola with urbanización after urbanización? We all know the 2/3 of the housing in Gran Alacant remains empty for 9 months a year so the issue in our community is definitely not lack of already built housing. Why do the council policies keep on prioritizing housing before community building? As a suggestion, wouldn’t one of these plots soon to be filled with concrete be better dedicated to a community veg allotment? A place of gathering where neighbors could spend their time, share food and experiences and embrace local traditions could be a great addition to the area. We don’t suggest reinventing the wheel here, we just would like to see our council abandoning their old fashioned vision of urban planning and instead follow what many other communities are doing across the globe. We live in a privileged place that needs to be protected and improved. A healthy environment goes side by side with a healthy community and here public policy plays a very important part.