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One town and 26 public gardens = free food

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Many space-starved Britons who do not live in towns such as Todmorden, where rhubarb-for-free nods outside the local pub, grow food on allotments.

Britain has about 300,000 such community gardens, which are protected under legislation dating to 1887. But demand far exceeds supply, with about 100,000 people on waiting lists — a number that has jumped nearly 700 percent in the past 12 years, according to Geoff Stokes, secretary of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.

The budding interest in growing food began about three years ago, Mr. Stokes said, citing a collision of factors, including popular cooking and gardening television shows presented by influential chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; a growing interest in the environmental costs of imported food (some food sold here carries labels approximating how much carbon it emits during its lifetime); and the penny-watching that has followed the recession, helping to "tip wavering people over the edge," as Stokes put it.

In a recent report on food security, the British government said the country, which imports almost 40 percent of its food, needs to find ways to produce more food with fewer resources. The report cited concerns over climate change, water supplies, population growth and food prices.

"We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food," said Hilary Benn, the environment secretary.

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