Definition: Smallholding and Allotment

A word that I have run across many a time in my reading and in scouring the internet for like-minded folks, is smallholding. It seemed to be a UK thing, since it popped up in places like the Ireland-based Sallygardens Smallholding blog that I follow and books like The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour. Wikipedia says that a smallholding is:

“In British English usage . . . a piece of land and its adjacent living quarters for the smallholder and stabling for farm animals, on a smaller scale than that of a farm but larger than an allotment, usually under 50 acres (0.2 km²). ( . . . ) Generally, a smallholding offers its owner a means of achieving self-sufficiency as to his and his family’s own needs which he may be able to supplement by selling surplus produce at a farmers market and/or temporary booths or more permanent shop facilities are often part of a smallholding.”

Which leads me to the other word that crops up in these same places, allotment. Again, we turn to Wikipedia:

“Allotment gardens are characterised by a concentration in one place of a few or up to several hundreds of land parcels that are assigned to individual families. In allotment gardens, the parcels are cultivated individually, contrary to other community garden types where the entire area is tended collectively by a group of people.The individual size of a parcel ranges between 200 and 400 square meters, and often the plots include a shed for tools and shelter. The individual gardeners are organised in an allotment association which leases the land from the owner who may be a public, private or ecclesiastical entity, provided that it is only used for gardening (i.e. growing vegetables, fruits and flowers), but not for residential purposes. The gardeners have to pay a small membership fee to the association, and have to abide with the corresponding constitution and by-laws. On the other hand, the membership entitles them to certain democratic rights.”

The closest thing we have to this in the US is what I have always called a P-Patch.  In re-writing this post, however, I discovered that “P-Patch” is a very local term for what those not under the influence of Seattle would call a community garden. American community gardens began with the Victory Garden and have been on the rise as the green movement swells. The key difference is that American community gardens, unlike smallholdings and allotments, are not provided by a government entity.  Usually they are owned by a private owner, church, school, neighborhood association, or a community service association and plots within the land are “rented” to the gardeners or, in some cases, provided for free to neighbors, first-comers, or members of the organization in question.  In the UK allotments are required by law to be made available to nearby residents.  I had trouble finding authoritative information on smallholdings, but it appears that they are bought, sold, and traded just like regular real estate (not through a government entity) although they are regulated by the same laws that created and maintain allotments.

— Amanda


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