Artists guerrilla-plant giant living artwork at Tesco site to defy the industrial food industry


An allotment-sized living artwork called The Waiting List was guerrilla-planted by volunteers at a disused Tesco-owned site in Litherland, just north of Liverpool, this morning in an act of defiance against the industrial food industry. Made of seed paper and embedded with ash from the Amazon, it bore the message “We 174,183 on the waiting list demand allotments”.

Download images (and later footage) here

A section of the artwork was carried to the Department of Levelling Up yesterday along with a letter to Secretary of State Michael Gove from the artists JC Niala, Julia Utreras and Sam Skinner who conceived of and made the piece [1]. The letter urged the government to enable people to exercise their rights to allotments as part of the solution to food insecurity, the cost of living crisis and the climate and nature emergency. 

The Waiting List is a visual representation of new data collected by Greenpeace UK and the artists via Freedom of Information requests to all councils in England, Wales and Scotland showing there are currently 174,183 applications on allotment waiting lists. [2] England’s figures have almost doubled since 2011. [3] The data also shows the longest recorded waiting time is 15 years, with an average waiting time of 3 years. In the local authority of Liverpool, 1,355 applications sit on allotment waiting lists.

At just over 200m2, the work is comparable to the size of a doubles tennis court, which is also the size of a traditional allotment designed to feed a family of four [4]. It contains seeds specifically chosen for their ability to remediate soils and remove contaminants, helping to prepare the land for food growing. They have been arranged into giant letters to bear its message. The embedded Amazon ash is a reminder of UK food giants’ reliance on imports of soya for meat and dairy production from places like South America where it’s driving deforestation and human rights abuses. Millions of tonnes of soya is used every year in the UK to feed chickens, pigs and dairy cows.[5]

Digging the artwork into an industrial site owned by Tesco is significant because the supermarket is the biggest seller of industrially produced meat and dairy in the UK. Despite promising over a decade ago to end its links to deforestation, its supply chain is still riddled with soya and it still buys from suppliers owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS – a company notorious for driving forest destruction in the Amazon, as well as other climate critical ecosystems in South America. [6] 

Liverpool docks is the main gateway for soya entering the UK via Cargill, a major industrial supplier of animal feed. Cargill’s plant is visible from the site where The Waiting List has been planted. 

Lead artist, JC Niala, who is a writer, allotments historian and has a doctorate on urban gardening from St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, said:
“It’s important to see our work used to reclaim land from the industrial food industry in this way. Far too many people across the country are being held back from growing their own food because land like this is being monopolised by food giants like Tesco.

“The artwork’s size may seem huge but you can see how many more allotments this relatively small piece of industrial land could hold – and each one would enable a family of four to feed themselves. If every allotment request on today’s local authority waiting lists was granted, they could collectively feed cities the size of Nottingham and Leicester combined.” 

“Everyone has the legal right to request an allotment and councils are legally obliged to provide a sufficient number. They quite literally provide a lifeline for some. They bring good local food back to people and take away the bad taste of the global industrial food system. They improve people’s mental health and wellbeing by creating a sense of purpose and increasing opportunities to connect with others as well as spend time in nature. A little known fact is that if six people from different households apply for an allotment together, their council has an obligation under the 1908 allotment act to find them a space.” [7]

As a collective, the artists specialise in making interactive public artworks grounded in research and were selected for funding and support from Greenpeace UK via the NGO’s Bad Taste project [8] earlier this year. 

In the UK, over 70% of our land is farmed with most of that used for animal agriculture. Just 15% of the UK’s farmland is used to grow food directly for people. [9]

Meanwhile, four million UK children can’t access healthy, nutritious, culturally appropriate food [10] but almost 10 million tonnes of food is wasted each year [11]. In the UK, one in four people from an ethnic minority group experience food insecurity – almost twice the rate as for white people.[12]

Daniela Montalto, Greenpeace UK forests campaigner, said:
“The only winners in our deeply unjust industrial food system are corporate food giants and supermarkets. Tesco, Cargill and JBS have all been promising for years to remove deforestation and human rights abuses from their supply chains, yet they’re still reaping in the profits and gobbling up land at home and abroad as people suffer and the planet burns.

“Allotment waiting lists demonstrate a huge desire from people to be part of the solution but without access to land, the many benefits of community food growing are being stifled. The government must support councils to act as well as take seriously its own role in creating systemic and lasting change to the food system. Crucial steps include proper support for farmers to transition to climate-, people- and nature-friendly farming as well as measures to reduce our climate footprint abroad including a ban on imports of soya and other agricultural commodities that drive deforestation in places like Brazil.

“Climate scientists say we need to halve meat and dairy consumption globally by 2030 to tackle the climate and nature crises, but in the UK we eat far more meat and dairy than the global average so we need to eat 70% less to reach climate targets.[13] 



Notes to editors:

[1] JC Niala, Julia Utreras, and Sam Skinner are a collective of artists who live and work in Oxford. JC is a poet who did her doctoral research on urban gardening, Julia is a socially engaged designer and Fig Studio is a project that develops art projects focused on natureculture and community. They are independent artists who come together to make interactive public artworks grounded in research. They collaborate with nature to grow edible living collections that also feed the soil. Their work encourages people to find ways to reclaim space to grow their own food. The 1918 Allotment, created by JC at Fig Studios, was completed in 2021.

[2] Of 348 local authorities Greenpeace UK wrote to under the Freedom of Information Act, 336 responded before the cut off date of Sept 7, 2023. 304 were in Wales/Eng and 32 were in Scotland. 174,183 was the total at this point. Full allotment waiting list data set available on request.

[3] Research by Campbell and Campbell in 2011 put waiting list numbers in England at 86,787:
For direct comparison, the new FOI data puts England-only figures at 157,820 up to September 30, 2023 by which time 312 LAs in England had responded. The only two Local Authorities that have not responded to date are Ealing LA and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council LA. 

[4] Size of allotment double tennis court ref: 

[5] Efeca annual progress report 2021: 

[6] Article from The Grocer: 

[7] The 1908 allotment act: 

[8] Greenpeace UK’s Bad Taste project launched an Open Call for artists and/or activists in Autumn 2022 to submit proposals for creative interventions that confront the role of industrial food in the climate crisis. Recognising the injustices built into the industrial food system, the project prioritises the perspectives of artists who are Black, people of colour and/or working class.Three ideas were shortlisted and their interventions will all take place this autumn.

[9] Figures 9.3 and 9.4 from Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy report:

[10] Food Foundation, 2022

[11] This had a value of over £19 billion a year and would be associated with 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Food Surplus and Waste in the UK Key Facts, WRAP 2022

[12] Trust Hunger in the UK – Trussell Trust 2023

[13] Brits eat twice as much meat and almost three times as much dairy as the global average. Global averages of meat and dairy consumption are 43 kg and 90 kg per capita per year respectively. UK averages of meat and dairy consumption are 81 kg and 232 kg per capita per year respectively:  (FAOSTAT data 2013). 


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