Registration and bookings are now open for the first of our 2017 events.
We’re starting the year by visiting County Offaly where CG Ireland are being hosted by Birr Community Growery. Kevin Dudley of Cloughjordan Farm will be demonstrating Orchard Care and we’re also including a Panel Discussion and Community Garden Q & A for all your community gardening queries. Here’s the info:
About The Growery
The Growery is a community based food commons project based in the heart of the midlands at Birr , in Co.Offaly.
As per the first principle of all commons, their model is simple, any who contribute can draw from the commons in due proportion . This initiative began as an effort to restore to good health of its founder after a 6 year bout of debilitating Crohns disease (this is Eimhin’s first year since 2008 not to be hospitalised – it’s working!)
Today the Growery team work with a number of sites welcoming Mental Health groups, Intellectual Disability groups, school groups, growers, gardeners, and the wider community to participate in their efforts to restore the conscious link between soil, gut, and soul. In 2017 they will open their first formally ‘social’ or ‘community’ garden. They are developing work with the Education and Training Board, Engineers Without Borders, and the Irish Archaeological Field School, to name a few. 2017 will be their third year.
These days, Kevin is one of the full-time farmers at Cloughjordan Community Farm, and helps to oversee the hundreds of native apple trees in Cloughjordan Ecovillage. Working with the beautiful old trees in The Growery’s walled gardens, Kevin will be giving practical demonstrations and expert advice on pruning, training and all aspects of orchard maintenance, giving you the confidence to go home and work on your own trees this season.
Panel Discussion and Community Garden Q & A
By request, we’re adding a new feature to our gathering and workshop day – an expert panel Q & A session. Here’s your opportunity to ask any question you can think of that will help get your community out there and growing with you.
If you’re planning on joining us we really need you to book your place for two reasons:
1: We need to know how many people will be there on the day to make sure there will be enough room… and enough tea!… for everyone.
2: CG Ireland does not, at the moment, receive any funding and all of our staff work as volunteers. Your contribution covers running costs for the day, and we couldn’t do it without you!
We like to make our events fair and affordable for everyone, so there are three pricing options:
The Standard Supporter – €25.00
This covers all of the running costs for the day, and includes the price of workshops, talks, a light lunch and all other refreshments.
The Skint Supporter – €5.00
We’d hate anyone to feel excluded just because they’re strapped for cash, so this option covers the cost of lunch and refreshments and you get all the talks and workshops for free. PLEASE, respect the hard work that the CG Ireland crew do and ONLY use this option if you genuinely can’t afford the full price.
The Super Supporter – €40.00
Maybe you’ve had a good week. Maybe you’re feeling a bit flush. Maybe you could consider paying a little extra to support not just this event, but all of the work that CG Ireland does all around the country, all through the year. If you can afford it we’d be eternally grateful for your contribution!
Organised by Cultivate, last month Convergence events took place around the country with sustainable living topics being discussed from Kerry to Galway, Limerick to Tipperary that covered everything from food to education, art to the economy.
The Donegal Community Garden Network began the conversation about Food in the north of the country with Food on the Fringe. You can view snippets of that very inspiring and successful day below:
Creating Sustainable Cities and Communities
In Dublin various speakers representing cyclists, planning, energy and the environment talked about how Sustainable Cities and Communities could be created. With her community gardening hat firmly in place, Dee Sewell of Greenside Up talked about some key areas in relation to Food. Dee gave examples and outlined barriers to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 11, some of which were identified at a social enterprise event held in Waterford the previous week.
By request the transcript of Dee’s speech is below:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Guests and Speakers:
Food. Without food, we wouldn’t survive, yet food is more than something that sustains us, it’s wrapped up in the very essence of our cultural fabric. In many societies finding, preparing, and eating food is what drives people out of bed yet for others, food has become secondary, something just to grab and go.
Most of us here know that the current way we produce food isn’t sustainable. It harms the planet and in many cases, isn’t fair or ethical but there are other problems too.
In our society, where time has become so valuable, saving money, and speeding up how quickly we do things appears to have become more important than our health and wellbeing, something that food plays a significant part in. Communities are fragmented as people have moved away from the land. Life is supposed to be easier with technology and mechanisation, yet mental health problems and social isolation are real causes for concern, possibly due to our disconnection with nature.
Have you heard reports of the studies that show that getting our hands into the soil boosts serotonin levels – one of our happy hormones? Research also indicates that bacteria in soil may help to trigger immune cells that can help to lift depression.
There’s been a recent emphasis on tackling obesity and in 2015 a Healthy Ireland Survey was published that found 74% of adults in Ireland eat less than 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. An American study found that growing food changes the way people eat, encouraging them to eat more vegetables and seek healthier food choices.
Some might argue that we don’t need to know about real food any longer, that’s what progression is, but physically and mentally moving away from the land, disconnecting with it and the food that grows within it, I feel is possibly one of the most damaging things we’ve allowed to happen in our modern world.
Yet, ladies and gentlemen, there is something we can do and we have the capacity to make things right, but we need to make changes to our food culture using a bottom up approach.
To give you an example, for the past seven years, I have been teaching adults the basics of how to grow their own food, but with an emphasis on creating and working in social community gardens. During that time, we’ve identified many benefits to the communities and the people working in them and have come across one inspiring story after another.
For those of you who don’t know, a community garden is a space where people come together, often in unused, overgrown pieces of land, to transform it, to grow fruit, vegetables, and flowers. The people involved share all the work and they share the produce. The key there is in the sharing of work and food and the reconnection to community.
To prepare for today, I asked a group how they thought the community garden helped in creating a safe, inclusive, sustainable place to live. Their responses were many and varied, though one comment encapsulated them all from a lady in her forties, who lives in a town centre and is a young grandmother:
“I didn’t know anything at all about gardening and had never seen food growing in the ground or tasted most of it until I came here, this garden is the only place I meet people other than online or in my family circle”…
The problems we face
Community Gardens Ireland are aware of over 160 social growing places dotted around the country, I know there are more; their popularity is rising but they are lacking support, both financially and professionally. Community gardens could be in every unloved and overgrown scrap of land everywhere!
There’s work potential within them and they could become places of outdoor environmental education too. That said, I appreciate that not everyone wants to get into a garden, it doesn’t appeal to all and like it or not, many of us do struggle to find time.
There are several alternatives to accessing food that are socially and locally orientated, bringing us closer to food in its natural state – local food co-ops and box schemes, community supported agriculture, farmers and country markets, community cafes and farm gate shops.
Funding is a considerable barrier but so too is the lack of awareness. Community and Social enterprises working towards societal change need support. Community and social entrepreneurs are barely recognised as such and there isn’t even a category for us in Revenue. If you’re a sole trader in the social or education sphere, then forget it. “Drop the word social and you might get somewhere” we’re told. We’re on a constant uphill battle. It’s difficult to support an enterprise that’s not immediately measurable.
A recent international survey found that of 45 European countries, Ireland were placed 43rd in environments that support social enterprises and in Europe, where 10% of all businesses are listed as social, in Ireland that’s just 1%.
Social enterprises need to be understood for our differences – that we’re not about making shareholders wealthy, we’re about making the world a better place for every being that lives in it. We need the Business world and Schools at all levels to learn about us and work with us.
Importantly, essentially, food needs to be put back on the education curriculum, for young people in all levels of education and for adults in their local communities. How to grow food, how to cook food, how to share food and how to respect food and the soil it grows within.
I feel community gardens have a big role to play in that.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your time.
Do you agree with Dee’s thoughts? It’s difficult to capture all the challenges we face in relation to food in just five minutes. Do you feel as passionately about the importance food makes to community like the Donegal speakers? Can we really make a difference? We’d love to hear your comments below.
I have fond (and seemingly now increasingly distant!) memories of Electric Picnic Music and Arts Festival – having attended the first four iterations of this mammoth event – well, mammoth by Irish standards, anyway!
Those days were wild and hedonistic; a blur of amazing performances, making instant friendships with random people, and getting blissfully lost among crowds, stumbling across amazing stalls and tents containing fabulous displays of talent, art, music and joy.
Several Years Later…
Fast-forward an undisclosed number of years and it was by happy chance that back in May of this year, my friend and Donegal Community Garden Network colleague and co-coordinator Joanne Butler asked me if I would come along to volunteer and help get the community garden in Global Green, representing Community Gardens Ireland and meeting other CG Ireland members from around the country.
I have just this Spring returned to my native Co. Donegal and only recently become involved with Community Gardening – putting my burgeoning abilities into growing food and connecting with people in my local area in a communal space promoting curiosity, health, happiness and general wellbeing. So I was only too delighted to get the opportunity to get involved a bit more!
In the interests of full-disclosure – in the decade I’d been living away in England, and in the number of years since I had attended Electric Picnic; when I was asked I wasn’t 100% sure what “Global Green” was, or what we would be doing. A quick search online gave me enough information to feel excited about heading there and getting stuck-in, and I packed up a tent and some essentials when the time came and made the drive down to Stradbally with a positive mindset and full of wonder about what the next few days had in store.
Global Green at Electric Picnic
I feel I am doing a disservice to adjectives when I say simply that was pretty awestruck upon arrival at the Global Green Arena! Everywhere around me were teams of volunteers beavering away to create and curate this amazing space – brilliantly weaving colour, texture, Nature, fun, art, curiosity and energy into this playground of an alternative festival space.
I observed how deftly utilising some of the permaculture principles such as “Apply Self-Regulation And Accept Feedback” / “Observe and interact” / “Use And Value Renewable Resources And Services” / “Use And Value Diversity” to name but a few, all resulted in a mesmerising culmination of creativity.
I met some of the other lovely members of CGI who were so welcoming, kind and down-to-earth (pun most definitely intended!) and we quickly got to work sorting through what had been collected to create the Community Garden area.
Plants, recycled and upcycled pallet and salvaged wood garden furniture, fruit, vegetables, found-object assemblage sculptures, examples of traditional Thatched roofing and much, much more was melded together and the results were great!
The team coming together to collaborate, plan and problem-solve felt warm and jovial – when a hurdle was presented, a series of group suggestions were posed, working together to keep the ball rolling and we ended-up with a beautiful space ready for the public who were due to arrive on-site. I particularly enjoyed mucking-in on fashioning stakes to hold potted plants to straw bales and helping build a set of straw bale stairs with handrails and recycled-can buttons holding hessian sacks in place.
We were situated directly opposite the carnival area complete with waltzers, roller coaster and an olde-worlde carousel; which while slightly bombarding the Global Green space with a loud playlist of the same ten repeated songs – also certainly added to the fun, feel-good, playground sense that we’d created in the garden.
Our CG Ireland stand itself was in a shared space with the East Clare Co-Op; who had a weaving loom set up for willing participants to have-a-go. I was *obviously* one of those delighted participants, eager to revisit my youth and help create a woven-rag seat cushion (which the lovely Sam let me keep as I was so proud of it! Thanks Sam!) It was such a pleasure to chat to fellow volunteers and the public alike – answering questions, pointing people in the direction of what was happening, be it either a great talk at the Convergence Tent, to where they could make their own flower crown or where they could find a great gig or discussion at the Village Hall.
It was such a joy to get chatting to people throughout the festival; speaking, too to “punters” out in other areas of the festival about what we were doing over in Global Green – and even more of a joy to see them call by the following morning, curious to see what was going on.
While time had passed since my previous festival attendance, and no longer was it quite as racked with those tinges of hedonism it was a decade or-so ago; it was the most fulfilling and smile-inducing thing to realise that the natures of “Festivalling” and Community Gardening are beautifully and inextricably linked. Both are shared spaces promoting creativity, new experiences and connecting with each other.
Both are welcoming, inclusive and participatory, and both are accessible, educational and best of all FUN!
It was an immense pleasure to have the opportunity to volunteer here with CGI in this awesome space, with such equally awesome folks; and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!
“…it was the most fulfilling and smile-inducing thing to realise that the natures of “Festivalling” and Community Gardening are beautifully and inextricably linked. Both are shared spaces promoting creativity, new experiences and connecting with each other.”
The National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford have been working hard to build a framework of guidelines for local communities, gardens, farmers, local councils, business and transport networks that will help us all make best practice decisions, benefiting pollinators in Ireland and helping to restore declining numbers. As a result, they have begun publishing Action Plans aimed at the different sectors.
While there are many things we can do to encourage and protect pollinators in our gardens, some action points will be easier to adopt than others and some community gardens will follow the guidelines faster than others. There’s no doubt that ingrained mind sets will be challenged and there will be resistance to some of the suggestions. We might find it easy to add the recommended plants to community gardens or build bug hotels for pollinators but when it comes to chemical use:
“We don’t have the time or the manpower to weed without spraying”, “we like tidy gardens without weeds”, “what else can we do to get rid of the greenfly or spider mite if we don’t spray?” or “I’ve always sprayed my tomatoes to prevent fungus and fertilised my lawn, why would I stop now?”
We have a massive challenge ahead of us. Pollinators are declining at an alarming rate and whilst many people are aware that the bees are in trouble, asking gardeners to give up their pesticides in favour of organic methods is another matter. Often it’s a simple case of people not knowing how to make the changes or what the alternatives are, in which case we’ve suggestions below on how to address that.
In the meantime, if you’d like to help pollinators survive and see their numbers grow once more, here’s a non-exhaustive list of 5 things you can begin to do now in your community garden or allotment that will help. All of the recommendations from the National Biodiversity Data Centre are as a result of solid research. We hope that between us we can help to save the bees!
No 1. Become a ‘community garden of excellence’
We don’t mean become a ‘perfect’ garden, more a place that people can go to for advice on how to garden for pollinators. The National Biodiversity Data Centre have published LOTS of tips and advice in their best practice guide. Become familiar with it and help promote it to gardeners everywhere. Offer workshops (see below), print out materials, put up signage, become a GOLDEN garden. Basically do anything you can think of that will help to educate yourselves and others about pollinators.
To achieve GOLD garden status community gardens will have to meet certain criteria which include the following criteria:
Have at least five different types of pollinator friendly plants for EACH SEASON. Planting suggestions can be found on the RHS website or in the table below.
Pollinators need flowers that produce lots of nectar and pollen to survive for energy and protein and just like we experience ‘hunger gaps’ in our vegetable gardens, pollinators suffer the same in the wild. Planting flowers for them out of season will help but actively choosing pollinator friendly plants over those that aren’t will make a difference too.
Bulbs are a great way of introducing pollinator friendly spring flowers. In the autumn plant Snowdrops, Crocus, Allium, Grape Hyacinth and the Bishop series of single flowered Dahlia.
Choose single instead of double variety plants which don’t contain any nectar or pollen.
Perennial plants are generally better sources of pollen and nectar than annuals. Traditional bedding plants like Geraniums, Begonias, Busy Lizzy and Petunias have virtually no pollen and nectar. Try planting other annuals such as Poached Egg Plant, Cosmos, Alyssum, Floss Flower and Night Scented Stocks instead. Trailing Verbena, Bellflowers, Wallflowers and Aubrietia will grow in window boxes year after year as will herbs such as Chives, Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Marjoram and Thyme.
Still not sure? Keep an eye out in ornamental flower gardens and garden centres for the plants that the bees are visiting and choose those.
Allow some of your Brassica plants to flower and plant green manures after you harvest crops. These are fantastic not only for the garden soil but are a great source of food for pollinators. Buckwheat and Phacelia are particular favourites.
Create nesting habitats for solitary bees – for both cavity nesting AND mining bees.
Solitary mining bees need areas of bare ground to be able to burrow into the soil and create nests. Scrape away some grass in flat, sunny spots to create these areas. Scrape back vegetation that grows on south or east facing slopes for mining bees that prefer to nest in those conditions.
A small number of Irish solitary bees like to nest in cavities. If you’re growing raspberries, leave some of the old canes unpruned for them, buy or make a solitary bee hotel or drill south or east facing holes 10mm deep, 4-8mm in diameter at least 1.5-2m high for them.
Bumblebees often nest in the long grass at the base of flowering hedgerows. If you’ve space, consider planting Hazel, Willow, Blackthorn and Hawthorn. Once they’re growing, cut on a three-year rotation (outside of the bird breeding season), avoid cutting all the hedges in the same year so that some are always flowering and let the grass grow long at the base of the hedges – don’t spray with herbicides. If the area needs to be cut, do so between September and March to avoid disturbing nests.
Protect existing sources of food and shelter for pollinators
When there are lots of people working in a community garden, particularly if it’s a small garden, it can be tempting to tidy it up to perfection but we are being encouraged to think differently. Leave patches of weedy plants and if you’ve space, plant wildflower areas, flowering hedgerows and add small dry stone walls that will provide shelter for pollinators. Brambles, clover, thistles, ivy, nettles and dandelions are important food sources for all types of pollinators.
Biodiversity Ireland recommend that we completely eliminate the use of ALL pesticides in our gardens
Pesticides include insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. ALL of these can be harmful to pollinators, either directly or by damaging the plants and habitats they depend on.
Use alternative barriers for pests such as netting or physically remove them. Choose pest resistant varieties of seeds and plant in the correct season for the plants to avoid attracting pests.
Don’t use treated plants or seeds (read the small print). Some will have been treated with systemic insecticides call neonicotinoids that research suggests is harmful to pollinators.
Don’t use herbicides on laws or on verges as these often contain plants or areas that are important for pollinators to feed and nest in.
Plant to encourage pollinators that feed on garden pests. Hoverflies feed on aphids so plant flowers that will attract hoverflies close to others that attract aphids.
No. 2 Pass on the information
Share this article with your fellow community gardeners or allotment holders. Mention the pollinator plan at committee meetings or during the tea break and have a conversation about it. Create and publish guidelines for your community garden that encourage an ethos of chemical free gardening around the entire space and not just in the growing beds. Start questioning the use of chemicals outside of your community garden at playgrounds, sports pitches, in your own gardens and balconies as well as garden verges.
No. 4 Learn to identify pollinators in your garden and help to monitor them
Once you’re growing plants in your gardens that attract pollinators, learn to identify them. The Pollinator Plan website has lots of resources that will help with identification and you can get even more involved by becoming part of the All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme, a citizen science initiative managed by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
No. 5 Sign Up for Our Newsletter
We recently published our core values that include “encouraging all member community gardens to follow organic principles and protect biodiversity, promoting good environmental practice and awareness”. Over the coming months we hope to help you do that by offering advice, links to best practices, workshop opportunities and more. Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with our activities.
Let us know how you’re getting on, if you have any difficulties or successes and we’ll share them where we can on social media.
With thanks to Dee Sewell of Greenside Up for writing this article. Dee is a qualified organic horticulture tutor based in Carlow/Kilkenny and Chair of CG Ireland.
The Community Garden Network becomes Community Gardens Ireland
Dee Sewell, Chairperson of the Community Garden Network announced at a recent garden party in the Arus na Uachtaráinna that was held to acknowledge individuals and organisations working to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, that the organisation would officially be undergoing a name change to Community Gardens Ireland, abbreviated to CG Ireland with effect from 1st July 2016.
Dee explained that the new name better reflects the evolving focus of the organisation and its future direction and the chosen name was the most popular of several suggested, publicly shared for consideration and agreed among the team members.
“We are very excited about the name change and the direction our voluntary organisation is now heading. It has helped us focus on our national identity and the growing popularity of social community gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland. As a result the coordinating team has spent the last few months working on our strategic framework which we are also happy to unveil on the Welcome page of our website.
Our vision is that social community garden spaces are created in every village, town and city in Ireland and Northern Ireland, creating opportunities to empower local communities and provide outdoor environmental places of education where people of all ages, genders, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds can learn about gardening, food growing and sovereignty, the environment, biodiversity, climate change, sustainability, community resilience, as well as about the positive mental implications and physical health benefits of being outside in nature and being sociable around food.
Our mission is to work with all other government and non-government agencies across the island supporting and establishing community gardens, individually and jointly promoting nature and the environment, sustainability, food education and food health as well as the social benefits of community gardening to encourage positive social change and inclusion in all its forms.
We recognise that community gardens have a valuable part to play in helping communities across Ireland learn about food, nature and the environment. CG Ireland will therefore:
actively collaborate with other organisations to encourage positive social change;
advocate inclusion in all its forms as well as environmental, food, health and dietary awareness;
encourage all members of community gardens to follow organic principles and protect biodiversity, promoting good environmental practice and awareness.”
About Community Gardens Ireland
CG Ireland was created in the Autumn of 2010 as community gardens began to grow in popularity and it became apparent that there was a need for an independent national organisation that links and shares knowledge and information collected by all individuals, groups and agencies across the island.
Apart from the online support offered connecting gardens via a forum and website, newsletters and social media, get together and workshops are held in different towns and village two or three times a year where all community gardeners from across the island are invited and welcome. Community Gardeners have so far met in thirteen locations, from as far afield as Derry and Belfast, Galway, Cork, Dublin, Waterford and Leitrim and apart from the benefits of community gardeners meeting and networking, community gardeners and facilitators have learnt about topics from conflict management to seeds and seed saving.
CG Ireland have presented two postcard gardens at Bloom Garden and Food Festival and coordinated a pop-up community garden in Global Green at 2015 Electric Picnic. They are currently coordinating and designing another pop up garden for this year’s music and arts festival.
CG Ireland will be holding an AGM at Carraig Dulra in Wicklow on Sunday, 2nd October 2016 and workshops on Saturday, 1st October 2016. Sign up for the newsletter for more information.
The community garden attracts around a dozen people with mixed abilities on Wednesday mornings from the surrounding area, as well as much further afield. Originally the garden was used by teenagers during the afternoon youth club in the Bagenalstown Youth Project.
They decorated and planted up old tyres with flowers, as well as brightened up the walls with art using a variety of paint colours generosity donated by the local hardware stores who gave the volunteers unwanted mixes. In the spring of 2015 Sarah Barron, the Education Resource Officer for Respond! Housing Association applied for funding for a tutor from Kilkenny Carlow Education Training Board and Dee Sewell from Greenside Up started working with a new group of gardeners on what became known as an intergenerational gardening course within Gleann na Bearu.
For two hours a week for six weeks, Dee taught the adults the basics needed for a successful organic garden – crop rotation and vegetable families, weeding and pest control without chemicals as well as garden design, potting, planting and transplanting.
In the afternoons Catherine and Dani who work for Carlow Regional Youth Services, pass on everything they learn to the teenagers. The garden is like another room for the teens all year round and a place of tranquility for anyone looking for it. The young people are planning to build more pallet benches over the coming months and paint all the new raised beds; they’re an integral part of this shared space. Last year Respond provided three raised beds and topsoil was sourced from the local hardware shop. Like many gardens, funding was tight so the group planted seeds into toilet rolls and tetra packs and learnt how to grow food on a budget. The course was so successful Dee’s funding was extended for another six weeks and more plants were grown. During the summertime the group continued to meet, weed, drink tea and snack on biscuits, one of the most important aspects of a community garden. They held a garden party where food the gardeners had grown was cooked and shared, then in the autumn Dee returned and the group looked at the design once more. There was lots of space for more raised beds and thanks again to the generosity of Respond, the plans the group had discussed began to be realised and eight more beds were added.
The original lawn was sown in estate rubble and the landlord didn’t want the group to dig down so wood for the new raised beds was sourced from Griffiths the local saw mill, topsoil came from a farming friend of Frances and the wood chip from Tom Kane in neighbouring Goresbridge.
Unfortunately just after the topsoil was delivered it began to rain heavily for what seemed like weeks. The crumbly clay soil that had been dropped at the front of the building ready for the gardeners to wheelbarrow in through the side gate quickly turned into ridiculously heavy sludge that became almost impossible to move. However, everyone persevered, sometimes only moving a couple of wheelbarrows through, other times a morning’s worth and the new beds began to be filled, finally finishing just last week. Thankfully the woodchip was much easier to move! Dee’s husband Ian was roped in to cut and build the raised beds and thanks to Catherine’s contacts, carpet offcuts were donated by the local carpet shop and various neighbours. These were cut and laid down to smother the grass and weeds before the woodchip was emptied on top of it. During the Spring, Dee returned once more and she’s continued to advise and motivate us to do more in the garden. We’ve lots of plans. The Youth Service are seeking funding to build a plastic bottle greenhouse which they’ll help the teenagers build using two litre drink bottles. We’re adding a tractor tyre pond and are hoping to build a green roof structure to cover the wheelie bins as well as add more tyre and pallet planters.
Catherine has entered the garden in the Pride of a Place competition and hopes that the gardeners will begin to grow plants for the front of the building and the surrounding estate. We’ll be planning a date for another garden party soon, only this year we’ll be inviting members of the new Carlow community garden network to join us as well as the local schools and tidy towns group. Two new ladies Mary and Nicola have recently joined our group and more new faces are always welcome to join the regulars John, Susan, Siobhan, Esther, Dani, Frances, Catherine, John and Eamon.
We meet every Wednesday from 10am until 12 noon and donate 50 cent towards the tea and biscuits though we might have to look at ways of making a few cent more for the garden so we can buy seeds and compost next year. We welcome newcomers so don’t be shy if you’re tempted to join us. The garden is an important part of our lives, apart from learning about flowers and vegetables it’s a place of laughter and friendship and of course a sense of community as its name suggests.
Two or three times a year people involved with social community gardens from around the country meet up to network, chat and learn from one another. The get-togethers are free, anyone interested in social community gardening is welcome and we often share a potluck lunch; no better way to relax and form friendships than sharing food.
Following a survey of community garden needs a couple of years ago, we now include a workshop element which so far has covered topics ranging from seed saving, plant division and conflict management. Last year in County Kilkenny the topic was Funding and it became apparent that creating County community garden networks that feed into the national one (cgn.ie) would not only help local volunteers by spreading the workload, they would also be of great benefit to local communities, attracting funds, giving them access to local environmental and social inclusion groups, as well as offering more opportunities for education and support.
Creating Local Community Garden Networks
A few weeks ago Suzie Cahn of Carriag Dulra organised a very popular informal get together of Wicklow social food growers and the following week, Dee Sewell of Greenside Up organised another workshop when she invited community gardens in Carlow to meet for a few days; the day was more successful than she envisaged and Dee shares below the outcome.
The Carlow Community Garden Network
Thanks to Local Agenda 21 funding, on a cool Saturday in April several volunteers from community gardens in the county came together in the two acre community garden being created in Carlow Town, An Gairdin Beo and met one another for the first time. They heard about each others projects, listened to three speakers who talked about social inclusion and social farming, food sovereignty, food co-ops and community supported agriculture schemes, as well as the network of Dublin Community Growers and the service An Taisce offers to community gardens. After sharing food the representatives sat and brainstormed several topics ranging from funding, marketing, events and volunteers.
The outcome of the Carlow event was that each community garden agreed to talk to their respective groups with the idea of planning and hosting an event each during the coming year. They would then invite all the other county community gardeners to it, as well as invite local schools, tidy towns groups and anyone else in their areas they think might benefit.
To ensure a wide range of topics that include outdoor environmental education as well as growing food and flowers, some of the suggested events included organising a biodiversity walk, BBQ, horticultural training, film nights, harvest festival, cookery demonstration, food waste and composting talk and demonstration, pallet seat making, meitheals, food preserving talks, bird and bat talks, bug hotel building, integration and social inclusion events, outdoor shelter building and plastic greenhouse builds.
A Facebook group was set up and an email list created with a coordinator from each garden agreeing to pass information both to the gardens and to the national network of community gardens (CGN).
If this ‘bottom up’ approach works, the impact that the County networks could have on local communities could be tremendous. Instead of a local event attracting just a handful of people, they will have the potential to include many more, with members of all the gardens helping to publicise one another’s events and visit one another.
As the activities become more popular, by default they will attract new people into the community gardens as locals become curious. Funding and tutoring opportunities will grow as the numbers begin to swell and interest peaks, with more people becoming interested in local food, wildlife and environmental projects making public and community participation more meaningful.
Joanne Lindsay Butler from OURganic Gardens will be hosting a similar event in Donegal on Thursday, 19th May from 2.30pm to 4pm thanks to funding from Changemakers which will hopefully result in another network being created.
Dee Sewell is a community garden tutor as well as a voluntary coordinator of the CGN. Dee has worked with 14 community gardening projects in Carlow, Kilkenny and Laois, talked at music and garden festivals and events and published several articles about community gardening in Ireland.