Be Part of GROW Observatory and Make a Difference

Citizen Science: GROW Observatory Free Online CourseWhen we first heard about the GROW Observatory citizen science project we immediately pledged to help find growers in Ireland who would like to learn more about making their growing spaces even better. We are therefore excited to let you know about a FREE online course that begins on Monday, 19th February 2018 that will help you learn more about your soil and enable you to become a citizen scientist with GROW Observatory.

Being part of GROW Observatory offers more than just taking part in an online course; it’s about becoming part of a community of European growers, scientists and others equally passionate about soil who want to help regenerate this vital resource for future generations, while also helping with vital environmental scientific monitoring.

This is your chance to make a difference – not just to your own growing space, but also by contributing to wider research about how understanding our soil better can help us adapt to a changing climate.

Moisture levels in soil can help predict severe floods and droughts. GROW Observatory data will feed into European Space Agency missions, monitoring environmental changes across the globe.

Citizen Science: GROW Observatory Free Online CourseWe know that soil loss and degradation are serious issues across the globe. Finding answers to more sustainable and regenerative food growing practices is literally right under our feet and is critical to solving many local and global environmental challenges.

That’s why the GROW Observatory are bringing together people who love soil with people who love data across Europe in this groundbreaking project to connect and learn from each other.

You’ll gather and analyse data to help understand your particular soil and what works for you, as well as contributing to a European-wide knowledge base. By also exploring regenerative practices such as polycultures, mulching and attracting pollinators, you’ll be able to grow better food while improving the soil for years to come.

Citizen Science: GROW Observatory Free Online CourseThe GROW Observatory is a supportive environment where you don’t need to have extensive experience of growing to take part – we welcome anyone with an interest in food production – from allotment holders to small-scale farmers. It is especially relevant for people with an interest in soil, food growing, agriculture, ecosystems and the environment.

Through the series of free courses, growers will learn about everything from soil health and growing techniques to how they can contribute to vital scientific environmental monitoring – all in a friendly and supportive online environment.

But they’re not asking you to sit at a computer for the whole time: you’ll be outside getting your hands dirty in your own growing space, collecting data and observations to help us create a clearer picture of what’s going on beneath our feet and how we can best protect this vital resource for the future.

In 2018, they have some big plans around changing climate and on living soils. Within this there are four GROW Observatory courses running, from basic soil analysis and monitoring to using sensors and testing different regenerative growing practices. The final course will consist of a massive collective experiment in growing spaces across Europe. You don’t have to complete all of the courses, but we hope you will be inspired to take part in as many as possible.

We’re coming together to address science challenges and gaps in our current knowledge, from creating detailed soil data to enhancing climate prediction models and earth observation from satellites.

Together we will gather evidence to support policy change towards more sustainable land practices. Wherever you are in Europe and whatever scale you grow at, you have something worthwhile to share with us.

We’ll help you build healthier soils, grow food more sustainably and better adapt to climate change. This is your chance to be part of a vibrant, inclusive community of growers across Europe learning with and from each other.

Sign up now for the GROW Observatory free course that starts on 19th February ‘From Soil to Sky’ and find our more information on the GROW Observatory website.

In Focus: Sean Dún Community Garden, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

A Fruitful Year at Sean Dún Community Garden

The Sean Dún Community Garden was set up in May 2016 beside the Sean Dún housing estate by the River Colligan in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. The Community Garden, to date, consists of 25 allotments, with plans for further future development of the site to include a five-aside football pitch, a playground, a large polytunnel to be shared by all of the allotment holders, an edible fruit hedge, and a community amenity area.

Sean Dún Community Garden, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Sunset at Sean Dún Community Garden

The Community Garden is a community development initiative set up in the Sean Dún estate by Waterford City and County Council in association with the Ballybeg Community Development Project. To date, Waterford City and County Council have very generously funded the setting-up of the allotments, providing the site, basic equipment and tools required, and wood for raised beds and fencing.

In Focus: Sean Dún Community Garden, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Some of our sponsors in Sean Dún Community Garden

The Ballybeg Horticulture Local Training initiative has provided training programmes for the allotment holders in the Community Garden, offering QQI (Quality & Qualifications Ireland) accredited training in horticulture, having completed QQI Level 3 and Level 4 in Growing Organic Vegetables, and currently doing a Hard Landscape Construction course.

There are enormous benefits for the community in having the Community Garden in the Sean Dún estate, not only to the allotment holders, but these benefits are also felt by all of those living in the Sean Dún estate. These include health benefits, social benefits, psychological benefits and environmental benefits, to mention just a few.

In Focus: Sean Dún Community Garden, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Third Prize for Our Onions at Dungarvan Agricultural Show!

In the near future, the Sean Dún Community Garden allotment holders are planning to develop a commercial aspect to the Community Gardens, and supply top quality organically grown salad leaves, specialist vegetables, edible flowers and herbs to the local food service industry.

The allotment holders in the Sean Dún Community Garden have achieved an incredible amount in their first year, since May 2016, and look forward to an equally successful and fruitful time in the coming year!

Contact details for Sean Dún Community Garden are as follows:

Tel: 087 6987656
Facebook: Sean Dun Community Garden

Community Garden Gathering & Pest & Disease Workshop – Bookings Open

CG Ireland Gathering & Pest and Diseases Workshop

In association with Donegal Community Gardens Network, OURGanic Gardens and CG Ireland, we are pleased to bring our July event to Gortahork in Donegal. Bookings are NOW OPEN ON EVENTBRITE for the event on Sunday, 9th July 2017

In Focus: Hardwicke Street Garden Club, Dublin

Hardwicke Street Garden Club

Continuing with our In Focus highlights of community gardens in Ireland and Northern Ireland, this month we’re please to introduce the Hardwicke Street Garden Club in Dublin 1. Jason Sheridon, the author of the following article, is a a social care worker involved in the Hardwicke project who has a particular interest in the use of therapeutic horticulture. He also shares some great photographs of the garden on social media.

Growing Food and Enhancing an Area

A short walk from the hustle and bustle of our capital’s thoroughfare, bees from a local honey project are busy collecting the nectar from plants in a well-established kitchen garden nestled in between two red brick apartment blocks. In the same garden, just around the corner from O’Connell Street, a group of local community gardeners come together to grow food and plant flora to enhance the surrounding area.

Hardwicke Community Garden DublinIt all began when a small group of volunteers came together in 2010, ranging in age from eight to eighty, to build raised beds, plant seedlings, and activate a vacant green space that lay idle for almost a decade, following a multi-million euro regeneration project of the complex.

Hardwicke Community Garden DublinThe garden flourished through the application of different skills and abilities of its local residents that came together to collectively develop the space, which was comprised of just a pathway and some hedging.

With some financial assistance from the Croke Park Community fund award, the group hand built a full size potting shed that doubles as a social space to the garden members. The shed is stocked with a variety of tools that has allowed members to creatively re-purpose materials into garden essentials such as bird boxes, benches, and much more. These materials, along with some of the more quirky features are sometimes donated by one garden member running a waste disposal service.

Grassroots Community

Hardwicke Community Garden DublinThrough a grassroots community effort, the people residing in area now had access to engage in the restorative activity of cultivating this urban garden. Through liaising with the local city council, the garden received the experienced knowledge of a trained horticulturist. The small-knit group attended regular classes in vegetable growing, propagation, and landscaping. Taking these newly acquired skills, the group entered the first of tree post card show gardens at the national Bloom festival in the local Phoenix Park.

Hardwicke Community Garden Dublin
Jason Sheridon welcomes Ron Finley to Hardwicke Community Garden

Bringing some valuable landscaping skills back to the community from participating in the festival, three years in succession, the group decided to embark on a community project in 2016 to build a memorial garden in memory of the children who died during the rising.

Hardwicke Community Garden DublinEmployment Opportunities

The garden continues to grow and there are lots of big plans for the future. The garden has assisted with training several participants of the Tus employment scheme over the last two years and has recently developed a program which see’s members visit a local farm and cultivate at an agricultural scale. The garden club is hopeful to further develop the project to provide more education and training in this busy section of the city of Dublin.

Hardwicke Community Garden Dublin

For more information take a look at the Hardwicke Garden Club or look out for them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Community Garden Gathering & Orchard Care Workshop – Bookings Open

Community Garden Ieland Gathering and Orchard Care Workshop

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.

Two Hour Orchard Care Workshop with Kevin Dudley

Kevin Dudley was the first dedicated orchard manager at Irish Seed Savers, and was able to build their traditional apple collection with his expertise in grafting from poor specimens of dying trees from around the country.

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.

How Much?

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!

Want to help but can’t come along? You can always support our work by making a donation HERE

For more details, map, timetable and booking details, VIEW our Eventbrite Event Page HERE.

Hope to see you there!

Convergence 2016 ~ Highlights from CG Ireland

Creating Sustainable Communities

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.

Global Green at Electric Picnic – A Newbie’s Perspective

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's PerspectiveElectric Picnic – Early Years

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
Some of the lovely CGI Team having a meeting over tea!

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
A quick tea-break whilst setting-up!

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!

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
Straw Bale Staircase up to a Little Thatched Den – Check out those Recycled Drink-Can Buttons!

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
Weaving Stories, Experiences, Ideas and Friendship with the East Clare Co-Op

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
The Community Garden – Vibrant, Playful, Encouraging and Fun!

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's Perspective
Seats Made From Pallets, Straw Bales, and other Recycled Items all Surrounding a Found Object Installation by Ian Sewell

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.

Global Green in Electric Picnic 2016 - A Newbie's PerspectiveBoth 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 Author

Thanks to Sarah Kernan for writing this article. Sarah currently volunteers at the Pobail le Chéile Community Garden in Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, and is part of the new Donegal Community Garden Network. If you’ve enjoyed Sarah’s writing you can read more about her life in Donegal, as well as a magpie collection of life’s ephemera, musings and creatings on her blog Thirty Birds & Design.

If you’ve enjoyed the images from Sarah of our little garden in Global Green, here’s a few more from Dee Sewell of Greenside Up, coordinator of the pop-up community garden:

and more images from Davie Philip of Cultivate Living & Learning, coordinators of Global Green at Electric Picnic


Hope to see you next year!