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.
If you would like to get involved and create a County social community garden networking event, please contact Dee for a workshop template and a list of the steps she took, as well as pick up some tips and ideas about running your event.
The next networking get-together and workshop will be taking place in Belfast on 14th May and the emphasis is around Peace and Diversity in community gardens. If you’re interested you can register for free here.
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.