Convergence 2016 ~ Highlights from CG Ireland

Posted on: 21/11/2016
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.

Feedback? Please leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: