Creating Environmental Synergies With Community Gardens

Community gardens aren’t just about gardening. They are also social spaces where people come together in an outside environment. They are places where nature works her magic on us as well as the plants and wildlife that visit and reside in them; community gardens can help to create friendships and synergies.

Synergies and Eco Hubs

One of the positive aspects we’ve noticed in community gardens is how other activities and events not necessarily garden related can work well and synergies are created that will encourage more people to join or visit the gardens. If you’re interested in reaching out and growing your garden to become a ‘Environmental Hub’ and create a place of knowledge as well as a place for growing food and flowers, here’s a few ideas of that might help you:

Bat Conservation Ireland – an umbrella group for local bat organisations who give talks and walks, information and advice.

In 2015 the Biodiversity Centre in Waterford published a plan to protect Ireland’s pollinators and the Community Garden Network joined the 68 organisations that offered to help promote and encourage pollinators into community gardens.

Birdwatch Ireland is focused on conservation and biodiversity within Ireland and they are always looking out for help with the research and monitoring of birds.

CELT provides education, training and awareness-raising in environmental issues, traditional crafts workshops, sustainable living and nature conservation.

Cookery Schools Learning how to cook in season or how to preserve the produce we grow in community gardens comes part and parcel with what we do. If you live close to a cookery school they may be open to working with you to create knowledge and awareness. Ballymaloe organic farm and cookery school in Cork runs courses on starting your own café and tea shop, another element that you might be able to fit into your community garden to help it become a space buzzing with life and friendship.

CSA’s – community supported agriculture schemes are still quite unusual in Ireland but their idea is growing. Groups of people join together and pay farmers or growers to grow their food for them. They don’t usually share the work though they do share the risk. Becoming informed and perhaps visiting CSA’s and other alternatives to the more usual supermarket ways of shopping can help encourage encouraging discussion about local food initiatives. For more information Ireland’s newly created network can be found here.

Cultivate are based in Cloughjordan eco village in Tipperary and experience at first hand the many synergies between a community and the planet. They specialise in community resilience, developing resources and delivering training and are worth contacting if you’d like to explore the “capabilities of communities to hold together, learn, adapt and maintain their ability to function in response to change”.

Education Training Boards employ all kinds of tutors that can provide free or very low-cost courses and workshops. These might include mosaics and art, gardening, landscaping, stonewalling and more. Contact your local ETB for more information about the courses and tutors available in your area.

Every Can CountsHow to Make Money in Your Community with Every Can Counts can exchange aluminium drink cans for free compost, something all community gardens are on the constant look out for. For more information read the blog post written about this service for the CGN from Karen Mahon.

Federation of Irish Beekeepers Irish beekeepers have a great network in Ireland encompassing natural, hobby and commercial beekeepers. They are great sources of education about honeybees and will happily talk to groups and at shows about everything surrounding honey and honeybees.

Food Co-ops There are a few food co-ops operating in Ireland with the Dublin Food Co-op perhaps being one of the better known though Limerick Community Grocery hit the headlines in 2015 when judges from the national Get Involved competition were inspired by its vision and ethos.

Get Involved Campaign is a way for local communities all over Ireland to work together to improve their own lives, create local jobs, and protect the environment. ‘Get Involved’ is a sustainable communities initiative developed by 51 local newspapers throughout Ireland and the winners can receive a prize fund of €12,000!

Global Action Plan   A national organization that empowers as many communities as possible to adopt a greener lifestyle and thereby play their role in protecting our planet, focussing on water, energy and waste.

Creating Synergies within Community Gardens
Integration Day Event at An Gairdin Beo Community Garden, Carlow Credit: Rosalind Murray

Integration In a sense community gardens are a common ground and as more people move to Ireland from overseas, what better way to learn about other cultures and societies than through the growing of food. Learning about and sharing each other’s food can help to break down barriers and create friendships within communities.

Irish Peatland Conservation Council, a not for profit charity who raise awareness about Irish bogs and provide advice on gardening for wildlife, composting awareness, give advice on how to cut down on compost use in gardens and who run educational programmes from their visitor centre in Co Kildare.

The Irish Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity committed to raising awareness of Ireland’s rich natural heritage and protecting it for future generations. There are several ways individuals can get involved and there’s sure to be a synergy there given that organic community gardens or those run using organic principles actively invite wildlife into gardens.

Local Authorities The environment and community departments of local authorities should be an early port of call for community gardens as they can offer lots of support and advice as well as funding opportunities through Local Agenda 21 and various other environmental projects. The Local Enterprise Offices can offer mentoring if you wish to develop your garden as a business enterprise and aren’t to be forgotten either. Even if they can’t offer you immediate help, let them know you exist and ask them to contact you if any helps becomes available.

Local Business If you’re struggling for funds local business can be a great source of help for your community garden. In one Carlow village the community garden were able to erect a polytunnel with funding from all the local business’. In another garden, a local multinational who encourage their staff to attend team building courses, sent teams in to another project that was in need of man and woman power.

Local Cafe’s, Restaurants and Local Markets Several community gardens in Ireland have discovered how selling salads to local cafe’s and restaurants can provide an income for their gardens and help them to become sustainable in their own right. Ballybeg Greens in Waterford and Buncrana Community Garden in Donegal can provide excellent examples of this while other gardens sell jams and chutney in local markets to help keep their kitty’s afloat.

Local Schools and Nurseries There are lots of reasons to invite children into your community garden, either by offering them a space to grow their own or by inviting them in for workshops, to open days are by asking them to create signs for you. Learning by doing is the best way to remember anything we’re taught and children are like sponges, encourage them in, don’t exclude them.

Local Universities and IT’s I’m sure there are more possibilities than I can think of right now but the Community Garden Network as well as a Carlow community garden have benefited from help from students studying art, media and design when students helped them to create brand awareness, websites and publicity.

Local Food Banks, Church and Charities Larger community gardens often grow too much food for the people who garden in them but linking up with a local charity or food bank can be a good way of discretely giving back to your community by offering food to those in need.

Master Composters/Stop Food Waste There is no better synergy in a community garden than the Master Composter scheme being run by Stop Food Waste. Gardeners and volunteers learn how to compost effectively as well as prevent food waste and in exchange they agree to spread the word and help others to reduce their waste. This scheme began in 2009 and there are demo sites in several communities around the country.

Men’s Sheds are, in their own words “… community-based, non-commercial organisation which is open to all men where the primary activity is the provision of a safe, friendly and inclusive environment where the men are able to gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men and where the primary aim is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men. Men’s sheds may look like a shed in you back yard yet they innovatively share some characteristics of both community education and health promotion projects.” Men’s sheds can be a fantastic help in a community garden as the men involved often have skills that they’re willing to share that gardeners can lack.

Muintir na Coille Co-Operative Society Promoting and raising awareness of the importance and uses of coppice silviculture within the island of Ireland.

Scout Groups Scouts and guides are all about working to create better communities and offering them an outdoor space in your community can create many benefits as the youngsters grow and develop into responsible adults.

Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. It was founded in 1989 in Italy and they believe that food is tied to many other aspects of life, including culture, politics, agriculture and the environment. Through food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed, and as a result bring about change.

Social Farming is the practice of offering activity on family farms as a form of social support service.  In Social Farming the farm remains a working farm at its core but invites people to participate in the day to day activities of the farm.  Social Farming provides people who use services with the opportunity for inclusion, to increase self-esteem and to improve health and well-being.

Recycle IT For those living in the Dublin, Wicklow or Kildare regions, Recycle IT is a Community Electronic Recycling Social Enterprise that provides a neighbourhood curbside collection service for all types of waste electrical and electronic equipment. If you arrange for people to bring their electronic waste to your garden, Recycle IT will arrange to collect it and you never know, you might find the odd container that you might want to hang on to and fill with flowers!

Tidy Towns Community gardens are on the judges tick box for the Tidy Town’s competition so if you’re looking to start a garden or would like to encourage follow gardeners into your community garden, there can be a great wealth of horticultural knowledge found within the local Tidy Towns groups.

Tree Council is an umbrella organisation for those involved in tree planting, management and conservation and run initiatives throughout the year, including free trees for communities and certain times of the year. Keep an eye out for events.

Urban Farm initiates urban agriculture projects within Dublin by using simple organic techniques & the latest technologies in LED lighting and microprocessor controlled aquaponic, hydroponic and fungi growth systems; helping to create an efficient city by growing fresh local produce.

Urban Farm Social Hops – A new initiative working with community gardens to grow hops for local breweries.

Your Local Food Network – Find fresh, sustainably produced food in your own locality. They celebrate the small farmers and growers in our communities and help to connect them with local customers.

If you’re involved with a group or organisation that you believe can create a good synergy with a community garden in Ireland or Northern Ireland, please leave details in the comments below and we may add you to the list.

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