3 Ways To (Re)Ignite Your Environmental Mojo

July 15, 2018

3 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Environmental Mojo

Is your environmental mojo waning? Are you losing the will to get out there and campaign, to fight the battle for nature as major corporations and politicians put their own agenda before those of people, wildlife, flora and fauna? Have you stopped thinking that you can make a difference in the tsunami of climatic problems that are engulfing our media?

Whether you are looking for a way to become more environmentally active, or are in need of some fresh motivation, this article is for you. It suggests three Irish (and European) community based initiatives that might help to fire up your enthusiasm. However, It took a blip in my own mojo for me to realise that we need them as much as they need us.

Algorithms – good or bad?

Algorithms are set in social media to show and share our interests so they have meaning for us. Most of the time I feel that’s a good thing; I enjoy reading and learning more about favoured topics that have been suggested for me, and that includes the environmental news and stories. Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of doom filled stories and false information that I’m not sure whether to believe or not, so much so that I was beginning to think that ‘they’ve’ finally worn me down. I’ve been suffering from activists burnout and my instinct has been to hunker down and protect myself before exhaustion overwhelms.

It all came to a head after I finished my horticulture studies. I was thrilled to receive my provisional results having achieved the grades that I had worked hard for in the Advanced Certificate for Horticulture, but that quickly fell to a flatness that I wasn’t expecting. As I sat in tears on the phone to my Mum I was reminded of the time our eldest teen started school and came home bawling after just a week there. “Why can’t I read and write Mammy?” he asked. “You said I’d be able to read and write when I went to school”. I guess the same thing happened to me.

For two college years I’d worked hard to better myself, to validate everything I’ve been doing for the previous ten. I had juggled, in no particular order, our teens, marriage, home life, garden, work, volunteering, funding applications, educating and being educated as I filled my mind with facts and figures about market gardening, ecology and the environment, trees, shrubs, customer services and entrepreneurship. Throughout that time I had somehow talked myself into thinking that a sustainable well paid job would miraculously appear at the end of the months of assignments and study and that all would be well in my world. I would be free to write news, articles, tips and tales on my blog for the joy of it again and not waste time worrying over self-employed cash flow problems. But of course life never flows seamlessly. What we think we want the most often eludes us, until we finally figure out that perhaps we were looking in the wrong direction or had set the wrong goals. Once I realised that’s what was happening, things began to look up.

We Are Not Alone

Perhaps because I’d taken three consecutive weekends off, or maybe because I found a new bunch of people who have revived my sense of hope, I’m starting to feel a lot better. I learnt that while I was just about hanging on as an individual, what I needed most to keep me mentally afloat was my community, and I think I’ve found them.

I often use the following quote from the Dalai Lama XIV when I talk at events or to groups:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.

That quote is quickly followed by another from Helen Keller:

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”.

Whilst a tiny mosquito can make a tremendous difference, imagine what a scourge of them can do! All they need to do is find their community (hopefully they won’t) and they’ll be free to create tremendous havoc.

If you’re reading this article because you’re looking for ideas to (re)ignite your own environmental motivation, here are three community projects that I’m involved with that might help you find it. Whether you jump in head first and embrace all they have to offer, or simply wiggle your toes at the edge, these and many more community initiatives are out there and they’re all looking for our help.

No. 1: Join (or if you still have some energy, create) a local Community Environmental Network (CEN).

3 Ways to (re)Ignite Your Environmental MojoA couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Catherine O’Toole, Development Officer with the Irish Environmental Network who is working with groups across Ireland to set up local community environmental networks. Catherine had arranged a meeting in Carlow to introduce CEN to attendees, and host an open discussion on attendees’ interests and future focus of the Network. We heard about the possibilities for changing local policy through the Public Participation Network and importantly, met other local like-minded people who are passionate about the environment. These networks offer individuals and groups the opportunity to work with others to make changes, and to support one another.

If you think a local environmental network is for you, contact Catherine at the IEN for more information or to find out if there’s already a CEN close to you.

No. 2: Learn to Recycle Properly with VOICE Ireland and help others to do so.

3 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Environmental MojoI use  to think we were the best recyclers ever until I learnt more about recycling from VOICE Ireland. It was a massive shock to learn that scrunchable plastics aren’t recyclable. VOICE stands for Voice Of Irish Concern for the Environment and it’s a member-based Irish environmental Charity that was founded in 1997 following the closure of Greenpeace Ireland. VOICE are currently highlighting three campaigns: Zero Waste Cashel, The Conscious Cup Campaign and the Recycling Ambassador Programme but are involved in several others.

Last year I became the Carlow Recycling Ambassador for VOICE and am being funded to provide free recycling workshops to groups, business’ and organisation  in Carlow. I am joined by ambassadors in every county in Ireland who are spreading the word about what should and shouldn’t go into the recycling bins and it is making a difference.

Ireland is recycling just 35% of its plastic waste. By recycling better we will cut the need for incineration and landfill and reduce the need for additional raw material extraction (oil) as more materials will be available for preprocessing and reuse.

If you would like a workshop, get in touch with VOICE who will point you in the direction of one of us, or check out the Recycling List to find out what can and can’t go into the recycling bins so that you can individually do your bit to help the environment. Don’t forget to share what you learn with friends and family and help them to recycle correctly too. This is something that can quickly make an impact and that each one of us can easily do to make a difference #binsorted.

No. 3: Learn More about Soil and its Importance with the GROW Observatory

3 Ways to (re)Ignite Your Environmental MojoI’ve written several articles about soil and how we should stop treating it like dirt. This relatively shallow layer of material that covers the land across the globe, feeds, clothes, houses and provides sustenance for us all, yet is often mistreated and little understood.

Now, we are in a position to change that as the European GROW Observatory offers everyone across the world, as well as nine GROW Places across Europe, the opportunity to learn more about soil. Partnered by 18 organisations, including Dundee University, the UK Permaculture Association, Starlab in Spain, the UK’s MET office, Cultivate in Ireland and the University of Miskolc in Hungary, getting involved with GROW is something that can provide tangible results that can help scientists understand our changing climate.

This year, Community Gardens Ireland were chosen to work with the European-wide initiative by creating two GROW soil monitoring areas in Donegal and the South-East. Joanne Butler and I are championing the project in Ireland by issuing free soil monitoring sensors to interested growers and farmers across these areas. They are helping to validate data collected by Sentenal 1, a European Space Agency satellite. The validation of Sentinal 1 data will help to develop more accurate climate change models and the prediction of severe weather events such as droughts, flooding and fires.

If you want to get involved in this European community initiative, GROW are looking for people who grow food, who care about their local environment and who want to contribute to climate change adaptation. They offer:

  1. Four free online courses a year, delivered through the leading online learning platform, futureLearn.
  2. An online community of growers from across the world at
  3. Up to nine local GROW Places distributing soil moisture sensors that link to your smartphone to give you and the Observatory, continuous soil moisture, light and temperature data in your growing plot.
  4. Activities designed to build your knowledge of soils and crops.
  5. An e-newsletter to keep you up to date with GROW
  6. An active website with blogs, activities, useful information and ‘how to’ notes.
  7. A new GROW Observatory app, designed to give you growing advice designed for your growing area, including advice on what to plant when.

You can sign up to become a part of GROW through their website, by signing up to their newsletter, by keeping an eye on their social media channels or by signing up to the GROW courses through Futurelearn. If you live in Donegal or the South East of Ireland and are interested in monitoring your soil with sensors, contact Community Gardens Ireland for more information.

We Need our Community as Much as They Need Us

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many organisations and communities that we can join that suit our passions and interests. They all connect one way or another with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They all need our support in more ways than we can imagine; without a healthy environment, they and we will all falter. However, one of the many things I’ve learnt this year, is that we need our community as much as they need us. We do not need to try to save the planet alone.

Every new parent is told to mind themselves first or they won’t be fit to look after their newborn. It’s a message that needs to be understood by everyone, parent or not. It’s okay to step back, to take ‘me’ time and cocoon ourselves until we recharge. Activism burnout is real and we have to mind ourselves. Then, when we feel the stirrings of motivation resurface, we can look for our communities and be supported by them.

We need to care about our planet more than ever before. We might not have the money that the ‘big boys’ have but we have the passion. Now is not the time to disengage for too long, it is the time to take positive steps to stand up for what we care for. Humankind needs a healthy environment to exist and thrive. Are you able to help?

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.” – David Attenborough


Vegetable Garden

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

June 12, 2018

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without Chemicals

Mealy Cabbage Aphids on Brassica Crops

There are a vast array of aphids in the natural world. We usually think of greenfly on our roses or black bean aphids on our broad beans but there are many more varieties of these little pests, including Mealy Cabbage Aphids. They are all unwelcome visitors to our vegetable, community gardens and allotments but there’s an easy way to dissuade them. Creating great soil conditions that keep your plants healthy and attracting beneficial insects is a start.

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Aphids have a tendency to head for the soft tips of our plants, reducing yields as they munch their way through flower and growing tips. They leave their skins, wax and honeydew in situ as they move from one plant to another, often killing young plants and attracting ants who like to farm the aphids for their sticky excretions.

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsMealy Cabbage Aphids can transmit virus, including turnip mosaic virus and cauliflower mosaic virus as they pierce the leaves with their proboscis, sucking the sap and then depositing the virus into the next plant as they move around. They can smother leaves, flowers and stems, look unsightly and make the vegetables quite unappealing and unappetising.

One of the first and most important steps in Integrated Pest Management is prevention, making the crop walk a necessary and vital element of organic gardening and growing. If you do it regularly, you’ll notice changes in your plants before major problems occur. If you’re not sure what to look for, invest in a good book such as the RHS Pests and Diseases by Pippa Greenwood. An invaluable asset on any gardener’s bookshelf.

Unfortunately, we missed the attack of the Mealy Cabbage Aphids on the kale plants photographed above. We were leaving the plants to set seed in Gleann na Bearu community garden, hoping to save the Irish Seed Saver seeds for the next growing season. By the time we spotted the little pests, we were only able to rescue a handful of seed pods, the rest of the plants were too late to save.

How to recognise a Mealy Cabbage Aphid Attack

The first symptom of an attack in vegetable Brassica that include greens such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, swede, broccoli and calabrese are small, bleached patches on the leaves. You will then notice that the patches become yellow and the leaves crumple. Small, wingless, bluish-grey aphids up to 2.6mm long cluster together, often on the undersides or tips of the leaves.

Non Chemical Control for Mealy Cabbage Aphids

How to get rid of Mealy Cabbage Aphids on your Greens without ChemicalsVigilance is the number one control.

If you spot aphids of any kind early enough, you can rub them off with your finger tips or blast them with the hose if the plants aren’t too delicate.

Remove and destroy infected leaves and stems, don’t compost them; the pests will simply move from your compost heap back to your plants.

Provide Habitats

Providing habitats for natural predators such as parasitic wasps, ladybirds, hoverflies, lacewings, spiders and predatory flies will help with organic pest control. Herbs such as Calendula, chives, feverfew, yarrow, dill, fennel, marigold, angelica and caraway will attract ladybirds, as will leaving patches of stinging nettles. Avoid sprays of any kind. Even ‘natural’ soap sprays are indiscriminate, killing the beneficial insects as well as the pests.  There’s a lovely list of plants that attract beneficial insects on the Permaculture News website.

I hope you haven’t suffered a serious aphid attack in your garden but if you did, which ones have been the most problematic for you?


How to Build a Sedum Green Roof Structure

February 22, 2018

How to build a living green roof

As a social enterprise Greenside Up seeks funding from all avenues in an effort to provide support and education to people volunteering in social community gardens. During the last round of Local Agenda 21 funding, Carlow County Council funded a project in Gleann na Bearu community garden in Bagenalstown. During the spring of 2017 Greenside Up created a small living green roof structure and provided a morning workshop to the local community about creating living green roofs in gardens and how they can attract beneficial pollinators. The following details the steps we took to build the green roof structure and why we should all consider installing one.

Before you begin to make plans, be aware that this isn’t a project for tight budget. The material costs can quickly add up with an *inclusive sedum pack costing in excess of €45 per square metre alone. However with some basic maintenance, a green roof will happily grow for many years, outlasting patio furniture or barbecues. We bought our green roof ‘package’ from Green Roofs Direct in Belfast who supply projects of all sizes, from 10m² to 10,000m². We also found Landtech Soils in Tipperary extremely helpful.

How to create a living green roof

Benefits of a Green Roof

There are several benefits to having a living green roof on your property, whether it’s on a small structure like the one we installed, or on home roofs, workplaces or sheds. They include:

  • How to grow a green roof

    Sedum is easy to propagate by division

    Mitigating water runoff and subsequent overflow into the sewage system.

  • Soil and vegetation acts as a sponge, absorbing and filtering water that is normally taken into gutters.
  • The plants remove air particulates, produce oxygen and provide shade.
  • Green roofs help to cool the air as water evaporates from the leaves of the plants – a benefit in urban areas in a warming climate.
  • Green roofs have a biophilia effect, softening hard structures and making us feel better.
  • Green roofs can provide safe, secluded spaces for wildlife and pollinators.
  • They provide great views for you and your neighbours!

How to create a living green roof

Step by Step How to Build a Green Roof

Build the structure.

The Gleann na Bearu community gardeners asked for a structure that would hide the wheelie bins in the corner of the garden by the oil tank. They wanted it to be high enough so they could lift the lids of the bins without pulling them out. Although we might have been able to source cheaper upcycled materials, we wanted to provide a professionally built structure that would last. We therefore sourced treated wood from our local timber yard Griffiths Timber who offer a great service.

How to create a green roof structureAlthough we could have chosen various grass mixes for the green roof, we chose sedum for its low maintenance and pollinator friendly attributes. Woodworking skills are necessary for this project but once the structure is in place, the green roof itself is very easy to install and maintain.

The following gives a general guide to creating a living green roof using various varieties of sedum. The varieties included Sedum acre auream, Sedum album Coral Carpet, Sedum album Mini, Sedum album Athoum, Sedum hispanicum, Sedum Summer Glory, Sedum reflexum, Sedum Weihenstehaner Gold and Sedum voodooedum.

How to Create a Living Green Roof

Materials needed for the small 1.5m x 1m green roof structure pictured included:

Tape measure, spirit level, saw and drill
Plans or drawing
Enough timber and bolts to create the skeleton
Marine plywood for the top
Heavy duty plastic to cover the marine plywood
Waterproof sealant
Environmentally paint or wood treatment
*Green Roof Kit including drainage layer, substrate and sedum blanket

  • How to create a living green roofDraw your plan, cut and bolt the pieces of timber together to fit and paint the structure with an additional protective layer to ensure it will last. We chose a treatment that isn’t harmful to the environment and is relatively long lasting.
  • Once the skeleton of the structure was in place. We added a slightly angled piece of marine plywood on to the top, added more timber around the top edge of the roof to ‘hold’ the sedum and drainage materials in place. At the lower edge of the sloped timber we cut a few notches to allow excess water to drain.  Finally a sheet of heavy duty plastic was placed over the marine plywood and all the edges were then sealed with a waterproof sealant, leaving the structure ready for the drainage layers, substrate and sedum.
  • Drainage: The root system is the work force of the plant. It’s where vital food and water is absorbed. It’s therefore crucial to make sure the root system is as healthy and strong as possible. The drainage layer is designed to give the plant roots extra room to breathe, expand and absorb more water. This will maintain healthy foliage and avoid the dark red shading of stressed Sedum. We ordered How to create a living green roofour sedum blanket from Green Roofs Direct who supplied the drainage layer, substrate and sedum in kit form.

Add the Drainage Layer and Sedum Blanket

Once the green roof structure has been built, adding the drainage and plants is easy. Simply cut the three layered drainage provided and fit it to size, add a 30mm layer of substrate over the top and rake it until smooth. Finally unroll the sedum blanket and cut the pieces to size, taking care not to overstretch it. Once covered, water the sedum until the water runs out.


Green Roofs Direct recommend a straightforward maintenance plan. For the first twelve weeks simply water and weed. Watering in the first week is crucially important. If the sedum blanket is rolled out in very dry conditions it must be watered every other day during the first week. A quick establishment is very important for the plants to cope with the harsh conditions on a roof.

How to create a living green roof

Slow release granular fertilizer can be applied in April at a rate of 10 grams per square metre. A handheld broadcaster is ideal for larger roofs and can be purchased in any hardware or DIY store or hired. Flowers can be cut and removed in August then slow release granular fertilizer applied again in October at 10 grams per square metre.

Have you considered installing a green roof into your garden? This one never fails to bring a smile to our faces.

*includes three piece drainage layers, 50mm depth of substrate and one year matured Irish Sedum Blanket.


The Wellwood Centre and The Story So Far…

December 4, 2017
The Wellwood Centre and The Story So Far...

Pat and Mary Gaynor. Image courtesy of The Wellwood Centre

The Wellwood Centre

Last year I attended a silent meditation and mindfulness weekend at The Wellwood Centre, a holistic enterprise close to Bagenalstown in County Carlow and just a few miles down the road from Greenside Up. During the past year I’ve been back to visit a few times for acupuncture, iridology, an herbal treatment, as well as attended a couple of vegan cookery courses where health and well-being were paramount but fun and roaring laughter stole the day. The Wellwood Centre is such a pleasure to be in. No matter what time of year, it’s an oasis of calm and tranquility, so much so I’ve been keen to share the story of Pat and Mary Gaynor, the creators and managers of the enterprise, ever since.

Carlow’s Hidden Gem

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...The Wellwood Centre is set in just over eight acres of landscaped gardens and it’s already caught the eye of local people. A year after opening the doors of the refurbished warehouse, Pat and Mary picked up the Chamber of Commerce 2017 Carlow’s Hidden Gem Award, placing The Wellwood Centre firmly on the Carlow map.  

I’m going to jump straight in there. You’re both heading towards an age where most people are thinking about retiring. What made you decide to leave the industrial paint business, return to education and start a new enterprise instead of putting your feet up?  

Mary: Because we had the place and the privilege to be able to return to education, to pursue careers we loved. It felt decadent having an eight acre garden with just the two of us here once the original business had moved to Carlow and the kids had grown and moved out. We weren’t ready for retirement, we wanted to extend our working lives but with more chosen careers. The paint business was there to provide a living but it wasn’t really a career that we pursued, it was more something that evolved for us and allowed us to provide for our kids. Once they had moved out, we had the time and we both wanted to learn more. We’ve now handed the paint business over to our children so they can provide for their own families. They’ve moved the business to Carlow which left us free to make-over the empty store.

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...

Friday Morning Class. Image courtesy The Wellwood Centre

The Wellwood Centre has just passed its first birthday. What courses and workshops have you held so far?

Pat and Mary: We’ve held courses in Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi, The Chakra Alexander Technique, Chakra Dance, Teaching Traditional Chinese Medicine (updating your skills for acupuncture) Reiki 1 and 2, Fun Day (soul retreat), garden visits by appointment, corporate days, active retirement groups (drumming day, yoga) and healthy cookery classes.

We currently have nine therapists on board, including Karen Comerford, Mary & Pat Gaynor, Deirdre Germaine, Timothy Guidera, Catriona Mulhall, Helena O’ Donnell, Jacinta O’Rourke, Carmen del Pozo. We can offer anything from Acupuncture, Counselling and Psychotherapy, Reiki, Reflexology, Iridology, Aromatherapy Massage, Indian Head Massage, Shiatsu Massage and Thai Healing Massage, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Herbal Medicine.

The Wellwood Centre is such a calm place and both the centre and gardens are beautifully designed. Did you bring in a team of designers and architects in or did you do it yourselves?

Mary: We started with a garden architect, Bernadette Doran from Kilmuckeridge. She designed the overview of the garden and told us where to site the house and the (paint) store. The first thing we did was plant 4,000 forestry trees, they were the cheapest and we were able to access a grant for them.

The Wellwood Centre - The Story So Far...

Aerial View of The Wellwood Centre. Image Courtesy of The Wellwood Centre.

In 2007 Diarmuid Gavin came on board with his “I Want a Garden” series and added Jerry Hall at the back of the house. Jerry helped to screen the new motorway but primarily added a touch of magic to the garden. Emer MacDonald designed the old ruin and solar dome garden and of course you Dee, came in and designed the planting plan for the medicinal, tea, aromatherapy and edible herb garden. We used an architect for the building change of use, Patrick Weafer and we added all the finishing touches.

Who’s the cook in the family? I really enjoyed attending two of your recent vegan cookery classes Pat, both ably assisted by Mary and your son Aaron. Do you follow a vegan diet yourselves?

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...Pat: Mary is an excellent cook but she multi tasks, she hasn’t the patience. Mary: Pat loves cooking and with a bottle of O’Hara’s beer he’s very happy. Pat: We’ve changed our diets over the years, always evolving. We tried vegan for a while and are now introducing a little bit of meat and oily fish as we can see the benefits. We’ve reduced our meat considerably over the years, and are now balancing it. I add meat to flavour the dish rather than to be the main component.

Pat, it was an absolute pleasure to be involved in the design of your herb garden. Have you always had an interest in herbalism?

Pretty much. I was into wild plants and had a collection in my late teens and early twenties. The interest was reinvigorated after I attended an acupuncture course. I realised that acupuncture and herbs were a good combination so undertook a four-year course and now have a Licentiate in Master Herbalism from the Irish School of Herbal Medicine.  I became interested in Western plants rather than Chinese: local plants for local problems, though they can cross over. For instance, Horny Goat Herb is a Chinese herbal remedy that can be used for erectile dysfunction.

The Wellwood Centre. The Story So Far...

Milk Thistle (Silybum Mariabum) growing at The Wellwood Centre

Mary, I know you’ve recently qualified as a psychotherapist after studying for four years. Do you specialise in certain areas?

In this area of work, Psychotherapists are often referred to as ‘the wounded healers’ and I suppose the issues surrounding adoption and the ever unfolding horrors of Mother & Baby Home’s and the fallout from that, is close to my heart. However, I work with what is presented to me, bereavement and loss, anxiety and depression, relationship problems as well as stress which seems to be endemic at the moment. I am an Humanistic & Integrative psychotherapist, working according to the ethics of IAHIP,  but I also incorporate mindfulness and CBT techniques as there is a big demand for both.

You’re very much a husband and wife team. Any tips for the rest of us in making that work?

Pat: We challenge each other all the time but don’t take anything personally. Men, go sort out that cave! Get out of it, and start talking to one another. It’s not easy, we have to keep working at it. There’s a great book that sums it all up: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, it’s so true! Oh and of course, Mary thinks she’s always right (she always fecking is).

What’s next for the Wellwood Centre?

Pat and Mary: We will keep developing it, adding more courses. Karen is relatively new to The Wellwood Centre and she works with chronic pain as well as with exam students and their parents who are suffering stress during the study time.  Mindfulness is used as part of the tool kit in stress reduction and for chronic pain. We have some new massage therapists with fantastic background training. Carmen gives Shiatsu massage, but also specialises in Japanese facial lifting techniques and she teaches you how to continue this at home. Forget the Botox and experience this! It’s amazing.

Mary and Helena are busy and  really enjoying the psychotherapy. Pat is writing a dissertation on natural ways to help fertility which includes acupuncture, herbal medicine and diet. Currently it feels like we’re crashing a nut with a sledgehammer in trying to deal with fertility issues. However, in herbal medicine, small changes can have a big effect without major ramifications. For instance, from a traditional Chinese perspective, the biggest reason for low fertility is a cold uterus, so just working on that can help. Swapping from salads to hot foods, wearing more clothes will help to warm up the body and hence the reproductive system.

We’ve started to offer alternative healthy hen parties, as well and we are able to design health and well-being packages to suit.  The studio in the centre is open for AirBnB guests and the recent Charity garden open day was so successful for the Carlow Homecare Team that we plan to offer more of those.  The gardens are open by prior arrangement and are free for people to wander around if they’re using the centre for treatments.

You can find out more about The Wellwood Centre on their website, or keep an eye out on the Facebook page for updates on events and courses. Maybe I’ll see you there!



Social Enterprise: 10 Examples in Horticulture

November 10, 2017


“A social enterprise is like any other business. It works to deliver goods and services to make a profit. The difference is, it is driven by social and environmental purposes and any profit that is made is reinvested towards achieving those purposes.”

Recently I was invited by the Waterford One World Centre to talk about social enterprise opportunities in horticulture. Several of the ten examples I’m sharing below are related to our food system. Whilst horticulture covers many areas from landscaping to nurseries, golf courses and parks, it’s food and social community gardens that have been my passion for the past eight years, and more recently market gardening, a subject I’m now studying at Kildalton Agricultural & Horticulture College.

Social Enterprise in Ireland

The FORFÁS Social Enterprise Report for Ireland published in July 2013, mentioned that there were “1,420 social enterprises, employing over 25,000 people, with a total income of around €1.4 billion”. It was also suggested that there could be over 65,000 social enterprises if the sector reached the levels set out by the ‘Europe 2020’ Strategy, leaving massive room for growth.

The FORFÁS Report describes social enterprise as“business models set up to tackle social, economic or environmental issues. While they are driven primarily by social and/or environmental motives, they engage in trading or commercial activities to pursue these objectives and produce social and community gain.”

A philanthropy study a few years ago found that social enterprises were more likely to be recession proof than other charity because they have a diverse mix of funding. They rely on commercial income but also public-sector grants and contracts as well as grant making trusts. They make significant use of volunteers.

Vegetable Farming in Ireland

According to figures published by Agriland in 2016 only 1% of Irish farms grow vegetables, which is the lowest percentage of all other Member States in the EU where the average is 12.4%. Less than 1% of Irish farms have orchards compared to an EU average of 14.6%.

Teagasc rightly argue that vegetable growing is a tough business in Ireland. They say it’s “mainly due to the pressure of supplying supermarkets and coping with the vagaries of the weather. This has resulted in a consolidation of the business with some growers leaving the industry and others scaling up to reduce costs.”

But where does that leave the consumer? In the opinion of many, with little choice. It’s a regular and common occurrence when I’m working with groups for adults to admit that they don’t recognise vegetables. They can’t believe the different flavours that arise from different varieties of the same vegetable that we’ve grown. They don’t know how to cook or prepare many of the vegetables because they’ve only been ‘fed’ the same old half-dozen. Industry is missing out.

Organic Horticulture

According to Bord Bia studies, consumer demand for organic food is increasing globally. In Sweden during 2014, demand increased by more than 40%. In Ireland, sales of fruit and vegetables make up 34% of the organic market, 70% of which are imported. However, there is little encouragement from the government to get into this business. There are no degree courses available in organic farming or horticulture in Ireland, yet as figures suggest, it is one of the major growth areas in food production.

The Value for Money Review of the Organic Farming Scheme published in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture concluded that “there is significant market demand for the produce of organic farming”.

There will always be markets for cheap imports and export led businesses, but increasingly people want and are willing to pay for Irish, organic fruit and vegetables and they are not being catered for.

This is where social enterprises in horticulture have an opportunity to work in the industry.

I recently asked a friend who runs a vegetable box scheme, “what do you do with the waste vegetables that nobody wants, I think that would kind of put me off getting into market gardening.” She laughed: “There’s no waste she said, we can’t grow enough for the demand…”

10 Social Enterprises in Horticulture – UK and Ireland


10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTUREWhile I was researching for this post, I came across many examples of social enterprise that have been created within the area of education. My own enterprise Greenside Up began on that basis, working to create transformative change by educating people about social food growing.

In Waterford, GIY Ireland are primarily about supporting, connecting and educating people about vegetable growing nationally and now even internationally. Ballybeg Greens began as an educational opportunity to tackle the unemployment issues that surrounded the area. The landscaping and salad and herb social enterprise that followed came from those beginnings.

The Garden School Growth Project near Marley Park offers free education to unemployed and disadvantaged people. They fund the initiative by revenue generated by fee paying customers.

Grow and Supply

In the UK, Edible Eastside in Birmingham is run by Urban Grain Social Enterprise Partnership. A former petrol station, they converted an acre of canal side land into a pop up ‘edible park’. They supply businesses and educational institutions with a space to master horticulture. They rent out raised beds, provide a cookery school and café and promote urban food production in the city. They also sell produce to restaurants in the city whose development chefs visits every week to pick flowers and herbs to garnish dishes.

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture

Growing Support in the UK tackles loneliness, social isolation, and inactivity. They deliver “social and therapeutic horticulture services” for older people. They run garden clubs, supported by trained volunteers, where older people are enabled to work together in the garden, to grow their own food and to connect with nature. Activities include sensory stimulation, exercise key muscle groups, increase social interaction and all this helps to promote a sense of purpose and achievement.

Addiction Recovery

10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTUREThe Severn Project outside Bristol was founded in 2010 with the aim of creating a more effective and person-centered model of drug and alcohol recovery. Beginning as a pilot on 4 acres of waste ground, clients and volunteers cleared the land and have created a thriving horticultural social enterprise that produces a variety of fruit and vegetables.


Streetscape is an award-winning social enterprise in south London. They provide apprenticeships in landscape gardening to 18-25 year olds who are long-term unemployed, helping them to build skills, experience and attributes they need to fulfill their dreams and move into and retain work.


Carraig Dulra is a family owned social enterprise dedicated to providing education, experiences and connections related to sustainable living in Wicklow. Among other things staff and volunteers often work with and set up school and community gardens and they run an OOOOBY scheme (Out of Our Own Back Yard) which facilitates a local box scheme.

10 EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN HORTICULTURELastly, back to a growing Irish social enterprise, OURGanic Gardens in Donegal started out as a network of community gardens and is now basing itself at home on a four-acre small holding. They’ve formed a community garden on site and when they are up and running, plan to sell through a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, with any profits made being ploughed back into that enterprise and further community projects.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

I’ve written about community supported food schemes before, often described as Social Cooperative Enterprises. CSA’s in particular can meet the needs of the community and the farmer or grower. Kevin Dudley, one of the Cloughjordan Community farm growers, mentioned that just four acres of land is all that’s needed to feed 70 families with fruit and vegetables year round. The community has a personal stake and understanding about the food that’s growing for them and the farmer can concentrate on doing the job he or she enjoys doing the most.

Growing Social Enterprise Support

Our Government is showing its commitment to social enterprise, offering supports and educational programmes to Local Area Partnerships and others. An Cosán Virtual Community College (another social enterprise) run an eight week QQI Level 6 course in Social Enterprise. There is also a new European Entrepreneurship in Food course being developed by Dr Lisa Ryan and Maria McDonagh of the GMIT Department of Natural Sciences, School of Science & Computing in Galway. The course will focus on rural communities, helping them to create and develop their own food businesses; hopefully a social enterprise element will be included within that.

The biggest reason most people mention to me for wanting to grow their own food is because they “want to know where their food comes from”. If we, as social entrepreneurs in horticulture, can find more ways to help them do that, or provide them with food that they can be assured is as cleanly and locally grown as they hope for, perhaps we can come up with new answers for addressing many of the social justice and environmental problems we are faced with today.

We can be influential in creating healthier and happier communities through social enterprise, reversing the trend towards an inward and individualistic society to one of a more connected and collaborative nature.

Now you know what they are, can you see a social enterprise opportunity in your community? Will you seize it?


Outdoor Adventures Along The Miners Way and Historical Trail

October 15, 2017

The Journey to The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Until recently, I’ve always been in a hurry to get somewhere. The Final Destination was the name of the game and if there was a motorway option for a speedier car journey, all the better: no public transport in this part of rural Ireland..

Thankfully, all that changed when I shared a lift in my best friends camper van across Suffolk in the UK a couple of years ago. We stopped on the side of a picturesque Tudor village green for a brew, perched on the van step and tucked into cheese, salad and crisp rolls made in the tiny kitchen. We soaked up the sunshine and felt the warm breeze tickle our skin before we clambered back into the VW and headed off for the last leg of the journey. The scenic route that took us along ‘B’ roads and past old beamed houses was factored into the preparations as we headed further east. From that moment, I realised how much I’d missed out on the pleasures of the journey by my fast-paced desires and have endeavored to slow down ever since.

I mention that memory now as it came back to me when I was relying on google maps to get me to the magnificent Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa, my luxurious destination for a two night excursion in County Roscommon.

I was under time pressure as I drove through Counties Longford and Leitrim, but I began to notice blobs of blue slowly moving past on the small-screened map, indicating nearby rivers and loughs. I couldn’t see them; ahead and to either side of me the road stretched on indefinitely, flanked by national road hedgerows. However, my little moving map was enticing and I longed to glimpse over the tree tops.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

The Gaelic Chieftain on the N4 road in remembrance of the Battle of the Curlews

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. The two day excursion *expertly organised by Úna Bhán Tourism Cooperative was about to take me on a fascinating tour of this historically colourful county where megalithic tombs and cemeteries nestle close to discarded mines and deep loughs.

I was about to experience County Roscommon for the first time, as well as meet, sing and laugh with some new adventurers. It’s tales of those trails that I’m about to share with you now.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Outdoor Adventures Along The Miners Way and Historical Trail

Members of Una Bhan Tourism, our tour guide from, and fellow adventurers Photo Credit: Hubert Flanagan

The focus of our trip was on the recently developed Miners Way and Historical Trail and my fellow explorers included Mayo based Rachel from Rachel’s Irish Adventures, B2 and her sister Ali from Two Blondes Walking in the UK, and Wexford based Graham and James from The Irish Experience.

We spent two days with our knowledgeable guide, Philip James, exploring different elements of the way-marked routes that take walkers through Counties Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. I hadn’t truly understood the benefit of hiking with an experienced guide until this trip. Though Mr G and myself are confident compass and map readers, Philip brought the landscape to life in a way the contour lines couldn’t as he eloquently shared tales of miners, chieftains and gods among the heather tracks and limestone tombs.

Outdoor Adventures on The Miners Way and The Historical TrailThe circular Miners Way and the Historical Trail combined take in over 118 km of tracks, ascending to 1300 metres in places, offering a range of walks and hikes to suit all levels.

The trail is suitable for a week’s walking but it has been broken down into a series of 12 sections, allowing visitors to pick the walks they want. For each trail, there is an accompanying 1:50,000 scale map available (where 2 centimeters equals 1 kilometer) all available to download, print and laminate from the website. A small booklet version is available in local tourist shops and is accompanied with general descriptions of nearby attractions. Philip helped update the guide and has walked all the paths, ensuring they are accessible and marked.

Accommodation is available along the Trail to cater for all budgets, including bed and breakfast, four star hotels like Kilronan Castle, beautifully crafted self-catering eco log cabins at Riverhaven pictured below, as well as campsites such as the one at Lough Key Forest & Activity Park.

The walking trails along the Miners Way were once used by generations of local teenagers and men as they made their way to work in the Arigna mines. The colliery opened in 1765 and employed several generations of families right through until 1990 when it finally closed its gates. These days there’s a visitor centre offering a different kind of employment for ex-miners, but more about that below.

I’m glad I’d packed my walking boots and waterproofs. We experienced Ireland’s four seasons in a day phenomena, but being prepared I remained dry during the short showers of rain. The following brief slide show contains some images I snapped along The Miners Way and Historical Trail during our autumn trip to give you a taster of its delights.

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The Miners Way links up with the Historical Trail, a track that features many ancient sites, including Carrowkeel megalithic tombs and Labby Rock, taking travellers across the Curlew, Bricklieve and Arigna Mountains. Carrowkeel is very accessible with sturdy boots, and is the first passage tomb I’ve visited – what an introduction! It’s one of a complex of 14 passage tombs that are spread across the Bricklieve Mountains and is older than Newgrange in County Meath and Stonehenge in the UK.

There were magnificent views from the top of Carrowkeel and just down the hill from the cairn it’s possible to see the site of the earliest known neolithic village in Ireland on a limestone plateau in Mullaghfarna. Over 160 circular stone foundations have been identified on the plateau and it’s of huge prehistoric significance and completely unspoilt.

More information can be found about the Trail on the Walking Wild Ireland website or take a look at this short clip below that explains how it came to be.

Along the Miners Way and Historical Trail

Arigna Mining Experience

The Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonThere are many sites and local attractions to see along the Miners Way, not least the Arigna Mining Experience itself. The visitor centre opened in 2003 and charts the history of the mining community as well as the mines themselves. There’s a small exhibition, interviews recorded with various mine owners, miners and their wives. There’s also a café that looks out towards the Kilronan Mountain and information points.

The highlight of the Arigna Mines Experience is a tour of a mine that lasts around 45 minutes. Visitors are invited to put on a hairnet and hard hat before being led into the softly lit tunnels by an ex-miner.

The Miners Way and Historical TrailDuring our tour we were accompanied by Ger, a cheerful man who worked in the mine from the age of 14. He explained how the coal was excavated, mostly by hand, and showed us the tight passages he worked in. He shared his memories of the hard-working day and night shifts, the pay rates and the way the older miners looked out for the younger ones. This is all quite astounding given the men were working in that same environment up until relatively recently.

“What’s history, he said
I’ll tell you what it is
History is the other man’s story
The man who owned the pit
Not the story of the likes of us
Who worked in it.”

by Vincent Woods

I couldn’t imagine being the wife of a miner before the days of running hot water, having to scrub the clothes in tubs heated by water on an open fire, with water fetched from a nearby spring, no doubt with several young children running around. I’m tempted to send my teenagers to the mine for a visit next time they complain about having to do the washing up…

The visitor centre is open for most of the year with tours that are run on demand. More details including entry fees etc., can be found on the Arigna Mining website, but keep an eye out for special offer vouchers in tourist spots around the county.

Gunpowder Gin

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co Roscommon

Along the trail and just over the border in County Leitrim, we were introduced to the Gunpowder Gin Distillery. Serial entrepreneur PJ Rigney opened The Shed Distillery with its copper pot stills in Drumshanbo in December 2014. He chose the area as his parents both worked there when they first met and his staff now include several local people who make, decant and label every distinctive Gunpowder Gin bottle by hand. The distillery aims to be as eco-friendly as possible, drawing water from their own well, returning spent waste to farmers and re-distilling any batches of gin that aren’t up to standard.

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co Roscommon

Initially to still whiskey, the Shed soon began producing gin as it can be bottled within 21 days and not the years it takes for whiskey to develop. There are plans to develop a potato vodka as well as other products in the pipeline.

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonGunpowder Gin contains 12 natural botanicals including Juniper Berries, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Caraway Seed, Coriander Seed, Meadow Sweet, Cardamom, Star Anise as well as vapour-infused botanicals Chinese Lemon, Oriental Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Gunpowder Tea.

We tasted a small sample neat and were able to pick up several of the different scents before the spirit reached our throats. Apparently, if we enjoy our gin with tonic water, the ratio should be two parts good quality tonic water to one part gin.

Unfortunately inquisitive gin drinkers will have to wait a while before viewing the distillery; a new visitor centre is under development nearby but won’t be open until the end of 2018.

King House Tea Rooms, King House and Úna Bhán Tourism Centre

The Miners Way and Historical Trail, County Roscommon

King House Tea Rooms and Una Bhan Tourism Centre, Boyle, Co Roscommon

Our lunchtime in County Roscommon was spent in Boyle where we visited the welcoming King House Tea Rooms for a well needed lunch after our wet and windy Carrowkeel passage tomb walk. The place was spotless and bright, the food wholesome and the service cheerful.

The Miners Way and Historical TrailNext door to the tea rooms, we found where our hosts were located in the Úna Bhán Tourism Centre. Funded by Pobal under the Community Services Programme, the friendly little community tourism centre was founded in 1990 and now employs several local people. It’s full of regional crafts and supports a number of local authors, musicians and artists. The centre is well worth a visit for information, help and advice, particularly on market days, held on Saturdays from 10am until 2pm where fresh organic produce is sold under blue and white stripey canopies, alongside cakes and bakes, artisan food and crafts. If you’re a fan of Chris O’Dowd’s Moon Boy, you can pick up a wooly hat in the centre knitted by a local woman.

After Lunch we were taken on a short tour of King House, situated opposite the little tea rooms. This is definitely a place to take your time, perhaps on a wet day as the magnificently restored Georgian mansion was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Originally built in 1730 as the seat of the King family, a landowning dynasty, the house later became a military barracks and recruiting depot for the Connaught Rangers. At the end of the Civil war in 1923 it was taken over by the Irish Free State Army and following years as a merchant’s store, it was restored to its former style in the late 1980s by Roscommon County Council. King House is now a museum, event venue, the location of a contemporary art collection and is home to among others, the Mary Mcaleese Collection.

Boyle Abbey

Next to King House in Boyle town is the well-preserved Boyle Abbey a Cistercian Monastery that was founded in the 12th century under the patronage of the MacDermotts. Here, Philip told us about the vegetarian monks who attended Mass seven times a day and lived simply, sleeping in their habits in basic quarters. There’s usually a small admission fee and daily guided tours (see the website for details), but as it’s OPW owned , there’s free admission to all their sites on the first Wednesday of every month which is worth bearing in mind.

Lough Key Forest and Activity Park

After Boyle we headed out to Lough Key Forest and Activity Park for our final short trek. It’s difficult to know where to begin when talking about this historical park and activity centre, there’s so much to do there.

The Miners Way and Historical Trail

The Moylurg Viewing Tower

The park is a joint venture between Coillte and Roscommon County Council who established a private company that now operates the park. Originally, the land was the official residence of the McDermott clan who ruled the area for hundreds of years. In the 17th century the land was granted to the King family under the Cromwellian settlement (seriously, is it any wonder the Brits were so disliked) and a mansion was built there in the 1800’s. Unfortunately for the Kings, the house burnt down in the 1950’s due to an electrical fault and the ruins were finally cleared away and replaced by the Moylurg viewing tower, built in the ‘Brutilisation’ style in the 1970’s.

These days, the 350 hectare park with majestic Redwood trees, follies, bridges, native woodlands, bog garden, conifer forest and canals is for the people, offering several moderate to easy trails, including one that forms part of the Miners Way and Historical Trail. As well as the walking trails there’s Zipit Forest Adventure, a tree top canopy walk, a crystal maze type Boda Borg challenge, tours of the worker tunnels and historical tour, orienteering, Segway and bike hire, a marina, caravan park, café, visitor centre and more.

Thankfully in October it was a quiet and peaceful place to be, but I found myself wishing for a short while that my kids were younger and we could stay in the campsite and give them the opportunity to try all the activities on offer in the park, I’m sure they’d have had a ball.

For more detailed information about the park, the various admission fees to some of the attractions, as well as seasonal events and opening times, take a look at the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park website.

Moorings Restaurant

Miners Way and Historical Trail, Co RoscommonOur last stop during our stay in County Roscommon was at the Moorings Bar at Knockvicar. It’s open daily from 5.00pm until 9pm and offers a warm welcome by Patrick and Conor with delicious food served in a restaurant that overlooks Lough Key. There was a great choice of food on the menu that looked inviting for meat eaters and vegetarians alike and the fires were blazing, very welcome at the end of a day of walking trails and museum tours.

To give you an idea of the varied menu, I chose the Potted Garlic Mushrooms in Creme Fraîche with Garlic Bread followed by the Pan Fried Sea Bass, Confit Baby Potatoes, Sautéd Greens and Citrus Beurre Blanc with Warm Amoretti and Rhubarb Cake with Warm Custard and Ice Cream to follow (but don’t tell my fitness trainers!). The Guinness was tasty and the regional songs that were sung by my companions on the minibus back to the hotel, a delightful end to the trip.

Check Out

Check out at Kilronan Castle was at noon so I took the opportunity on my last morning to visit the calming Thermal Suite and Spa before the journey home, taking the opportunity to rest my aching limbs in the bubbling hydrotherapy pool and under the rainforest showers, feeling the slight stiffness from the walks ease away from my muscles.


The Miners Way and Historical TrailA symptom of modern life, it struck me while I was relaxing, how many of us drive across Ireland on the ‘way to somewhere’, missing out on some spectacular scenery and poetic tales in our hurry to reach our final destinations. There are several beautiful counties to see in the middle of this small green isle, including my own in County Carlow or others like Tipperary and Offaly in the Midlands, and yet they are so often overlooked.

I’m very much looking forward to returning to County Roscommon with Ian in our camper van and making it our destination for a few days. I know he’d enjoy the historic sites and trails as much as I did and I hope, if you choose to visit, you do to. Stopping by the small towns and villages throughout this island of many colours helps to support and create a sustainable future for the communities living and working in them, and at the same time offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about the lives of others, both past and present.

Do you take your time on journeys or are you prone to rush from place to place. Can you recommend any more places to visit in County Roscommon when we return?

Outdoor Adventures on The Miners Way and The Historical Trail, County Roscommon, Ireland

*  This initiative was made possible by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the Funding Scheme for Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure 2017. While all activities, food and accommodation were included with the trip, I was not financially compensated nor asked to write about anything in particular. All observations and opinions are completely based on my own experience.

I’d like to thank Eilish and Patricia from Úna Bhán Tourism Cooperative for organising the trip and introducing me to a part of Ireland I hadn’t yet discovered. Thanks also to my fellow adventurers for your entertaining company. Looking forward to meeting again sometime.


October is Reuse Month – What Will You Re-imagine?

September 30, 2017

October is ReUse Month - What Will You Re-Imagine?

Can Every Month be Reuse Month?

October is Reuse Month here in Ireland and over the coming weeks it’s likely you’ll come across several actions encouraging people to think about reducing, reusing or upcycling their ‘rubbish’. Running for the second year, this is an initiative of the Regional Authorities (@CRNIIreland) to promote reuse and a great opportunity for us all to think about waste and how we can re-imagine or eliminate it.

October is Reuse Month - What Will You Re-imagine?

Cress seeds growing in an upcycled chocolate box

At a SUSY in Ireland event in Waterford recently, I was invited to demonstrate how everyday items can be used in gardens to save money, create art, as well as protect the environment. From Ferrero Rocher chocolate boxes that we can reuse as seed containers and old cutlery as garden chimes, there are so many other uses for our rubbish once we begin to look at it differently.

Last week, a local community gardening project in Gleann na Bearu, Bagenalstown, County Carlow, entered both local and national upcycle competitions for their many reuse garden projects. Pride of place is the artistically created greenhouse shown above. It was mostly created from 2 litre plastic drink bottles collected by the community. If you’d like to learn more about it or other upcycled projects in the garden, you can view them on their Facebook page or if you’re nearby, visit the garden on Wednesdays between 9.30am to 11.30am.

October is Reuse Month - What Will You Re-Imagine?

Single Use Cups

One very quick way we can make a difference in helping to reduce rubbish that otherwise heads to landfill is by stopping or reducing our use of single use cups. As a nation we managed to decrease our plastic bag use by a whopping 90% with the introduction of a small tax, surely we can do the same with disposable cups without one?

In July, the Green Party introduced a Waste Reduction Bill to the House of the Oireachtas encouraging this and more initiatives; the bill has since been referred to the select committee for consideration. The transcript of Eamon Ryan’s debate explaining the reasons behind the bill can be found online. One of the problems we face with disposable cups, is that even if single use cups say they are recyclable, there are no recycling plants in Ireland that are able to recycle them and only one of two in the UK are actually doing so.

The Conscious Cup Campaign in Ireland are doing a great job highlighting the shocking waste caused by disposable cups and are encouraging cafés around the country to pledge to help by offering discounts on customer bills if they bring their own reuse cups. Minister Naughten commented on the problem of single-use containers and waste in Ireland during a speech to The Dáil in July 2017,

“As a society we discard an incredible 80% of what we produce after a single use. It gravely concerns me that 2 million disposable coffee cups a day are going to our landfills.”

VOICE Ireland Recycling Ambassadors

When I returned to adult education earlier this year, it galled me to see plastic spoons, non recyclable cups and plastic lids being thrown into black plastic bags in their hundreds, on a daily basis. I asked the canteen if they’d consider doing something about it given the negative environmental impact and was pleased to see a box of wooden stirring sticks appear on the counter the following week; sticks that can at least be composted or made into plant pot labels. Sadly that was the only move to sustainability I became aware of while I was there. I began taking in a travel mug every day and asked for my tea to be made in that.

October is Reuse month - what will you re-imagine?

Photo courtesy: Conscious Cup Campaign

Wouldn’t it have been amazing if the contractors had taken the initiative on-board and encouraged all students to do the same? They could have reduced the cost of the cuppa on till receipts if they did so, after all, we’re saving them money on their cups, but alas, this wasn’t the case. As a newly appointed VOICE Ireland Recycling Ambassador, when I return to my studies next year I’ll be banging the recycling drum even louder and talking to the canteen contractors about the Conscious Cup Campaign and see if they’ll follow Trinity College’s footsteps!

Thankfully lots of cafe’s are beginning to take this on board. Fellow blogger Melanie May, has published a list of café s in Ireland that offer a discount if we bring our own cups; hopefully she’ll be updating it as more establishments come on board.


October is Reuse Month - What Will You Re-imagine?Baring all of this in mind, I was pleased to be sent a KeepCup (@KeepCup) by a PR company recently. After a few weeks of use, I’m happy to say it’s the best reusable cup I’ve tried. I’ve gone through a few brands over the years but usually give up on them because they drip. Whoever designed the sippy lip on the KeepCup got it exactly right. No more spillages down the front of the tee-shirt, it’s a marvel. I was invited to choose a colour from many variations and carry it around with me most days now. 

KeepCup is an Australian brand developed by Abigail and Jamie Forsyth, a sister brother team who were dismayed at the large volume of waste that resulted from their Melbourne based café.

October is Reuse month - what will you reimagine?

The reusable cups come in a variety of sizes, colours, materials and designs and are available to purchase in premium cafés nationwide or online. Cafés and businesses can order larger quantities of KeepCups from Dublin based, family run distributor EA Symmons. The one I received (12oz original) retails between €12.99 – €14.99 and is BPA free. 

According to Canadian chemist, Dr Martin Hocking, the requirement to manufacture a reusable plastic cup versus a paper cup over a lifetime use was under 15 uses. Disposable cups are lined with polyethylene and there is enough plastic in 28 disposable cups to make one small KeepCup. The cups are guaranteed for a year under general wear and tear use.

Single Use Water Bottles

It would be good to see a similar reuse campaign for single use plastic drink bottles next. If anyone can recommend a decent reusable water bottle that I can take to my fitness class, please leave a comment or get in touch!

Will you pledge to reuse, reduce or upcycle more? What initiatives are you already doing? I’d love to hear about them.


* Verified by Simon Lockrey from the Centre for Design at RMIT who completed a Symapro Life Cycle Analysis and has independently verified KeepCups sustainability claims.



Time to Talk About Soil

September 7, 2017

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

People 4 Soil

It’s not often I reach out and ask people to sign a petition but time has almost run out for Ireland to register 8,250 signatures for the European People 4 Soil campaign and we’ve still a way to go to reach that target.

The campaign that launched a year ago is calling for the European Union to create a soil directive, similar to the air and water directives. If successful the Irish government would have to assess the condition of the soil beneath our fields and feet and take action where needed. Soil, the foundation of our existence, is currently unprotected.

If 1 million signatures are received from at least 7 member European states by mid September, the European Commission will have to react within three months. Can we do it? With your help yes, but please click the button below and share the petition with your friends, families and colleagues today.

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

What is soil?

Soil has been described as the skin of the earth and it’s incredible to consider that without this shallow layer, life on this earth as we know it would not exist. Formed slowly from thousands of years of physical and biological processes, soil provides a habitat for billions of living things. Soil holds and purifies water, it processes and stores carbon and it acts as a medium for plant growth.

Every teaspoon of soil is full of living organisms. Just 1 gram can hold up to a billion bacteria, nematodes, protozoa and fungal filaments. It’s not simply dirt, soil is alive! When we understand that we begin to understand why artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are so damaging to it, why it’s so important that we protect soil from erosion, and why we continue to study and educate people about it.

Time to Talk About Soil with People 4 Soil

This clip from David R Mongomery explains how important the symbiosis between plants and the hidden mycorrhizae living beneath us is to soil fertility, plant health and subsequently our own health.

David R. Montgomery on Symbioses in the Soil from Center for Food Safety on Vimeo.

Soil History

Recently I was gifted a beautiful 1946 revised edition of “The Living Soil – evidence of the importance to human health of soil vitality’ by E.B. Balfour. Within the book the author quotes Professor N. S. Shaler of Harvard University who in 1896 wrote:

“If mankind cannot devise and enforce ways of dealing the with earth, which will preserve the source of life, we must look forward to a time – remote it may be, yet clearly discernible – when our kind, having wasted its great inheritance, will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished.”

Yet here we are, over 120 years later, still not protecting the very substance we came from and one day will return to. Soil is the mother of all things. Please honour and protect her.

You can read more about the People 4 Soil campaign here.