I’ve had this post floating around my mind for several days but have been struggling with how best to convey my enthusiasm for
two three community gardening projects of differing kinds that have surrounded me this week… do I tell you about them one post at a time or all at once? They are interconnected so I’m going for the latter and hope you’ll stick with me!!
To start with I’d like to introduce you to a community garden project that we were taken to in Waterford at the Harvest Festival.
As we drove past the gardens in our little tour bus I initially thought we were driving past a nursery, until we parked up in front that is. Full of (enviably huge) polytunnels and people chatting together, working alone but generally looking busy these gardens were set up in 2008 to help and support the local community. Project managed by Liz Riches, with funding and help from local business, government agencies and the local council who donated the land in an area where unemployment runs at 50%, many FETAC accredited and hobby courses have taken place here. Apart from the courses, over 30 small community/allotment plots are available for local residents for just €2.00 a month too.
Ballybeg CDP liaise and provide courses for children’s groups and schools, traveller and ethnic groups, people on the autistic spectrum, as well as employed and unemployed men and women which gives the project a real sense of inclusion and offers individuals the opportunity to cross invisible boundaries that often keep them apart.
Is it possible to overuse the word inspired? Possibly but if anywhere deserves it, it’s Ballybeg. The courses have been going so well that in 2011 the team opened a not-for-profit garden and advice centre that also offers a landscaping and design service, with all the proceeds being ploughed back into the CDP. Paul Powers, one of our tour guides for the brief time we were there could barely hide his excitement that The Secret Millionnaire had paid a recent visit to the garden project – a highlight for all those who’ve worked so hard to ensure the gardens success, both in voluntary and paid capacities.
Aside from the training and social elements, the project also works with the local business community. The first polyunnel we were introduced to was full of salads earmarked (for amongst others) Bodega, a vibrant bistro in the centre of Waterford we were to eat at later that evening.
Which brings me neatly to the second project…
Kilkenny Leader Partnership (KLP) Rural Development Programme – Community Food Partnership
Several months ago I was invited to tender for a new initiative led by KLP, tutoring and advising community gardens in my area. Yesterday I was delighted to hear that funding has been approved and I will shortly be meeting and working with new Goresbridge and Callan gardeners. This project takes community gardening a step further in that apart from offering all the usual benefits (some of which I’ve outlined in previous posts) it specifically aims to help individuals recognise possible self-employment opportunities.
As the recession bites deeper and environmental concerns grow, these projects are exciting and important elements that show communities the potential and power that working together (as clearly demonstrated in the Ballybeg story above) can achieve. They are at the heart of developing strategies for creating more sustainable communities.
At the 2011 GIY Gathering a workshop was held on community gardening where we explored the need for a network group and made an appeal for anyone interested to sign up. I volunteered to coordinate the group. Ten people signed up there and then and a couple of months later we held our first meeting in Dublin with over 40 attendees from across the island. We’ve had two further meetings which have resulted in a common goal of launching an online presence for community gardeners in Ireland and Northern Ireland – exactly a year after we made the initial plea.
A year might seem like a long time to launch a site but there were many elements and groups to consider and everyone involved has done so in a voluntary capacity with no outside funding. Importantly the CGNG is a member-led independent group that currently has five partner organisations in the form of Transition Ireland & NI, Dublin City Growers, Healthy Food for All, GIY Ireland and The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardener who are all keen to see this work.
This online presence gives anyone involved with community gardening something new. It gives us the opportunity from one central location to share, advise, and help others whether they are new to community gardening or old hands, on the periphery or fully involved.
How does all this tie in?
Without my harvest festival trip I wouldn’t have known about Ballybeg CDP. As a result of that trip I will be able to pass on that knowledge to the KLP project as well as liaise and pick up tips from the Ballybeg team. The work and knowledge they are prepared to share will be invaluable not only to me but to other similar projects setting up around the country (there’s one in Cork in its early development stage for instance).
Amongst other advantages, the new CGN ning site will give us the opportunity to quickly share and find out about these types of projects, give us contact points and enable us to create our own inner community supporting one another.
If you know of anyone who might benefit from knowing about the Community Garden Network and its online presence, please help us get the word out and point them in the direction of the new site here.
Maybe a sense of community is something you develop as you get older and perhaps it’s one of the reasons that social media is so important in many people’s lives in that somewhere along the line we’ve lost that sense.
Yes we come into this world alone and we’ll be leaving it alone, but life’s sure a lot easier when there are people around to support, befriend and care in the middle.