One of the early decisions made by the Community Garden Network was that we would aim to meet every three to four months in different venues around the entire island, making it as inclusive as we could. Not only would people be able to meet virtually, they would have the opportunity to meet in person too.
We began in Dublin then moved to Athlone, Derry, Leitrim and on the 1st February it was the turn of Cork, with Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill community garden hosting members who travelled from afar to attend a communication skills workshop and networking event.
Twenty four community gardeners, coordinators and trainers met for a day of learning, sharing and just getting to know one another in a community garden that’s been growing under the guidance and tutelage of Aisling O’Donoghue and more recently, with the addition of team member Conor Lynch.
I asked Conor and Aisling a few questions about how the garden was being operated and funded in the hope that we can all learn from their experience.
Q. How many days a week is the garden open and a gardening tutor available?
The garden is open Monday to Thursday from 11am to 4pm all year round. During last summer volunteers came up during the weekend to water the plants. This worked well and will be done again this year.
Q. How long has the community garden been open and how did it come about?
The Garden was officially opened 18 months ago. The process of having a garden came from a Safe Food funded project that began way back in 2008. This project looked at the local community and food. Research was carried out and the need for a space like the garden emerged. A derelict site that was very visible in the community was handed over by Cork City Council to be managed by the N.I.C.H.E community health project as a community garden and local amenity for all in the community.
Q. Cheeky question Conor, who pays your wages? Are you self-employed, funded or do you have an employer?
NICHE community health project employ both Aisling and myself for 21 hours per week.
Q. Gardens need a certain amount of money for seeds, equipment etc. How is the community garden itself funded?
The Knocknaheeny area of Cork city is part of an urban regeneration programme under Cork city council. Funding came from this programme, with the garden part of the social side of regeneration. Safe Food have funded the project in the past. Also we apply for small grants from different organisations, such as Local Agenda 21.
Q. What kind of groups attend the community garden? Who does it attract?
Classes from local primary and secondary schools come along as well as groups doing FETAC horticulture courses in the local adult education college. We also have groups from the National Learning Network, Cope foundation (local organisation for people with intellectual disabilities), a Food Club made up of local people and other locals who make up the gardening group.
The garden hosts regular events/festivals. Last year we had our official launch, a harvest festival, Halloween party and a week-long winter garden festival for Christmas. We also take part in Cork’s annual Life Long Learning Programme. This year we have many events planned including an Easter egg hunt and a summer solstice celebration.
Q. How do you expect the garden will develop?
For the future we would hope to see the development of a vegetable box scheme to promote access to local, organic produce to people in the area and to help fund the garden. This was trialled last year and was a success. We are looking into social enterprise opportunities and will learn more about this at the next CGN network meeting in May in Waterford.
We will be encouraging other local groups and organisations to get involved. We are continually promoting the garden so that new potential volunteers may be encouraged to visit the garden. We work from community development principles and attempt to encourage as diverse a group of people as possible to use the garden. More development is planned for the land adjoining the community garden with the potential to expand the garden and also provide allotments for people in the area.
That’s a lot of tips, thanks Conor!
Using skills that are in the community
Apart from the many other benefits I’ve mentioned before about being involved with community gardens, they also offer people the opportunity to use and share skills they might once have earned their livings from, but haven’t practised for a while due to illness or unemployment. Some very skilful examples of carpentry, bricklaying and stone masonry were very clear in the Knockdaheeny/Hollyhill community garden.
Our day was a ‘Code Orange’ in terms of weather alerts with wind and rain hammering the garden, but it didn’t deter the interest shown and highlighted the value of having a onsite training room and large polytunnel that anyone interested in gardening can take advantage of.
There were lots of examples of upcycling around the garden, giving the opportunity for community gardeners to show off their inventiveness when it comes to reusing ‘stuff’.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed visiting and hearing about the community garden. I’ll be running a series of Focus posts over the coming months, sharing tips and information on how other community gardens are being run or funded. If you don’t want to miss them you can sign up to receive the Greenside Up blog posts by email in the box at the side or bottom of the page, depending upon what device you’re viewing it on.