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FACT: Climate Change is Happening ~ What Can We Do?

April 13, 2014
The Greatest Threat to Earth

Credit: Emilys Quotes

As news of the recent  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report filters into our news stream and the realisation that time is running out for us to adapt to the massive changes in climate that will become our norm, my mind has turned to lawnmowers. Yes, those innocuous little machines that millions of us push or steer up and down our gardens on sunny days in a never-ending battle against nature.

The new IPCC report, where 1200 scenarios from scientific literature were analysed, show that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change, with emissions growing more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades. 

We’ve known for years that our dependence on fossil fuels has to change and that we’re going to have to alter our lifestyles as global warming and climate extremes begin to affect us all, but have we been sticking our heads in the sand? How did emissions grow so quickly when we knew there were problems up ahead? Cutting emissions from electricity production to near zero is commonly featured in the report’s scenarios. But using energy efficiently is also important.

So how can we make a difference? Where, individually, do we begin?

It strikes me that we have to start with a change in mindset and shake away some habits and beliefs of old, before the planet decides it’s fed up waiting for us, and strips them away fast.

Many of us are caught in fossil fuel traps that we can’t see our way out of. Thanks to the economic downturn, we can’t afford to change our cars to more fuel-efficient models however much we’d like to; public transport doesn’t exist for rural dwellers and solar panels are a pipe dream when we’re struggling to pay our day-to-day bills. We’ve switched to energy-efficient light bulbs, turned down the heating and we’re saving water which is all well and good, we’re doing our bit, but what else can we do? Surely it’s up to our governments and policy makers to see us through and make the right decisions for us?

Maybe not entirely. It’s easy to throw our hands up and think that our reliance on fossil fuels is someone else’s problem, but it’s not. We have to take responsibility for our actions and choices, both in our business’ and our homes.

So with that in mind, my eyes have turned to our trusty lawnmower.

We’ve been thinking about the redundant area that is our lawn for a while but it was following my recent visit to the eco village of Cloughjordan, a lawn free environment, that our lawnmower’s days became numbered. It didn’t worry me that the naturalised grasses growing between the houses there were knee-high because, as a chemical free gardener, I was too busy thinking what a fantastic place it was for wildlife and beneficial insects to live in too. Being in a lawn free zone made me question our own lawn making habits.

In our garden that was fashioned from a farmer’s field, we sowed a tough grass seed lawn “for our children”, yet the reality is that kids enjoy hiding in long grass, making secret dens away from the adults. Now they’re older they have sports pitches in the village they’re throwing, kicking or hitting balls around in every week, they’re hardly ever in our garden sitting on the lawn!

Irish CornflowerAs I was trundling my petrol driven lawnmower up and down once again, having locked it in the shed for the past six months, I was thinking about the fuel it was using and the time and effort it takes to cut the grass every week, and I wondered why we do it? How or why did this lawn mowing fashion begin? Was it some unconscious desire to prove we can tame nature or was it just because a perfectly clipped lawn ‘looks good’?

I grew up in a house with a lawn, all my neighbours had lawns, when I was renting I dreamt about a house with a lawn so it was by default that when we bought a house we’d sow one. A lawn looks pretty when it’s just been mowed, it’s the socially acceptable thing to do and that makes us feel good but on reflection, gazing at a field full of wildflowers can provoke a much deeper emotional response from many of us than admiring a stripey green lawn.

Mixed WildflowersAs a result of our realisation that mowing a lawn is a complete waste of time and energy, Mr G and I are now deliberating over the alternatives, which include:

1. Buy a couple of lambs to graze it, with a view to them finding their way into the (A rated) deep freeze.

Pink Wildflower2. Extend the veg garden and grow a lot more vegetables.

3. Buy a couple of piglets and let them turn the grass over so that in the long-term we can..

4. Plant a wildflower garden.

We haven’t decided yet. I think we may have to dig out the self-sufficiency books, put pen to paper with a few ideas. But whatever happens, the lawnmower will not be used as much as it once was. For the moment it’ll be pulled out of the shed to mow the paths between the vegetable beds, with the clippings used as a mulch, until we widen the beds and make them even more productive.

Wildflower MeadowWhat’s important right now is that we make changes to our behaviour, however small and seemingly inconsequential. We have to consider the impact we’re having on the environment, the landscape around us and how much we’re contributing to global warming and climate change.

What do you think? Could you ditch the lawnmower or have you already done so and have never looked back?

* The Press Release released today from Working Group III of the IPCC can be viewed here.



Community Food Schemes – Time to Make Changes?

April 6, 2014
Essex Landscape ~ Photo Credit: Martin Pettitt

Essex Landscape ~ Photo Credit: Martin Pettitt

How do you feel about large supermarkets these days? I’ve become increasingly frustrated with them and in particular since the pre-Christmas price wars that once again highlighted the fact that since their arrival in our slightly out-of-town shopping centres with their free parking, that village and town high streets have been slowly boarding up their windows and closing down.

It niggles me that supermarkets manipulate us to buy certain goods, that we repeatedly fall for their wiley ways, and that ultimately what we’ve gained in the convenience of being able to buy everything on our shopping lists under the one roof, we’ve lost by our village and town high streets losing their souls.

Rural Life

A big chunk of my childhood was spent growing up in a village store in a rural area of south-east of England. For years, Mum got up at dawn and for 6 days a week headed to one of the cold, draughty outbuildings in the 200-year-old property that was part of our shop and home. She’d take delivery of the piles of newspapers that were delivered, ensuring they were ready for the paper boys and girls to sort and post through doors before they headed on to school. On Sundays Dad and I completed the entire paper round delivery, giving mum and the rest of the gang and well needed lie-in.

During the weekdays, Dad would head off for work and Mum would walk with us down the long, quiet lanes past the fields of potato pickers to our school, before heading back home and opening up the shop. She’d spend the day chatting with customers, listening to all the village gossip, its highs and woes, and often times just being a point of contact for isolated men and women. When Mum locked the doors at night, she came in to the kitchen, lit the fires, prepared a home cooked dinner, before sending us off to bed to give her some quiet time to attend to the shop accounts, staff wages and other associated paperwork that are part and parcel of small business life.

Photo credit: Angus Kirk

Photo credit: Angus Kirk

Mum sold everything from fruit, veg, meat, bread, stationary, sweets, groceries, slippers, cement and kerosene and our weekly family outing was to the cash and carry. Mum was  renowned for her home baked ham. My Dad also drove a van full of food around the village once a week, so that people without transport could top up their cupboards, offering an early model of food delivery that was commonplace back then. Ours was a typical village in its time, with a doctor’s surgery, a police station, a bakery, school, pub, church and post-office, as well as a mixture of council and privately owned properties. I learnt a lot about hard work and the importance of communities, growing up in the hive of one.

On reflection my upbringing is probably the key to what makes me so passionate about community now and my gives me the drive to help make necessary changes that might ensure our children’s survival over the coming years as we face the uncertainties of food sovereignty in a warming environment..

However, this isn’t a post about my childhood or the big, bold supermarkets that have become our blessing and our curse. It’s about a movement that’s rippling across Ireland that with our help, can make significant changes to the way we approach food and to individually become involved with the nexus way of thinking mentioned a short while ago on world water day. This post shares a few ideas about something we can do to claw back some of the best parts of a community lifestyle – the companionship and our relationship with food from producers to smaller shops and ultimately us, the consumers.

CSA Conference, Cloughjordan

Photo credit: Oliver Moore

At the weekend a group of very committed people travelled from afar to share experiences and knowledge at the third CSA conference held in Cloughjordan Eco village.

Expertly facilitated by Davie Philips, we came together to talk about real, honest to goodness food in the form of community assisted agriculture (CSA), community food co-ops, community food buying schemes, community shops and community gardens.

If this is a new way of thinking to you and not something you’ve come across before, here’s a quick run down of just a few of the projects that are currently being run in Ireland that might give you ideas to initiate or get involved with in your area.

Cloughjordan Eco Village Hostel Menu

Cloughjordan Eco Village Hostel Menu

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Cloughjordan eco village were the first community I heard of that practice this model of producing food for the people, and are by no means the only one. If you’re interested in finding out more, their community farm runs tours and training events to promote and educate others about setting up and operating their own CSA.

The concept of a CSA projects is very simple. Instead of going to a shop and paying for your provisions as you need them, when you become a member of a CSA you pay a regular contribution (sometimes upfront) that covers the wages of the growers as well as the running costs and admin of the operation. In return, food is delivered to a central point for you to collect.

The food is fresh, it’s seasonal and the producers care passionately, not only about the sustainability of the farm and produce (in Cloughjordan’s case, the food is grown biodynamically and organically) but about growing the most optimally nutritious food they possibly can that hasn’t been diluted by industrialisation.

As a consumer and member of a CSA, you have the challenge of eating and cooking seasonally throughout the year, but the knowledge of exactly where your food has come from and how it was grown with no packaging, retail and very few transportation costs. You might even have given a few hours helping the farm out at a busy time and you’re certainly able to watch your food growing, but not have the worry of growing it yourself.

rocketCommunity Co-ops/Groceries and Food Buying Schemes

The essence of a co-operative is that the business is owned by and run for the benefit of its members (and not directors and shareholders). Membership is made up of both the consumers who shop there and the workers who work there. Membership is open to all.

Dublin has an established food co-op and Oliver Moore recently shared the story in his blog of Limerick Community Grocery’s journey. It’s early days for them but the fact that the group involved with the project in Limerick are hoping to make their’s the first cooperative city, is inspirational.

Community Food Buyer Schemes

These schemes work on the premise that buying in bulk is cheaper. By pooling their buying power and ordering food in bulk direct from suppliers, a group of people can buy good food at a more affordable prices.

Small food co-ops or buying groups work by collecting together everyone’s orders in advance, other models are run more like food businesses and order the produce from suppliers and then sell it to their customers via stalls, bag or box schemes, mobile stores, shops or other types of outlet. OOOBY’s would be an example of this scheme working well, with one in operation in Wicklow at Carriag Dulra Permaculture and Organic Farm for some time now.

Community gardens

Community gardens are usually small food gardens where the work and the resulting produce is shared. They’re generally too small to provide food for all the gardeners to take home or to set up box schemes, but they’re good social spaces that encourage and educate people about food and in particular vegetable growing. People can learn how to grow their own food in community gardens and take the knowledge home with them and replicate it, or they can just drop in and get their hands dirty, happy that they are at least connecting with the soil on a weekly basis. Community gardens can be incubation tanks for other projects such as those mentioned above and are increasingly being used to teach people how to create small, social enterprise projects.

Meet the CheesemakersSlow food

This is a non-profit member supported organisation that showcases sustainable agriculture and artisan food production, connecting producers with consumers, often educating the public where food comes from, how it’s produced and helping to create positive social change. Keith Bohanna of Biabeag has been working with Highbank Organic Orchards recently to hold regular “meet the food producer” slots that have been very popular. At these events small food producers honestly share the highs and lows of their profession and passion. As the community gardeners I worked with found out at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival last year, when consumers connect with food producers, we’re much more likely to buy from them.

CSA Conference Outcomes

There are many more initiatives happenings round the country and one of the outcomes of the CSA conference is that a list will be made of all the known ones that we will be able to find and link into.  If there isn’t a food co-op, CSA or community garden near you, an opportunity to create one is being encouraged.

Get involved

Duncan Stewart at CSA Conference Photo Credit: Bruce Darrell aka @cjredgardens

Duncan Stewart at CSA Conference Photo Credit: Bruce Darrell aka @cjredgardens

TV presenter Duncan Stewart is spearheading a “Get involved” campaign with local newspapers, a local sustainable community initiative that will encourage every community to become more food or energy aware. The scheme hopes that projects will link up and to a certain extent, compete with one another, and that all the knowledge learnt can be shared.

The Get Involved campaign will give every one of us the opportunity to become more connected at community level and offer us the chance to take back some control over what we eat and how it’s produced.

It will only work if we do as the campaign title suggests and “get involved”. I for one, am really looking forward to hearing more and supporting the community gardens I work with to come up with ideas for this initiative and I hope you will too. I would love to see a CSA scheme set up in my own area but whether it happens or not will depend upon the will of the people.

So what do you think? Am I living in the romantic past or do you think we have it in us to take back control of our food systems in time to survive the challenges global warming will throw at us? We live on a small island with a small population that’s more than capable of feeding itself. Have we got it in us to do it, to make the necessary changes and to reconnect with our food?

photo credit: Martin Pettitt via photopin cc
photo credit: Anguskirk via photopin cc

Community Gardens

When things go wrong in Community Gardens

February 6, 2014

For the past few years I’ve been blogging about all the positive aspects of being involved with a community garden. I’ve shared the social, physical and mental benefits we all experience, the fun, the laughter and the feelings of belonging and friendship that develop as groups evolve.

photo credit: Mechanekton via photopin cc

photo credit: Mechanekton via photopin cc

However, I wouldn’t be giving an honest, rounded view if I didn’t admit that sometimes things go wrong. As with any community in life, be it family, club, school, workplace or college environment, people fall out. It’s human nature. We might take offence at a throw away comment, not think before we speak, talk too much and not listen. We might not share the same objectives or like it or not, we might just generally be a pain in the backside because we don’t know or haven’t learnt to behave any better.

The fact is, conflict exists and some of us deal with it better than others. We’re not all born the same, naturally equipped to deal with insults, misunderstandings or hurt. Isn’t that what’s supposed to be great about being human, our differences? What’s important when conflict does rear its ugly head however, is how well we deal with it as it arises and that we don’t ignore or run away from it.

Conflict and Community Gardening

Conflict within our groups in one form or another is an issue that most coordinators and tutors will come across during their working lives, and yet it’s not something the majority of us are trained to deal with. Large, charitable organisations such as Scouting Ireland offer excellent and compulsory leadership development programmes for their volunteer leaders, but what about the rest of us who don’t have access to those opportunities?

We scratched the surface of conflict management in Cork on Saturday at the Community Gardens Ireland meeting in Knocknaheeney/Hollyhill when Thomas Reidmuller of The Hollies spent a few hours with the group sharing his knowledge of some soft skills that coordinators and tutors might find helpful.

Thomas offers conflict, communication and mediation training courses or one on one training in various centres around Ireland and is in the process of delivering a three-part, in-depth course in Cloughjordan Eco Village on Community Conflict Resolution and Mediation.

Community Gardening Tutors Want to Make a Difference

Every community garden tutor and coordinator I’ve met is passionate about their work. We want to help, we want to make a difference, we want to share our knowledge and skills and make the world a better place and it’s great to hear that there are communication and skills workshops in place that can help us. However, as usual there’s an obstacle. Most gardening tutors don’t have the funds to pay the kind of fees to attend these weekends. We’re not working in an industry that’s known for its high wages and even ETB paid tutors, who do receive good tutoring rates, might only pick up a few hours a week here, and a few more there.

Community gardening in Ireland is growing in popularity. Although I can’t give you exact figures as yet (we’re working on it!), as a coordinator of the Network, a purely voluntary organisation, I’m hearing about new gardens springing up on an almost weekly basis. As an example, the Network’s Donegal rep, Joanne Butler of OurGanic has recently taken over the coordination of five new gardens and in Cork, the Food Policy Council are planning to free up space throughout the city to bring people together who want to engage in growing. From my own perspective, I’ve been busy quoting and designing community garden projects in and around Carlow and Kilkenny and further afield too.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

So what’s the answer?

Having listened to comments made at this month’s meeting and as one of its founding members, I’d really like to see the network in a position where it can offer heavily subsidised training to community garden coordinators and tutors or anyone who wants to set up community gardens in their area.

When asked for feedback on Saturday, coordinators and tutors flagged areas they’d like to develop their skills in. Conflict management, filling out grant applications and seeking funding, as well as the many other projects that tutors and coordinators get involved with aside from their usual horticultural activities were highlighted. As agencies and policy makers look to trainers, who are in the most part self-employed, to help them develop projects that include social enterprise and social inclusion, we need the training to be able to do that to our best ability.

And to do that we need to attract some funding.

So this is a plea. If you know of anyone or anyhow or anyway, that Community Gardens Ireland, whose aim is to support community gardens, allotments and CSA’s in Ireland and Northern Ireland, can get access to such funding or sponsorship, please leave a comment below or contact me directly via the channels above.

We’ll be forever grateful. Thank you 🙂