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self help africa


Do you have any climate change concerns?

September 19, 2015

One Person, One Promise

Electric picnic is over but one activity in Global Green stays with me. The team from Self Help Africa were encouraging festival goers to stop for a moment, write a couple of words or sentences onto sheets of paper and record our words for video.

We were asked to jot down our concerns about climate change on a piece of paper. Once done, we were asked to flip the paper over and note what we were already doing, or planning to do, to help reduce the effects of climate change in our own lives. The activity only took a couple of minutes but the message was powerful. It was a reminder that no matter how large the problem, we can make a difference if we all pledge to make small changes in our lifestyles.

The short video clip below from Self Help Africa shares the concerns and commitments people made:

Climate Change is Scary

Climate change is an enormous and potentially quite terrifying issue and a topic that’s easy for us to ignore or sweep under the rug while it doesn’t personally affect us. It seems too big an issue, too out of control. How could us mere mortals possibly make a difference?

However, writing down my pledge and watching everyone else make their own promises during the sunny weekend in Stradbally brought home to me the power of people. If everyone commits to make at least one change in their lifestyle, all the actions will combine to become a force to be reckoned with. Like a drop of water that produces a small ripple that grows to become a wave as more drops join it, our actions will make a difference.

Here’s a few examples of ways we can work to cut our environmental impact right now:

Shop Locally

Think for a moment if one of us said we were only going to shop locally from now on in. That would be great, we’d be supporting our local economy and every little bit helps. However, imagine if twenty of us in one area pledged to only shop locally. The difference it would make to a community in terms of work, employment and an invigorated sense of belonging would be phenomenal. This article explains how communities can come together to create food co-ops, community supported agriculture scheme or food buying clubs.

Stop Food Waste

Do you have any climate change concerns?Or how about Food Waste? We waste millions of tonnes of food, thrown out every year because we buy too much and don’t use it. Apart from the commercial waste caused by us not (being allowed) to eat perfectly shaped fruit and vegetables, householders alone could save up to €1,000 a year if they used everything they bought. If we all pledged to write a shopping list at the beginning of the week and only buy the food we plan to eat, the impact on food wastage would be tremendous. This would be an achievable and effective action.

The Thrifty Couple have created a ‘no waste meal planner’ that’s worth a look. They take the weekly shopping list one step further by writing down all the products in their cupboards that are approaching use by dates and finding recipes that will include them. 

Grow Your Own

Do you have any climate change concerns?

Grow Your Own Basil

Growing our own food was the single most important change we made to our lives in the Greenside Up household. In doing so it opened up a world of questions and answers about climate change, biodiversity, the soil, weather, food security, food sources, recipes, education, healthy eating and much, much more than we could possibly have imaged. As a result of wanting to know more about growing our own I went back to adult education, studied horticulture and started teaching beginners how to grow their own food.

Maybe we have to see our food growing as a tiny seedling to truly appreciate it; to watch it overcome and evade the pests, the weeds, its competitors, the water or lack of it, and feel delight as it grows into a plant that will feed and nourish us.

As much as I’d love to see it, I wouldn’t seriously expect everyone to pledge to grow their own fruit and vegetables. It can take time that many of us struggle to find. If however, people had a go at growing just one thing – a herb in container on a kitchen windowsill perhaps, or if they visited a community garden for a couple of hours a week, the connection between nature and food would be made and who knows where that might lead.

This thought-provoking article from the Sustainable Food Trust is worth considering as it highlights how our food choices will change in the coming years as our climate changes. We might have to learn how to grow our own tea and coffee!

Saving Water

Do you have any climate change concerns?There are many things we can commit to do, but on my own piece of white paper in the Self Help Africa tent I wrote down ‘save more water’. I’ve written several posts about this topic on the blog. We have a natural well that’s prone to running dry occasionally so know first hand how important it is to have clean, running water in our day-to-day lives.

Over the years Mr G and I have made changes to our daily habits that include turning the tap off when we brush our teeth or wash our hands. We’ve installed rain butts and an irrigation system to the polytunnel that runs from harvested rainwater. We’ve also placed a sink under the outside tap with a washing bowl making it easier to rinse brushes, vegetables and the like. Nevertheless, we have two teenage girls who could easily spend a half an hour each in the shower and that’s an issue that needs to be tackled. So far, asking them not to spend so much time standing under the running water hasn’t worked so perhaps we need to ramp up our game and install a shower timer, or flip the main fuse board switch a few times until they get the message.

We’ve also been meaning to place toilet ‘hippos’ into the cisterns, small devices that will half the amount of water flushed into the septic tank. Now is the time! If you decide to tackle your water usage, some of the tips linked above might help you.

Do you have any climate change concerns?The Power of One

By making one simple promise to save more water, I’m no longer overwhelmed by all the climate change problems I feel the need to tackle, and my sense of helplessness has diminished.

I’m concentrating my energies on one area, I am doing something about it, and that something WILL make a difference.

However, there’s power in numbers. Rather than trying to tackle the shower or water issues in our home on our own, I’ve realised we need to have this discussion with our kids. We might then collectively begin to tackle more issues and instead of it being just the adults who make the promise to reduce our environmental impact, our children would have a vested interest too and they won’t need cajoling.

Do you have any climate change concerns?Make a Commitment

Whether it’s making a promise to use less electricity, recycling or composting the waste, or a commitment to research alternative energies, an agreement to eat less meat or everyone to think about our car journeys and double them up, or cycle more, there are lots of actions we can take that won’t overly affect our standards of living but will collectively help to cut our impact.

Perhaps if we, as parents involve our children in these discussions and decisions so that they understand why we’re doing them, they’ll mention them to friends or school teachers, or at the very least grow up to think more responsibly about the planet too. Sadly, environmentalists are still seen by many as the minority, they’re the hippies on the edge of society, but the more small steps people take, the more usual everyone will seem. 

I use this quote a lot in my work life and never before has it rung so loudly as it does now in relation to climate change:

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. Helen Keller

Do you have any climate change concerns or have you started making changes to cut the effects of climate change in your own life? What issue will or have you tackled first? I’d really like to hear your thoughts.


Community Gardens

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

September 13, 2015

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Suzanne Campbell of RTE Drivetime asked me early on the Friday morning if festival goers at the Electric Picnic were ready for a community garden in the midst of their music and arts festival. I stumbled a response and it didn’t air – I wasn’t able to give a direct answer as we’d never done it before. Now the festival is over I’ve had time to reflect. I believe that EVERYONE can be ready for a community garden once they’ve been given the opportunity to experience and get a flavour of what they’re about, no matter where they appear.

A *recent study found that experiencing nature makes us more likely to want to save it. I wonder if Cultivate, before they invited several groups to create the pop-up community farm and garden at Global Green in Electric Picnic already knew that…

Creating a Community Farm & Garden at Electric Picnic

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?We only met once, several months earlier, but the groups involved in the garden share a passion for the environment, health and quality of food. Within the space of a few hours on the Thursday before the Electric Picnic opened to the public, we worked together to create an area of tranquility and calm in the midst of an eclectic, chaotic festival that was expecting around 50,000 people to pass through its gates. We quickly felt a tangible sense of acceptance as we pooled our plants, resources and ideas and enjoyed each others company as we did so.

We succeeded in creating a community garden that became a welcome retreat for some and a place for others to connect with like-minded people in as natural environment as you can build in a small, festival space. We created the garden with a few straw bales, a pile of pallet chairs and dozens of container grown fruit, vegetables and trees and it worked.

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?For three days, we were immersed in plants, people and music. We shared stories and conversations with people who are doing their best to make our world a better place, and were hugged for doing so. While we were there we learnt from and soaked up the positive energy from one another.

Community gardens allow us the opportunity for expression and connection and it’s one of the many reasons I’m so passionate about encouraging and supporting them.

The Community & Farm Garden in Global Green

If you keep reading, you’ll find out about some of the people involved in building this little garden in the Global Green eco-village, as well as some of the inspiring community projects taking place in Ireland, where people are making changes within their own communities.

Community Gardening by the Coast

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Festival goers stop by to paint stones

Festival goers saw some beautifully crafted surf boards and were able to paint beach stones brought along by an inspiring bunch of sun-kissed surfers who glowed with health and vitality.

The friendly young group from Moy Hill Community Garden are growing and swapping organic food on land they’ve now bought on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and by getting stuck in and digging, are attracting others to get involved in their garden by the sea too.

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?During the weekend passers by were encouraged to place tiny tiles in colourful mosaic patterns on circular boards

These were destined for the East Claire Community food co-op and cafe, a Scarrif Community Garden that now employs four gardeners and promotes the growth and sale of affordable fresh food, grown without chemicals.

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Flower Sprouts in Grow Bags

Urban Farming and Unusual Vegetables

As we walked and talked we stroked trays of microgreens perched on pallet seating, were inspired by potatoes growing in large water containers, and goggled at new hybrid flower sprouts brought along by the Urban Farm who, among many things, are showing teenagers how to grow food in urban Dublin.

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Niel Chills out with Percy Throwaway

The Community Gardens Ireland introduced several varieties of Andean vegetables that are growing in County Kilkenny, helping to highlight how limited our food choices are when we shop in supermarkets, and the fantastic food choices we have when we grow our own.

We also launched Percy Throwaway to the world, a steam punk bug hotel built by Mr G that offered many photo and learning opportunities.

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?Collaborative Growing

Festival goers were able to discuss the pros and cons of beekeeping and learn about, vertical pallet building and Master Composting schemes. They threw balls through cutouts and answered thought-provoking questions about nature and climate change in a game from Cloughjordan Community Farm.

In the Tipperary Eco village they grow food for families who are paying a regular fee to develop and run the farm that provides their vegetables throughout the year in their Community Supported agriculture scheme.

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

GreenMe encourage upcycling clothing

The Road to Paris

Friends of the Earth encouraged us to think about the Road to Paris, a campaign that aims to be the strongest and most influential voice, platform and process supporting a global climate change deal in Paris during COP21; while a talented puppeteer from Green Me performed an enchanting, twice daily show for children about growing seeds.

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?Fitness and Fun

Dublin Cycling Campaign showed us some quirky, homemade bicycle contraptions, built to encourage us away from our fuel pumping cars, whilst the Bike Institute encouraged fitness as punters raced against one another on static bikes to the tunes of various DJ spun tunes.

Climate and Seeds

Self Help Africa displayed wonderful photographic images that captured dusty villagers in Africa coping with the effects of climate change that the West have inflicted upon them. Irish Seedsavers invited us to play a human fruit machine game that saw festival goers leave with big smiles and small packets of seeds to plant at home.

Was the Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?Meditation and Art

Surrounding us all were charming yurts, an art-filled tent and a comfy, cosy tepee, as well as carefully crafted sculpture and trickling water that flowed from a natural feature, creating spaces and encouraging visitors to absorb or reflect.

Despite looking out on the Despacio big top and the funfair, a comment was made that the community garden was

“a haven in the midst of all the noise and crowds”

No better compliment for a garden. Everyone who took the time to visit us walked away with a smile, and a glimpse of how many of us are working in and with nature to create and promote richer, more connected ways of life in their communities.

Was Electric Picnic Ready for a Community Garden?

Giving people everywhere the opportunity to be in a community garden is an educating and enriching experience, no matter whether it’s on a rooftop, a two acre field or a small scrap of land.

The more people are able to visit, experience or work in community gardens, the more they’ll be likely to join, create or support them and as they do so, learn about the origins of food, soil, wildlife, food security and working with nature. Importantly, in an age that is becoming more disconnected as human interaction swings towards virtual, getting outside in a garden with people allows us the opportunity to continue to interact with one another.

Nature attracts us. Nature can calm and heal us. Nature connects us, and those of us who experience and love being surrounded by nature, simply want to save it.

Have you spent some time in the company of nature recently?

* Source: Mother Nature News.