I once lived in the gardening equivalent of an “ivory tower”.
I kept chickens, had an orchard of Heritage apples, composted, recycled and grew my own veg, organically of course.
And I would probably now be blogging smugly about it.
Then I moved to the city.
And it was here that I noticed the determination, drive, community spirit, inventiveness and sheer niceness of those who struggle to grow their own vegetables where land to do so is very scarce.
So this is their story, not mine.
Dublin’s Urban Farm is very difficult to find, though it’s in the very centre of the city – just very high above our heads!
In 2012, Andrew acquired the roof space on top of the old Chocolate factory in King’s Inn Street and set about recycling containers to grow potatoes and making raised beds, of old scaffold boards, to support a variety of vegetables.
The views up here, across Dublin’s skyline of church spires to the Dublin mountains beyond, are amazing. Worth the four flights of stairs to reach it. I wondered about the effort and determination to drag scaffold boards, compost and all the other things necessary for this endeavour.
It is hoped that a city composting facility, run by Paddy, will be up and running, liaising with local restaurants.
In a room below, a hydroponics unit is also being set up whereby fish waste will fertilise the plants growing above.
An enterprise like this needs real drive and hard work to succeed and I wish them well as they resolve any difficulties and build on their successes.
Recently, this return to GYO/GIY was the subject of the opening address, at the Ballymaloe Garden Festival.
Darina Allen spoke about the deep need to produce food locally once again. She had visited a number of projects in the US , including the 2.5 acre Brooklyn Grange (http://www.brooklyngrangefarm.com/) roof garden.
She described this Food Movement – the need to return to growing our own food – as a “Grassroots Revolution”.
70% of Ireland’s population live in urban or semi-urban areas and therefore it is their needs, to access space to grow and the skills and confidence to do so, which have to be addressed.
Michael Kelly, who spearheaded Ireland’s Grow It Yourself movement (http://www.giyinternational.org/), spoke about “food empathy” when you grow your own. Food growers tend to recycle more, compost more and are prepared to pay more for quality produce.
He highlighted how ridiculous our food chain had become – last year Ireland produced enough food to feed 35 million people (in a population of 5 million) yet imported a staggering Euro5 billion of food!
One organisation trying to do something about the difficulty of growing food in an urban environment, where allotments are few and available land scarce, are the Dublin Community Growers.
I have sung their praises before.
This week I visited another of the Community Gardens – Scoil Colm Community Garden in Crumlin, in Dublin’s south side.
This is an initiative by “Walk”, an organisation for people with intellectual disabilities which enables them to live self-determined lives. When I visit, I am taken round the project by Hubert. He has been working there with the staff of Walk and its service users , providing a learning experience and an aura of calm, and the results are impressive.
The first glance inside the polytunnel evinces a “Wow” ! Colourful, cheerful and well-organised.
The garden is situated on a piece of land behind Scoil Colm, and Hubert aims to involve the pupils there too in practical sessions on food growing.
Why aren’t all schools doing this? Access to land / time in the curriculum/ teachers with the skills?
He has also involved the early school leavers from the Youthreach programme adjacent to the Community garden.
Their workshop constructed the wonderful raised beds and, in the art department, they decorated them.
Thus, involvement across the community is summed up in the shamrock badge.
Inside the polytunnel, one is overwhelmed by the wholesome and decorative produce – many varieties of tomato, aubergines, chilis, melons.
The chef from Youthreach arrives to pluck some veg which the students will then cook for lunch.
There are even ancient grapevines, Cabernet Sauvignon, scrounged after a smart Wine Exhibition closed.
Cape gooseberries are being grown for use in a restaurant.
The educational aspects are highlighted by clear signs explaining about the food being grown.
Food growers are wonderful at recycling, reusing, and sharing their expertise and Hubert conveys his passion for growing in a gentle and humourous way – how lucky those young people are to benefit from his lifetime of experience.
My taste buds exploded as he plucked cherry tomatoes or the delicious Yellow Pear for me to try.
The greenhouse was constructed from plastic bottles with the aid of the schoolboys of Scoil Colm and the Youthreach teenagers – learning from the experience and giving them ownership of it.
It is this involvement by the service users of Walk, the pupils of Scoil Colm and the teenagers of Youthreach which is very impressive.
It is essential that we involve our youth in the process of food growing.
Inside the greenhouse, onions hang to dry.
Of course, I wasn’t allowed to leave emptyhanded.
What a delicious salad and ratatouille I had afterwards.
Didn’t I mention what lovely people Grow Your Owners are?
(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back).
Community gardeners from Dublin Community Growers will be holding their Harvest Festival in Wolfe Tone Square on Sat 14th Sept from 12 to 5pm. They will be able to answer any questions on the subject of food growing.