Urban vegetable gardening has been described as a “grassroots revolution”, a desire by city dwellers to connect with nature, take control of what they eat and to build supportive networks. Finding the space to do this in a city setting demands sheer determination, persistence and, an optimism that obstacles will be overcome. These are qualities to be found in spadefuls amongst the members of Dublin Community Growers (DCG). Their Community gardens are in varied locations around the city – on former abandoned brownfield sites, strips of neglected verge – with over 30 gardens now thriving.
Recently, Marion Kelly was voted in as Chair of the DCG and I went along to meet her.
Congratulations Marion on your appointment, the first female Chair. Do you think gender matters?
I think it’s important in all aspects of society to have a gender balance. Women can bring certain qualities to the role and, very often, are under -represented on Committees, due to family commitments. Many women work in the Community gardens and their voice has to be heard.
What exactly is Dublin Community Growers?
There was no legislation, no template in place for setting up a community garden, so a meeting was called by Willie Morrow at Dublin City Council for interested parties to share ideas, discuss problems, and DCG grew out of that. We meet to share good practice, encourage each other, share our knowledge . There are important issues like dealing with insurance, applying for grants, growing in an urban setting, which are better discussed and shared. We are stronger together.
What has been your involvement?
I grew up on a smallholding but living in an urban environment presented challenges – finding space to grow my own food. There was a strip of vacant land close by which, sadly, encouraged anti-social behaviour, a den for homeless people and, when the bushes were cleared, a dogs toilet. I could see its potential – nearby is a beautiful square, the outlook is nice and the land is backed by a nice red-brick wall. About 4 years ago, with the encouragement of DCC, we started Serenity Community Garden on this piece of land. Now we have fruit bushes and trees; we grow lettuce, tomatoes, runner beans, kale, onions, garlic, courgettes. This month we’ll be cleaning-up, pruning, improving the soil quality and preparing for the growing season ahead.
Why do you think it’s important to Grow Your Own?
I believe everyone has a right to grow their own food; just because you live in a city, you shouldn’t be excluded. By growing your own, you are empowering yourself, taking control over the food you eat.
Every child should have access to a garden, access to a green space. Children need nature, and an understanding of where our food comes from. There has been such a disconnection between modern urban children and their connection to nature. Community gardens help address this.
Have there been any difficulties and how have you overcome them?
Like many of the gardens, we were concerned about anti-social behaviour. We wondered about fencing but decided to leave it open and mark the boundary instead with willow. It’s important to get the local community on board and we visited each house to discuss our plans. One has to be very determined and thick-skinned. Now, those who were initially reluctant, like to visit the garden. Our biggest success has been our composting facility, after an initial period of educating people, it is working successfully and used by all.
What support have you had from Dublin City Council?
In my area, we have been very lucky, getting positive and supportive advice but this can be patchy across the city. The best support comes from the experience of other Community Growers.
How can someone get involved in a DCG garden, and do they need to be experienced gardeners?
Anyone can come and volunteer to work in the garden. If they are inexperienced we can give them a job they can manage. I want them to be happy in the garden and link up with nature. We usually work in Serenity on Saturday mornings in winter, sometimes evenings in summer.
If anyone wants to find out where their local garden is they can look at our website http://www.dublincommunitygrowers.ie (or public libraries should have a copy of the Guide to Community Gardens) which lists contact details and opening times.
All over the city there are community gardeners growing their own food for the first time and delighted with the results, why not join them?
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(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back.)