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No such thing as 'a derelict site'
- Ballybane Organic Community Garden, Galway

By Seamus Diskin Development worker

Seamus Diskin writes about how it took hard physical work - and everything from community co-operation to sourcing seaweed - to turn a derelict site into Ballybane Organic Community Garden. This is the full article - a briefer version was pubished in Issue 27 of 'Changing Ireland':

Ballybane Community Garden was set up on the east side of Galway City about three years ago. An area of about half an acre of public land in the ownership of Galway City Council was fenced and a community group was established to operate and manage the Garden. From the outset, it was decided that the Garden would operate according to Community Development Principles: inclusion, collective action, consultation and participation of those involved. In addition it was decided that the Garden would operate to strict organic standards.

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ORGANIC ACTIVIST

To this end, the project was fortunate to secure the service of Cait Curran, an organic grower who sells produce at Galway city's historic Saturday Market, and who is an activist promoting Ireland's organic horticulture. She was and continues to be employed as a tutor under the VEC's Adult Education programme as an organic gardening instructor.

NEGLECTED FOR YEARS

There were, as one would expect, many challenges and problems to be overcome in the early stages. The piece of earth in question was on the site of a City Council reservoir and had been neglected for years. The initial task of clearing and tilling the ground unearthed a motley variety of litter, scrap, builder's debris and stones.

THIN TOPSOIL

The topsoil was thin and not of the best quality which is a characteristic of a lot of land in the West. The site was on relatively high ground and exposed to the westerly gales so prevalent along the western seaboard. In addition there was some concern that the Garden may become a target for vandalism and anti social behaviour. With the determination of a group focussed on acting collectively, the ground was dug over by hand, bit by bit, and cleared of docks, thistles and ragworth. Scutch grass was pulled out and ridges began to take shape.

TRANSLATING RHETORIC INTO ACTION

The rhetoric of the City Council's supportive statements were actively pursued to translate their words into physical actions of the hard-pressed and hard-working Council ground crews. Persistence and persuasion yielded several tractor loads of topsoil.

FREE ORGANIC MANURE

In Nature's beautiful balanced way, the winter westerly gales threw up tonnes of excellent organic manure on the nearby Ballyloughane beach, and the Council crews loaded and transported it to the Garden, rather than to the spoil heap where it is usually dumped. The rain washed the seaweed and it became the essential input to the potatoes, cabbages, lettuce and carrots, has it has done on the Western seaboard for hundreds of years. The palisade fence was painted green and windbreak mesh was fixed to the fencing. This softened somewhat the gales that threatened to flatten the crops and also softened the harshness of galvanised palisade.

BY AND FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

The significant advantage of the site was that it was centrally located in Ballybane along Castlepark road and opposite the Credit Union and near the Catholic church. From day one it was perceived as being something that was a community endeavour, by and for local people. A local art group created a wonderfully colourful large sign proudly proclaiming “Ballybane Organic Community Garden” for all to see. Many people passing by on foot or waiting at the bus stop observed the work and effort that was going into creatively transforming one piece of unused land into something productive and positive within their own community. This contributed in no small part to three years of operation without a single adverse intrusion into the garden.

SECURITY WAS NECESSARY

The participants were also extremely proactive in ensuring that the gate was always locked and a watchful eye kept from the neighbouring houses. Every action is checked to ensure that the Garden does not become a target: tools are removed or cleverly concealed out of sight, and stones are never left outside the fence. Litter is cleared meticulously and everything is exposed to open view: anyone can see that there is nothing there worth stealing.

WE STARTED WITH A COMPOST HEAP

A compost heap was the first element to be installed and progressively other elements were added: a tea hut (open on one side) was built and decorated by artistic members of the group providing invaluable shelter for a social space and a cuppa tea and a biscuit; a polytunnel was purchased and erected providing an extended growing season and the delight of tomatoes, courgettes and French beans; a pond was dug and lined and forms the centrepiece of a wildflower and herb plot; and a group of people with learning disabilities planted a cluster of sunflowers and over time, the sunflower has become the motif of the Garden: flower power in the 21st century!

PARTICIPATION

The Garden has a no commitment policy although many participants are hugely committed, anyone, Traveller, settled Irish and migrant, young and old, abled and disabled, is welcome to join in the work and craic and take away their fair share of whatever is ready to eat that day. There are about 25 regular participants and many more who have participated in some way. There are those who want to talk without weeding and those who want to weed without talking. People do what they can and nobody expects any more. There are tantrums and sulks, disagreements and harsh words, care and solidarity and above all laughter. Nature encourages us to work with her and when we do, she repays us not just with produce but with healthy mental and physical attitudes that overcome difference.

KEY DATES IN GARDEN'S DEVELOPMENT

There have been notable dates and events in the calendar of the Garden. The summer trip brings a bus of participants to see organic producers in the wider area. One year they went to Inis Mór on the Aran islands; another time they went to Poulataggle organic egg farm. The Harvest Day is another annual event when local people, interested groups from the city, the media and funders are welcomed to the Garden and fed with the produce. The collective action involved in this significant and it is a beneficial way of celebrating achievement. An organic gardening course was run part in a classroom and part in the Garden by the Organic Growers Skillnet. Trevor Sargent came to visit one day and donated the registration fee for the Garden to be properly registered with the Irish Organic Food Growers Association (IOFGA). Perhaps the most intimate date is the Bacon and Cabbage day, when the participants lunch on the first potatoes of the year cooked and eaten in the Garden.

FUTURE PLANS

The Garden was extended recently and now comprises nearly an acre and a half. Plans are under way to cater for more groups: a relaxing space for older people, a willow maze for the younger ones, a barbeque for teenagers, raised beds for people who cannot stoop, more space for vegetables, flowers, soft fruits and fruit trees, a propagation tunnel to germinate seeds… Who knows what the future will bring?”

SUPPORTERS

Ballybane Community Organic Garden has received support through: the Dormant Accounts Fund, Galway City Council, Galway City VEC, HSE West, Ballybane and Mervue CDP, Pobal, RAPID, and Galway Healthy Cities Project.

VISITORS WELCOME

Visitors are welcome to Ballybane. For more information contact:
Ballybane/Mervue CDP. T: 091-768305. E: cdp4@eircom.net. Or call Fiona Donovan from
Galway Healthy Cities 091-548518. E: fiona.donovan@mailn.hse.ie
Also, for more information, visit www.galwayhealthycities.ie.

Community Gardens: 'How To Guide'

The steering committee of the 'Growing in Confidence' Community Food Project has written a comprehensive 'How to Guide' for other groups wishing to start community gardens. The 'How To Guide' to organic gardening is freely available from a link on their webpage: www.theorganiccentre.ie/community_food_project The Organic Centre also incidentally sells a tremendous choice of seeds and you can avail of their online shop if you are unable to call personally.

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Benefits of Organic Community Gardens

“Community-based organic gardens not only help promote organic gardening skills and awareness of healthy eating, but also have a number of other benefits. There are health benefits from increased physical activity, and from consumption of fresh and affordable organic vegetables and fruit. Taking part in a community garden project is a very positive experience. It promotes social interaction and a great sense of shared achievement. It raises awareness of the environmental benefits of local organic food production, which generates fewer carbon emissions from 'food miles', and by using natural fertilizers and methods of weed and pest control, avoids the use of harmful chemicals. Generally, the project is a great encouragement to participants to continue growing organically for themselves, and in some cases, to consider growing commercially.” - Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim.

Community gain

Community Gardens, say the academics:
  • “enhance nutrition and physical activity and promote the role of public health in improving quality of life” - Brown, 2000, Milligan et al, 2004, Twiss et al, 2003.
  • “have been shown to build social capital and empower people in relation to their food choices” - Armstrong, 2000.

Ballybane shows how to sow and grow

Reports Allen Meagher

On September 11th, I arrived at the Ballybane Community Organic Garden in Galway city for the project's Open Day. It was a half-hour before the event drew to a close and I was very fortunate to go home with the last handful of organic tomatoes and a jar of chutney.

Trapped in a greenhouse with Barney and a dozen delighted children, I watched from the corner of my eye as visitors in the greenhouse next door tucked into the last of the vegetable soup, salads and humus. It was a sell-out gig.

garden

The atmosphere was great, with everyone chatting about organic gardening. Local experts were on hand to give tips and nutritionists and cooks attended to make sure people went home with something in their heads as well as in their tummies.

Three years ago, the area was wasteland.

Through the local Ballybane/Mervue CDP - in league with a host of other agencies who came together as part of the Galway Healthy Cities initiative - the Community Organic Garden was set up in 2004. The City Council provided the site, a gardener attends at regular times to advise novice gardeners, and kids from the crèches and schools are frequent visitors.

Participants from the local area have become experienced organic gardeners and groups have traveled from other towns and cities - for example, the PAUL Partnership in Limerick - to see if they can replicate Ballybane's success.

Of note to community groups struggling to increase participation - men love the gardening.

Foods grown to date include potatoes, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, coriander and runner beans.

The Ballybane Organic Garden Project is a joint project between Galway City Council, HSE West, RAPID, NUI Galway, the VEC and Ballybane/Mervue CDP. The HSE's Health Promotion Services coordinated the involvement of their Community Nutrition Department and Home Management Department. The Organic Garden is located near Ballybane Church.

Ballybane Garden is a beacon of hope
- says Minister

Minister of State for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent, visited the Ballybane Organic Garden Project on April 30th and predicted that it would become the first fully certified Community Organic Garden in Ireland.

The Minister said Ballybane was “a beacon of hope and community resilience against a backdrop of food insecurity worldwide and rising food prices.”

He told the 'Galway Independent' he was keen, working with colleagues in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, to formulate a policy nationally to promote community gardens similar to the Ballybane project.

In terms of agricultural development, Minister Sargent wants to see 5% of Ireland's land area used for organic production by 2012.

Community pushing Tipp town towards sustainability

Knockanrawley Resource Centre was the first CDP in the country to have an Organic Community Garden attached to the project, writes Allen Meagher. Now the CDP want Tipperary Town Council to vote in favour of a new policy proposal whereby they would turn over unused public land so communities can use it for organic cultivation.

In time, as the town awakens to sustainable development, there is no reason why this might not mark the beginning of Tipperary’s journey to become one of Ireland’s ‘Transition Towns’, a town ready to survive ‘Peak Oil’ and climate change.

The garden in Knockanrawley (over a half-acre of cultivated land) was established in 1997 after the local authority granted the CDP a 99-year lease.

The Garden was set up “as a resource to engage and train individuals and to increase awareness of environmental issues and sustainable development in our community.”

Ruth

Since ‘Changing Ireland’ visited the project in 2006, Knockanrawley’s gardeners have taken home top prizes for their produce and are contenders for All-Ireland titles in the future.

It began in January with the launch of the ABC project, or to use its full name the Allotment Back-garden Community-garden. The participants planned the garden, planted it and grew the produce, with advice from tutor, Marian Clarke.

“Eighteen people are involved with most of them coming from the CDP’s target groups,” said project co-ordinator Ruth Smith. “We reclaimed a patch of land and set up two ordinary allotments and one container allotment.”

The produce was outstanding so the group entered the Tipperary Town Show and won first prizes for their carrots, cabbage and spuds (beating competition from gardens using artificial fertilizer). The prize-winning produce was destined for the All-Ireland Vegetable championship to be held at the Tullamore Show. However, weather led to the event’s cancellation.

“We might have won, who knows. Not bad for our first year, eh!” stated Ruth.

Meanwhile, 2007 saw 16 women sign up for the Kite Back To Work initiative and they completed a Fetac Level 3 horticultural course. For this the participants worked in groups of four to a plot and produced onions, broadbeans, lettuce and potatoes. After harvesting, they stepped indoors and set to work using their produce in cookery classes in the community kitchen.

“We want people to learn about the nutritional properties of the food they grow,” said Ruth. “Also, we are very aware that there were zero food miles involved in the project. Through looking at the environmental impact of the food we produce, we aim to gain a greater understanding of the local / global issues at stake.”

Lately, the children have successfully developed their own garden area.

For more information, contact Knockanrawley Resource Centre, Tipperary Town, Co. Tipperary.
T: 062-52688. F: 062-52206. E: knockanrawley@eircom.net W: www.knockanrawley.ie
To read our 2006 report on Knockanrawley, check: www.changingireland.ie/ISSUE18.pdf

Dublin Food Growing network
- Food Security in the capital

In Irish cities, just as in most cities around the world, there is only a couple of days food supply at any given time. In the event of a truckers' strike or any other emergency the supermarket shelves would empty in a matter of hours.

greenfingers

Set up earlier this year, Dublin Food Growing is a network of people dedicated to increasing food security by encouraging people to grow food in the capitol. The aim is to connect anyone growing food, from the smallest scale (even apartments can have window boxes!) to allotments and community gardens right through to larger scale market gardens and commercial farms. They are involved with developing food growing projects, advocacy, research, policy, networking and education.

W: dublinfoodgrowing.org
E: dublinfoodgrowing@gmail.com

Community Supported Agriculture

Joining an ecovillage project is not for everyone and there are lots of ways that the principles of an ecovillage can be brought into existing communities. One way would be to start a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.

In Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, members of the Village have joined forces with the local community to start a CSA. They have hired a farmer and rent land in 3 different locations in the locality to produce as much food as possible. Members of the CSA make regular financial contributions to the farm which is their share in the start up and running costs for the operation. Next Spring, they will begin planting.

A CSA differs from a box scheme in that the members take a share in both the benefits and the risks. It means we become more conscious of what we are eating, much more than if we just buy food from someone else without really knowing its origins. It's the next best thing to physically growing our own. Also, as members one has the right to input into the scheme in different ways and to have one's opinion taken on board.

Looking at the bigger picture, CSAs promote food security in a local area and by concentrating on what grows well locally and by being able to adapt readily we can mitigate against at least some of the effects of climate change.

Cloughjordan CSA Contact: Pat Malone 087-133 8139.
For general info on Community Shared Agriculture:

www.soilassociation.org/csa

Sustainable development links

www.cultivate.ie
This organisation is responding to energy vulnerability and climate change by providing access to the knowledge and tools to cultivate sustainable lifestyles and resilient communities.

icarus.nuim.ie
The Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit (ICARUS) was established to improve our scientific understanding of climate change and its impacts on Ireland.

www.foe.ie
Friends of the Earth campaigns for environmental justice and sustainability.

www.seai.ie
Don’t build anything without checking out Sustainable Energy Ireland grants and recommended building approaches.

www.sustainable.ie
Sustainable Ireland’s website is a links-website connected to the Cultivate Centre, Powerdown Community, FEASTA, The Village, GM-Free Ireland, Sustainability, IDEA and Stop Climate Chaos.

www.sustainability.ie
The Sustainability Institute is the parent organisation that publishes ‘Sustainability’ magazine.