- to teach youth responsibility, cooperation and ecological awareness.
- to offer a community meeting space.
- to be an active resource for sustainable organic gardening.
- to help the retired members of the community be active and share their knowledge with the younger generations.
- to offer community composting.
- to host creative workshops open to all.
- to promote nature conservation.
- to give the unemployed of the community a feeling of inclusion and participate in a wider project.
- to give residents opportunities to volunteer.
- to host and facilitate community festivals.
- to establish and maintain a butterfly garden and a bee haven.
Why a Community Garden?
We are becoming more and more distanced and unfamiliar with nature and our life-support system. Is is estimated (1) that the food we eat travels an average of 1300 miles from where it is produced, changing hands at least 6 times. There is a growing disconnection between consumers and their food sources, and this makes us forget the larger social and environmental impact of our food choices.
Of course, there are farmers markets everywhere in the area; however, to feed a family with food bought exclusively at these markets is not possible, as the cost would be too high compared to buying the same amount of food at the supermarket.
As urban and suburban areas continue to expand, Communities are losing the needed green spaces for relaxation, recreation and neighbourhood gatherings.
More and more often, the doom forecasts can be overwhelming: what can one single person do to improve his/her life and the Community?
Creating and tending to Community gardens is indeed a tangible way to affect positive change. The unemployed can set out in the morning to work his/her plot and bring home some food; the nonworking parent can walk to the Community Garden with the children and work alongside the (otherwise) lonely elderly lady whose grandchildren are not living in the area; the local School can organise “gardening days” to have the pupils help with weeding, tidying and learning basic food growing skills which reconnect the kids with nature.
Community Gardening can make significant contributions to Earth’s health and to the enrichment of our Community. Starting a Community Garden is empowering and fulfilling for all who are involved, to take responsibility and try to heal the ills of our World.
It is also sad news the Bee population in Ireland is under serious extinction threat. The All Ireland Pollinator Plan encourages everyone (farmers, gardeners, schools) to create havens and pit-stops for bees. A Butterfly Garden and a Bee Haven shall be established and maintained in the Community Garden. On 17th of September 2015 Ireland has become one of the few Countries in Europe who has developed a strategy to address pollinator decline (2).
The benefits of the finished Community Garden are numerous, for people and for the environment.
(1) Coming Home to Eat, Gary Paul Nabham, author and ecologist
(2) All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, published by the National Biodiversity Data Centre
What is a Community Garden?
A Community Garden is a piece of land shared by friends and neighbours for growing vegetables and flowers, providing opportunities for positive social interactions and recreation.
Where can a Community Garden be established?
- common land on a housing estate.
- allotment plots.
- hospital grounds.
- land owned by a charity for public benefit.
- land within existing parks and recreation grounds.
- old churchyards and cemeteries.
- school grounds.
- sub-urban fringe agricultural land.
- waste ground and derelict sites.
The only condition is that the land can be reached on foot by everyone in the Community, in particular the elderly: they must be able to reach the Garden safely and without the need of a car.
What do we need?
- A licence to allow short-term improvements on the site which will inspire the Community.
- A long term agreement giving the group security of tenure.
- A lease with a low rent (if no Community Owned Land is available).
- As few restrictions as possible, which would allow for example, the positioning of a garden shed to store the tools and a chicken co-op (must be easily removable).
What do we offer?
- By putting the land back into use for Community benefit, the owner will receive favourable publicity
- The Council will be helped to reach its service targets in education, facilities for children’s space, leisure and recreation, composting and environmental improvements
- The establishment of a Time Bank, aimed especially to help the most vulnerable members of our Community (elderlies who live alone, single parents, unemployed persons)
- A Butterfly Garden for the benefit of the local Schools (and the butterflies)
- A Bee Haven will be established and maintained in a common area, in line with the objectives of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan
- A focal point for Community Organising
1. Review and assess land options/contact owners, soil test if needed
2. Continue outreach, generating interest
3. Start drafting budget, listing garden needs, look for opportunities to raise funds
1. Finalise budget/start fundraising, looking for donations, apply for “Local Agenda 21 Environmental Awareness Grant”
2. Choose a site, negotiate lease
3. Plan the garden and determine rules and regulations
4. Sort out Insurance needs
1. Continue fundraising
2. Outreach—look for volunteers (to help develop site) and gardeners
3. Plan the garden layout
1. Organise the Gardeners: orientation, applications, waivers, fees, etc.
2. Finalise garden plan and assign plots
3. Gather all remaining materials needed—plants, seeds, tools, compost, etc.
1. Prepare and develop site.
- Establish a Committee: a meeting will be called in the Community Centre, or other suitable location, to establish the initial group who will work on the project.
- Publicise the Community Garden Project in the local News.
- Make a list of interested persons.
- Call a meeting for all those who showed interest in becoming members.
Choosing a Site
A number of parcels must be considered as potential Garden sites. The location of the Garden should be near the population who will use it and care for it. The land should be within walking distance of most of its gardeners.
The closer the Garden is to its gardeners, the more attention and care it will receive, the stronger the sense of pride and ownership. This is essential for the sustainability of the Garden.
- The plot must get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day during Spring, Summer and Fall.
- In regards to access to water, a number of water butts will have to be placed in the Garden.
- The plot must be relatively flat.
- The plot will need to be within walking distance from the Town Centre, for easy access to all residents.
- The plot will have to be visible from the street and pedestrian ares, so it will be safe and attract more neighbourhood support.
- The plot must be easily accessible from the street.
- The plot will require raised beds and fresh soil.
- The plot will have to be insured for Community garden use.
- The plot will have to be available for the years to come in order to grow.
- The plot will need some wind breaks in order to protect the plants, and this will hopefully be done by planting trees and shrubs around it, if they are not already in place.
- The plot will have to be cleared before use, taking care of starting a compost pile with the organic material removed.
What are the Benefits of a Community Garden?
Creating Community Gardens has been proven, over the years and all oven the World, to have many benefits,
including and not limited to these:
- It is a Community-building tool, creating opportunities for people to work together towards a common goal.
- Cleaning and using vacant lots, and making them look beautiful and “alive”.
- Reduce vandalism.
- Preserve sub-urban green spaces.
- Reduce stress and improve the mental wellbeing of Community Members.
- Beautify and enrich neighbourhoods and enhance their sense of identity.
- Show younger persons where food comes from.
- Teach practical math skills and basic business principles.
- Teach environmental sustainability.
- Offer life skills.
- Bring them closer to nature and allow them to interact with each other and with other generations in a socially meaningful and productive way.
- Provide new residents with a space where to meet their new neighbours and integrate with the Community.
- Provide opportunities for cross-generation and cross-cultural connections.
- Economic empowerment by providing income opportunities.
- Allow families and persons, without land of their own, the opportunity to produce food and save on the food shopping year round.
- Reduction in asthma rates, because children are able to consume manageable amount of local pollen to develop immunities.
- Reduce stress.
- Increase a sense of wellness and belonging.
- Provides nutritionally rich foods otherwise unavailable or unaffordable.
- Urban agriculture is 3 to 5 times more productive per acre than large scale farming.
- Donations opportunities to food pantries which provide food security and alleviate hunger (Meals
on Wheels could be the recipient of the exceeding produce).
- Bees and Butterflies, endangered species, will benefit from a Bee Haven and a Butterfly Garden.
- Provide composting opportunities and reduce food waste.
- Allow for water purification through the presence of fruit trees and perennial plants.
- Improving local environment, derelict land, and access to green space.
- Focus on resilience of the Community to climate change.
- Gradually, the amount of packaged food purchased will decrease thus generating less and less plastic waste.
Land: access by groups
Finding and accessing suitable land identified by groups and individuals for varied purposes is one of the key concerns.
Land suitable for growing includes land that is accessible, safe, free from contamination, has potential for services and is based within the locality.
- Are there land banks available and can they be accessed?
- How to go about accessing land for food growing?
- Who would know about land availability and ownership?
There is no clear pathway or contact within local authority through which people could find available land, or go to, if land had been identified.
Possibilities and Final Thoughts
Harvest Festivals are blossoming everywhere, people come together more and more to re-discover the lost skills of their ancestors. Our grandparents knew what to plant and where to feed a family; that knowledge is disappearing and there is people everywhere fighting to keep that inheritance alive.
By providing the opportunity for people of all ages to gather and talk and work together, that knowledge can be saved for the generations to come, as it has been passed on for hundreds of years before.
I often think of the people who still go out to mass every Sunday, wouldn’t they love, on a sunny day, to know there is a place in town where something is always going on, where you always find someone who would not mind having a chat while working in a garden?
I love my own garden, but it is often just me and my children, playing away with the dog. Why not provide a space where you can grow food for your family, and talk about the weather?
Community festivals of all sorts could take place in the Garden. People of all ages could meet and connect on a deeper level than just waving to each other on the street.
With the help of the Men Shed, small benches and raised beds could be made out of salvaged materials, showcasing upcycling.
With the involvement of the schoolchildren, little plant signs could be made to mark the spots where seeds have been sown.
When the Tidy Towns collect the rubbish from our streets, we could look at that rubbish differently and separate what could be upcycled and what not, hence reducing the amount of “waste” going to the landfill.
The possibilities are endless; when people come together for a common goal, all sorts of magnificent things happen. The examples everywhere in Ireland and all over the World are testament to the power of aggregation that food has. People recover and care for derelict land, transforming “rough” neighbourhoods into thriving Communities, and all it takes, at times, it’s just the power to envision the change and a few shovels.
When I look at my children, I often see the day, in twenty years’ time, when they will ask me “you had the chance then: what did you do to help?” And I believe many of us would want to answer that question with a resounding: look, here is what I’ve done to help!!!
Ireland’s most precious treasure is its children. Irish population is extremely young, compared to the rest of Europe, and in these children exist the adults of tomorrow. They are the ones who will face the hardships of a changing climate, of stronger storms, of global warming.
By showing them how to grow their own food, locally and sustainably, we are preparing them to what will come. We will reduce the amount of greens and fruit we buy in the shop, we will empower them with life skills that are not part of the school program.
I guarantee everyone, there is nothing that makes a parent feel as happy as feeding a child fresh, organic, local food. When, throughout Summer I tell my kids “go out back and eat some strawberries” the smile on their face repays for any amount of hard work I have done. Nothing beats the vitamins and minerals present in a fruit or a salad when it is picked and eaten within a few hours.
Do we want to tackle stress and actively work to improve our mental health?
Do we want to teach our children how to grow and cook their own food?
Do we want a place where we can meet and enjoy a sunny day?
Do we want to learn about food waste and how to avoid it?
Do we want to reduce obesity rates?
Do we want to have free fresh fruit and vegetables for the Community?
If so, then a Community Garden is the starting point to build a positive, resounding answer to these questions.
There will be a snowball effect then; we could encourage each estate to build its own compost pile, where residents can place grass cuttings, kitchen scraps and other organic “waste”, reducing the amounts that travel to the landfill.
Environmental movements around the World identify themselves in the slogan Think Global – Act Local, and this is exactly what we need to do: act local, tackling one issue at a time; and a Community Garden, as I said before, it’s just a starting point.
From the Garden, to the table, to the pantry.
Do we know how to can and preserve food? Do we know how to cook vegetables? Do we know
how and when to freeze food?
We could organise cooking and canning and freezing seminars, free for everyone. We can invite the older generation to teach the newer generation all of the skills we have lost along the aisles of the supermarkets.
We could help families in financial difficulty by having a place to go and get fresh fruit and vegetables for free. They would not need to ask anything to anyone, people could get to the Garden, work a bit and then take home what they need. When you grow and collect food yourself, wasting it is immediately out of the equation.
There would be a place in the neighbourhood where money is not needed, ever. A place that really belongs to everyone.
Prepared by: Vanessa Lieghio
1st of February, 2016
Further information from Vanessa on 085-7278986