BY BRIAN MOORE
WHEN you first arrive at the beautiful Clonakilty Community Garden, it is clear to see that this was more than a mere meaningful coming together of like-minded people.
This is a gathering, that, looking back at its beginnings from the vantage point of all they have achieved to date, is much more than just an organic coming together or a perfect partnership. Perched high above the bustling town, the once empty patch of ground has been transformed by the volunteers and asylum seekers into a garden, a social space and a centre to learn new skills.
‘We have raised vegetable and herb beds which produce food for the community,’ Olive Walsh of the Clonakilty Friends of the Asylum Seekers told The Southern Star. ‘And more than that we have a space where people can gather and be part of a project that aims to offer friendship, support and education.’
The Community Garden took root three years ago and, while many Clon locals use the garden, the residents at the direct provision centre, Clonakilty Lodge, which is located just across the road. are also enthusiastic participants when it comes to growing good food.
‘We’re all about education and showing all who come here that they can grow their own delicious food,’ Istvan Markuly of GIY Clonakilty and West Cork Permaculture said. ‘When we first took on the task of making a garden here, we had help from the students from Kinsale College who cleared the area and constructed the raised beds. Now today, after our first season, the garden is ready once again to for us to plant and to prepare for another bumper harvest later in the year.’
Those who come to the Community Garden, be they from the Direct Provision centre, which is located just steps from the garden, or from the local community, get a real hands-on experience when it comes to getting involved with GIY Clonakilty.
‘Education is extremely important and we want to show people, and especially children, just how easy it is to grow their own food. We all have skills to share and we have free workshops that cover everything from seeds to harvesting,’ Istvan said.
The Clonakilty Community garden is now ready for the new growing year with the vegetable beds, and the composter ready to go, the volunteers have planted an orchard with apple and pear trees.
The group has also organised educational and social events at the community garden with volunteers from Sustainable Clonakilty on hand to show just what can be achieved even in a very small space when it comes to protecting the environment.
‘We have a rainwater collector, a composter and we have plans for much much more,’ Stephen McSweeny of Sustainable Clonakilty said. ‘This garden is much more than growing fruits and vegetables. This is a space where we are not only breaking down barriers, it’s a meeting place or a space to come and be part of a growing community that cares about their environment, this is a project that will provide education and support to the local community and to the people who have recently joined us here in Clonakilty.’
BY BRIAN MOORE
CONNECTING children with the wonders of growing their own food is a goal that has to be commended.
Whether it’s a little window box with a single tomato plant or a regimented furrow of potato plants thriving in the back garden, the plan is to let kids understand that their food does not come out of plastic bags and containers from the local supermarket.
And it’s with this goal in mind that the students and teachers at St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Skibbereen have embraced the wonders of producing fruit and vegetables from a patch of waste ground at the back of their school.
‘We were looking at ways of using the small piece of land we had at the back of the school. Now, with only about one-third of an acre, we knew that we didn’t have much room, but it turns out that we have all the space we need,’ principal Alan Foley told The Southern Star.
In this limited area, the idea was formed to create a space for the children that would provide both recreation, education and the joy of being outdoors. ‘We have three classes for children with autism, so we initially planned to build a sensory garden,’ Alan continued. ‘However, this idea soon grew into a unique experience for all the children attending the school.’
While the sensory garden was the seed that got the garden growing so to speak, the St Patrick’s Boys garden has since blossomed with 10 raised beds, a Geodome and a Zen garden. There is also a wild trail leading to a willow dome and tunnel, an amphitheatre for outdoor classes, an insect hotel, a sheltered woodland area and of course the all-important sensory garden.
‘The raised beds and the Geodome are very popular with both the children and the teachers alike. Both have produced an abundance of vegetables, and we had an incredible crop of tomatoes last year,’ Alan said. ‘The raised beds have given many of the children the drive to grow their own vegetables at home. This year we are all looking forward to getting stuck into the planting, as soon as the weather gets a bit better that is.’
However, even the Irish weather can’t put a damper on the boys of St Patrick’s as they can still get outside and learn about growing their own food thanks to the Geodome.
‘We have classes inside the Geodome where the children learn about looking after the soil, the importance or insects and other wildlife which are vital to the health of the garden. The bright and warm Geodome is also a great way to get a break from the routine of the classroom,’ Alan said.
Armed with the skills that come with learning how to grow their own food and how to care for their garden, the boys at St Patrick’s National School have gone out into their community to encourage others to get involved.
‘By educating the children of our town in growing and horticulture, we are giving them life skills which they can carry through life and use to plant and grow at home,’ Alan said. ‘In an area of limited employment opportunities, our pupils could potentially explore careers in the food industry in later life which would enable them to live in and contribute to their local community in West Cork.’
As for the future of the St Patrick’s National School Garden, plans are in place for an apple orchard with the children and teachers focused on making their garden as much a part of their community as they can.
‘We want to share our garden with the local community and beyond. We have been accepted on to the West Cork Garden Trail for 2017 and hope to attract visitors, both local and beyond to come and see our garden and to, perhaps get some inspiration from what we have achieved here in Skibbereen,’ Alan Foley concluded.
BY BRIAN MOORE
A GARDEN, a gathering space, and the power to show the community just what can be achieved when you work with the world around you.
That’s what the volunteers at the Clonakilty Community Garden are working towards as their plans for the Clonakilty Community Sustainable Innovation Hub continue and grow. It is one of two West Cork projects being championed by The Southern Star for this year’s Get Involved competition, run by Local Ireland and sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).
‘We are a social innovation and education space, where we want people for the community to share resources, work together to grow food and to promote community integration and social inclusion,’ project co-ordinator Olive Walsh told The Southern Star.
The Community Garden took root three years ago. The volunteers created a garden from a green field site in the heart of Clonakilty as a base from which has now developed into a thriving, fruitful space which provides food for the local community. While many locals use the garden, the residents at the direct provision centre, Clonakilty Lodge, which is located just across the road, are also enthusiastic participants when it comes to growing good food.
‘The idea came out of a shared interest in sustainability and, as part of ongoing collaboration between different community groups, we identified a need for a space to showcase sustainability projects and solutions. We decided to come together and share resources and ideas in our Clonakilty Community Innovation Hub,’ coordinator Xavier Dubuisson said.
‘We want to provide a hands-on test bed for innovation in food production, sustainable energy and water conservation.’
The primary objective for the volunteers is to expand the garden into an area that will include an orchard and biodiversity space as well as a recreational area and a demonstration space: ‘Other groups that have come on board to support the project include the Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers, the Lions Club and Tidy Towns Committee, Permaculture Clonakilty, Sustainable Clonakilty and the Cope Foundation. Brown Envelope Seeds, as well as AIB, are also part of the team working on the project,’ Olive said.
Another aim for the volunteers is to construct a geodesic dome, which will be an all-weather structure that will not only be used to grow flowers and other plants, but will also accommodate meetings and provide a perfect space for teaching and demonstrations. With this in mind, the plans also include an area to create sustainable energy exhibits, build an outdoor kitchen and develop a one-year programme of events and activities in conjunction with other community groups.
With the plans for the Innovation Hub up and running, and the cost set at €16,000, the volunteers have already raised over €6,500 and are confident that they will be able to raise the remaining funds necessary to complete the project. ‘We want to thank all those who have worked so hard in helping us to get the project to where it is today,’ Xavier said.
‘We have a long way to go, but we are confident that with the support of the local community will soon see the innovation hub completed. This project would not be possible without the contribution of groups and individuals from this vibrant civic-minded community.
‘Some have described it as a beacon of hope in our town. Thank you to all involved for your hard work, generosity and goodwill. We look forward to deepening community connection and supporting each other in this inclusive, innovative project.’
BY CON DOWNING
ONE of two local projects being championed by The Southern Star for this year’s Get Involved competition, run by Local Ireland and sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), is a garden initiative at a Skibbereen school.
The Get Involved initiative was developed four years ago by Local Ireland, a group that represents 51 local newspapers and each of the projects is paired with one of these local news brands. The partner newspaper provides coverage of the projects as work progresses.
In 2016/17 the winning projects will share a fund of €10,000. However, above and beyond the competition, Get Involved is about encouraging people to take positive action and to become responsible for their local areas.
Local Ireland’s newspaper members, including The Southern Star, and competition sponsor, SEAI are extremely proud of Get Involved. The initiative brings clear benefits to local economies and the environment by helping communities to become low-carbon, resource-efficient and economically resilient.
Judging will take place next April-May with the judges, led by environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart, visiting the shortlisted projects across the country.
St Patrick’s is a boys’ national school, based on the outskirts of Skibbereen, had an area of land, approximately one-third of an acre, behind the school, which was unused and which they wished to develop.
The school three classes for children with autism and principal Alan Foley takes up the story: ‘We originally planned to build a sensory garden. However, this idea has evolved in to an exciting multi-faceted organic garden, which we hope will benefit not just our students but the wider Skibbereen community and will be an inspiration to schools throughout the country.’
Following extensive planning, work began in recent months on the garden, which is located on a sloped site at the rear of the school and was designed by teacher Brian Granaghan.
The key elements of the garden which we have been put in place so far are:
A geodome – which is the centrepiece of the garden and enables them to grow fruit and vegetables all year round and is key to a school garden as most growing and harvesting opportunities are missed during the summer holidays.
Ten raised beds – one for each class.
Sensory garden – a sensory path leading from one end of the garden to the other, on either side of which are planted areas, growing various plants, shrubs and crops.
Zen garden – a calm area in the centre of the garden where children can rake and play with the sand.
Willow dome and tunnel – a living, growing classroom, which will grow over the next two years to give pupils an enjoyable and fun place to play and learn.
Wild trail – a simple path through a natural habitat where they can observe wild flowers, insects and small creatures.
An amphitheatre which will act as an outdoor classroom.
Insect hotel – a great place to observe insects and mini-beasts up close.
Woodland area – a mature and sheltered area within the garden.
‘The educational benefits are key as all our children will learn how to grow a variety of vegetables and crops,’ commented Mr Foley. ‘In this age of mindfulness, the peace and tranquility of the garden cannot be underestimated, especially for our children with autism.
‘Furthermore, we would like to show example to all schools of what can be done with a little imagination and ambition. The possibilities and benefits of this project are endless.’
Next week, we will be introducing readers to the other project being supported by The Southern Star for the Get Involved competition – the Clonakilty Community Garden project.