First of the bat, let me explain my position..
Arrived back to this island last December, with the intention to get involved with any local groups active in any field relating to ;
Transition, growing food, education in sustainable living skills, permaculture, conservation, smallholding, alternative technology, alternative currencies
… and anything else in that line.
I was keen to help establish a forest garden as a community resource, but also as a teaching tool for demonstration, a source of food for the locals, and a venue to hold workshops, gatherings, group volunteering days, etc.
My aim was to create a space in which i could ;
demonstrate what’s possible,
experiment with new technologies and techniques,
link up with other like-minded people,
study the dynamics of a typical irish community,
and explore solutions to improve the conditions of our situation.
The key concepts of my foundation were:
social enterprise: getting a group together to work at a particular business idea, or set of complimentary ideas, with equality and use of everyones unique skill-set. The nature of our business would be sustainable, environmentally and ecologically sound/ beneficial, positive in it’s impact on local community, providing a useful product/service, and rewarding for those involved.. financially as well as ethically
co-operatives: this is along similar lines to a social enterprise, but can involve other aspects of our day-to-day lives, might not produce anything, such as a food distribution co-op, or a care faciltiy. The model is very old and well-known.. more resonant with most people, it is clear what is being attempted and familiar with authorities and other organisations.
community gardens: this concept has taken off in leaps and bounds in recent years, here in Ireland and abroad. It encapsulates so many of the principles I believe are so critical to a better future. It encourages communities to come together, to co-operate ona major project, take ownership of their amenity space, socialise away from pubs and football pitches. The garden can provide food, fuel, fibre, medicine, a place to relax, a place to learn, a place to mingle and a place to enjoy nature.
permaculture: a design-based set of principles, which take nature’s lead and look at the whole picture.
The core ethics are:
create abundance; by mimicking nature’s techniques, building-in resilience, diversity and closed energy loops
earth care and people care; all design of systems, be they gardens, built environment, forests, farms or organisations, should make a top priority of ensuring minimum impact on the people and place, in fact both should benefit greatly with proper design.
limits to growth; one of nature’s most basic laws is that growth has limits. This is where our economic models trip themselves up, expecting to grow perpetually, hence the boom and bust cycle. If we consider the limits to growth and design around them, we can provide a more stable, predictable and sustainable platform. Nature works in cycles, not in straight lines.
For more information on permaculture.. read Bill Mollison and David Holgren
So what have I been doing?
One issue I feel very strongly about is food security and sovereignty. It is important that we have access to fresh, organic, reasonably-priced produce from our local vicinity. I am thrilled to see the surge in interest for local organic food, the success of the GIY movement, and the raising of awareness that the transition network is effecting.
One of my primary aims in returning to Irelnad was to help establish a CSA [community supported agriculture] schemein my local area, wherever that ended up being. I have seen them in action elsewhere, and again was delighted to see a handful already in operation here, indeed right on my doorstep, in Skerries. It was my belief that a CSA would work more effectively if it consisted of a group of growers, working as a co-operative or social enterprise. I went about seeking out people who might be interested in this idea, and so far have managed to find a few..
With two of these people we set up a small-scale growing operation. We gained access to part of a field in the Swords area, and fenced off a 30m by 15m plot, which we rotovated and built several raised beds on. We also built a 15m polytunnel from reclaimed building materials.
The intention was to grow enough food for ourselves and if we had surplus, to hopefully sell some of it at the local markets, or exchange it for other produce with fellow growers. We were primarily interested in learning the ropes, none of us having much experience, and seeing how much we could grow on this small plot, to give an idea of the time, energy, money and space needed to expand our operation to a commercial scale.
So far we have had mixed results. Some crops are doing well others are decimated by slugs and pigeons. We are learning a lot and if we can resolve the problems of this season.. there should be a vast improvement next year. I will document our progress and pitfalls in following blogs..
Transition in Fingal
When I first arrived back to the island, I found this site and noticed there were some Transition Initiatives in my area, so I got in touch with them. Transition town Donabate/Portrane had been active for a few years already, and had managed to organise a local producers market, among other admirable feats. I told them about my intention to establish a community forest garden and CSA scheme, provided I could find a site and a group to work with. They had already been working on a strikingly similar plan.. to gain access to the old walled garden in St. Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, for the purpose of establishing a community garden. Since then we have hit a brick wall in dealings with the HSE, who have done a U turn on us. With that spanner in the works, I began thinking about the Fingal county council, and the land they have been developing at Turvey, Donabate. The recent allotments, walking paths, lake and bird hide represented their clear intention to create an amenity space for the community. It seemed logical that they would be agreeable to providing some land for a community garden and perhaps allowing for the construction of a small building, to host workshops, classes, meetings, social gatherings, etc.
At this stage I made contact with the recently formed ROOTS group, through Dermot Higgins.
They were very enthusiastic about the idea of joining the efforts of all the transition groups in Fingal together, to work collectively on establishing a teaching space, that could be available for any number of uses, and also for other environmental, community and charity groups across Fingal. The exciting aspect to this plan is the distinct possibility of acquiring funding from the local LEADER office, since it fits in very well with their aims.
That’s where we stand.. watch this space for news of further developments on this front, and the budding CSA scheme.
If there is any interest out there in forming a Transition Town Swords group, please get in touch..