I arrived in to Aughrim at the end of my dramatic first day cycling in Wicklow. Donal Rice, one of the group members met me in town and gave me a whirlwind tour of the garden before dark. The garden is on an acre and a half site just opposite the GAA grounds in Aughrim. After some research and investigation from local South-Wicklow Transition Town member, Anita Davis in 2008-09, a local retired vet and Tidy Town’s member agreed to loan the land to the group with the only condition being that it be used as an organic community garden. Grants were sourced from Wicklow County Council and a Wicklow mountain communities group and some local businesses contributed donations and equipment. The site was rotivated, new plastic was bought for the polytunnel and a call went out to local people to get involved. A year and a half later and the group has 10 committed members, half from the town and half from the surrounding areas. The guys said that they could have 50 members for the amount of land (and work) available but find it hard to get more people involved. Aughrim is a beautiful town which has a history of winning Tidy Towns awards and also has a strong local tradition of tree growing. There was a lot of commercial tree growing in the area in the past and several locally-owned off-shoot tree nurseries have developed. This seems to translate in to a lot of sympathy and encouragement for the community garden but also a lot of people being already involved in or employed in horticulture.
The age profile of the people involved in the group now ranges from Dara, Donal and Siobhan’s son, who is three years old, to the eldest member of the group who is in her 70’s. In between you have people from different social and personal backgrounds. Donal and Siobhan call themselves ‘blow-in’s to the local area and find it a nice way to meet local people, bring the kids in to a friendly cross-generational environment and teach them about gardening. There are some middle-aged men who enjoy having a social outlet outside of the pub; and other gardeners of different ages and varying levels of knowledge and experience.
When the group first began working in the garden they planned to divide the land up into allotment-type sections which each group or individual would take care of alone. But it soon became apparent that the members wanted to share the entire site and work together as a group.
If some had their doubts about the potential friction that this might cause when it came to sharing the harvest, the guys assured me that people took the food grown on a need basis; and with some veggies they had so much that they had to give away the excess to people outside the group!
Different people seem to get different things from the garden. Donal felt that it was particularly important to him to reclaim some of the knowledge of his father’s generation that has been lost by the move towards industrial agriculture. While Siobhan felt strongly about fostering community in an age of individualism. And Anita emphasised the educational potential of the garden and the importance raising awareness around food issues, local food systems and living on less carbon.
The guys are looking at running a horticulture course from the garden next year as a way to get more people involved. And Anita was also very keen to make the most of the garden as an educational resource for the people already involved. A willow weaving workshop was held this year and it’s hoped that rainwater recycling and composting workshops will follow.
Other plans for the year ahead are to develop a herb-wheel and a meditation garden on the site. And in the longer term to link in with the Tidy Towns group and try to encourage food planting as part of their gardening work around the town. Aspirations are high in Aughrim, but it has to be said that motivation and competence seem to be equally abundant.
Big thanks to Donal, Siobhan, Dara and Roisin for all the help and the great pizza!; And to Anita, Will, Aobhin, Naoise and Lana for welcoming me in to their home showing me around the amazing Greenan Farm.
Contact for Aughrim Community garden: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other News from around Wicklow:
Wicklow Town: Wicklow Community Gardening Group was set up in 2006, in partnership with Wicklow Working Together, in order to help and advise local groups wishing to set up a community garden. In the summer of 2007 the Dominican Ecology Centre in Wicklow Town leased the group space for a community garden on their organic farm. Today there are 18 organic vegetable beds, run by both enthusiastic individuals and local community groups. In 2011 we aim to open the garden up regularly for public events. See www.dulra.org/community_gardening/wicklow