This has to be the most spectacularly located community garden in the country. Perched on a hillside overlooking the Irish sea in Dunmore East, with seagulls milling around overhead and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below, locations don’t get much better.
When I met Dave Curran at the Strand Hotel he was carrying a plastic bag full of seaweed that he’d just collected from the beach. He reckons that if he collects a bag after each storm he’ll have the best spuds in town. Dave is involved with both the community garden and GIY (see earlier post below) groups in Dunmore East and is a member of the GIY national committee.
As we walked through the town Dave pointed out a public park which runs along the seafront. The park, like the community garden and community hall, was left in trust to be used for the townspeople by the Malcomsons -a family of wealthy corn and cotton merchants. Dave and the other GIY’ers have long-term hopes to develop the space in to a fruit and nut park. For him, “the community garden and the GIY groups are ways of showing what can be achieved by a few organised people meeting just once a week”. This gradual awareness raising process very much jives with Dave’s broader views on the potential of food growing for driving change in the wider community. He advocates a step-by-step approach of people talking to each other about the benefits of the food growing projects. He feels that winning people over slowly this way, as opposed to badgering them with aggressive recruitment drives, will bear more fruit in the long run. Taking people on their own terms is also an important part of Dave’s approach. Whether it be in terms of their available time per week, or their decision to take on a section of the community garden for themselves instead of mucking in with the group, for him “the tolerance and mutual understanding that come about as part of this are essential for community”.
The garden opened in June of this year after Michael and Peter from the local GIY group approached the town trust and requested to use the land at the back of the Fishermen’s Hall for a community garden. They obliged and after some fencing was erected at the edge of the cliff, the garden was opened to the public. The front entrance is left open and anybody from the community can make use of the space. There is very little anti-social behaviour in the area, and so little chance of vandalism. Kids from the crèche in the community hall have built their own two beds in the garden and the local sea scouts also carried out a food growing project there this year. Some of the regular gardeners planted a section of the garden with strawberry beds which proved popular with the visiting kids and teenagers-“a great outcome” according to Dave.
Many of the people who’ve gotten involved with the garden already had a certain environmental awareness, and many also had an interest in food growing and providing healthy organic food for their families. There is a considerable overlap between the local GIY group and the community garden members. Dave is active on the online forum of the GIY website and the guys use this to see what’s going on in other groups around the country.
Some of the locals in Dunmore East have begun to keep chickens and pigs and a barter system has evolved between food growers in the area. Dave told me that the traditional perception of food growing being a poor man’s activity that people only undertake out of necessity is still quite prevalent. However, initiatives such as the community garden, guerrilla growing in local public spaces and, in the longer term, the frutification of the village are going a long way towards changing that.
Thanks to Dave and the people in the Strand Hotel in Dunmore East for their support!