Simon Community Gardens-Cork City

Of Nature
Human beings
are not different from Nature.
We are part of Nature.
Our very existence on earth
depends on Nature.
In truth, it is not we who
protect Nature but Nature
that protects us
In 2004 as part of the preparations for Cork city’s tenure as European capital of culture, a project was initiated to develop community gardens around the city.  My host in Cork, Eoin Mc Cuirc, was involved in what became known as the Cork Mandala of Community Gardens, a mandala being a circular symbol of unity. 
Participants were facilitated to design, create, maintain and develop a long-term vision for a garden in response to the needs of their community.  Skills workshops and resources were provided and over ten gardens were developed in various locations around the city including schools, housing estates, arts centres and residential units for people with disabilities.  The idea of the Mandala was that local people or tourists would be able to walk around the city and include the community gardens as stop-off points on their route. 
Eoin is a keen environmentalist and is an active member of Greenfriends, the environmental arm of a humanitarian organisation called Amma.  Amma means mother and at its centre is a humanitarian and spiritual figure who is popularly known in her home country of India and around the world as ‘the hugging saint’.  The environmental awareness work is part of Amma’s broader international humanitarian work and her ETW (Embrace the World) philosophy.
Two of the gardens I visited were located in high support residential units of the Cork Simon Community.  As well as being involved in the Mandala project and Greenfriends, Eoin is also a board member of Cork Simon.  When he saw two of the residents at one of their high support units doing a course to work with the local council which included garden maintenance, he approached the Simon Community and proposed setting up a community garden to grow food at the unit.    The unit is a long-term home to people who are considered too vulnerable to be on the streets; the residents have complex needs and some have physical and mental disabilities.  So the process of setting up the gardens had to be sensitive to their situation and as inclusive as possible.
Cork Simon agreed to the project and in 2008 the sight was cleared and a group of students from a permaculture course in Kinsale came and worked on the garden as a project for their course.  In 2009 a polytunnel was erected and the group began to meet on a weekly basis.  The two residents were watering and maintaining the garden in between meetings but watering was sometimes sporadic and a sprinkler system was eventually installed at the garden this year. 
The guys from the course in Kinsale, Eoin and David were very conscious of the need to create a social environment where everybody, including the residents, felt comfortable.  So every week Eoin, an avid cook (who cooks for other large gatherings such as Shell to Sea, Labour Day and Simon community events on a charitable basis) makes a big pot of soup and brings it to the unit so everybody involved can eat together.
The people from the permaculture course and others coming to help out in the garden gave the residents the opportunity to meet people they ordinarily wouldn’t come in to contact with.  Even if the residents weren’t very active in the garden they had the chance to mix with new people in a safe environment.
The residents were also included in decisions as to what would be grown in the garden. They were encouraged to try new veg and foods that would be particularly good for them, such as black radish which helps heal the liver.  But the residents were most interested in the veg that they already knew like potatoes and carrots. 
The garden in the second unit was set up this year with the help of workers from a local Pepsi factory.  
Cork Simon runs a corporate social responsibility program with businesses in Cork and they also recently had a group of accountants from an accountancy firm in the city come to work in the garden.  The work that was done in one day with the 50 Pepsi workers would have taken months otherwise; and it also provided the opportunity for social interaction between groups of people with different skills and values who wouldn’t usually come in to contact with each other.  This second garden is currently being prepared for next year.  Some heritage variety fruit trees have been planted and the soil is being prepared.   It’s important for the guys that the garden is low maintenance so they’ve introduced this system of covering the ground between the beds to suppress weeds. 

The guys were also experimenting with supercompost tea this year which aims to create the soil best suited to the individual plants.  Apparently they had a huge harvest with this technique.   Some of the techniques and methods the Eoin and David used are available at this blog.

The guys are now working on setting up other Community gardens in the Cork area.  A ‘recession busting’ community garden for the unemployed has been established in The Hollies in West Cork with great success and another is being planned for Dunmanway; all of the new gardens will use the  same inclusive methods that have been employed so far-including Eoin’s delicious soups! 

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2 responses to “Simon Community Gardens-Cork City

  1. Helo there
    I’ve been reading about your gardening endeavours with a smile on my face.I decided to do an internet search to try and find projects in Cork where I can volunteer.I do have a fair bit of experience working in community gardens in a colourful mixture of settings.I also teach a fetac organic food module. as I am living in Cork now I would love to get involved with you as a volunteer. Please let me know if that suits you at all. All the best for now, Máire

  2. Maire,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I’ve just emailed you with contact details for some people in Cork working in community garden projects. Best of luck with it and I’ll look forward to hearing how you get on.

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