If Community Gardens are about a vision for a more sustainable future based on local food production and strong, resilient communities, then Scariff is very
much in the process of implementing that vision. The Community Garden there was set up five years ago with the help of my host in Scariff, Brendan. The initial intention was to create a social space to help in the integration of people with special needs in the community and a place to grow food for locals in the town. The core group involved in the garden at first has changed considerably over time as members’ interest and participation varied from year to year. But the garden has thrived.
And, as the owners of adjoining buildings saw the transformation of an unused sight in to a dynamic garden, they too offered the abandoned green spaces behind their businesses to the project and the community garden expanded.
Five years on and plans are afoot at the site of the garden to transform a disused barn in to a community kitchen and small business incubation unit. The idea behind this project is to provide a space to local food growers, farmers and artisans to develop their produce in to products for market.
Scariff pesto, East Clare cheeses, organic jams and chutneys, herbal teas from the banks of Lough Derg, Scariff herbal remedies or soaps-the possibilities are endless.
It’s a long way from a community garden to this, I hear you say. But here in Scariff, the resources, both human and natural, seem to be in abundance. As Brendan mentioned to me over coffee in the community cafe, there just seems to be a high concentration of people with an interest in implementing their ideas on sustainability. As well as this, many locals already have some land and grow their own food; and the older generation of farmers around the town used to grow all of their own food and really value the community garden and the efforts being made to re-educate people in food growing techniques. Younger local farmers have seen their adopted model of agriculture undermined in recent years and some are left with idle farms; many are now looking for new ideas.
Another star in the Scarrif Transition Town constellation is the local VEC. Horticulture courses have been run in the garden and there is a willingness to adapt existing courses, or develop new ones entirely, to suit the needs of the local community. If the Community Kitchen-Small Business Incubation Unit gets off the ground, for example, courses can be developed based on the needs of the project.
Seedsavers and The Woodland League are also located in the area and one of the challenges for the future is to generate and manage the potential synergies between the different actors.
Making the most of the potential linkages to other organisations, promoting the garden and getting more community members involved, as well as pushing forward the business development side of things -on top of maintaining the garden itself- is too much work for volunteers. So a funding proposal has been submitted to the Arthur Guinness Social Entrepreneurs Fund for a full-time garden co-ordinator. And the Community Kitchen-Business Incubation Unit is under consideration for funding from the local Leader Partnership.
Last year several different courses, including a FAS course with 18 members, were held in the garden and the space seems to be becoming ever more dynamic. The garden is part of the East Clare Community Co-op and the co-op building that backs out on to the garden is a thriving community hub in itself. Services provided there other than the garden and the cafe include a counselling service, a citizen’s information service, a second hands goods shop, LETS letterbox (local economic trading scheme), Celt (Centre for Environmental Living and Training), Alfa (Active learning for adolescents) and a youth group. There is also a meitheal community arts space and small community room that a number of courses are run from.
The members hope that the garden will become an information centre for people to come and see what can be grown locally. This has been done for generations of course but much of the knowledge and skills have been overlooked or abandoned during the Celtic Tiger years.
The most active local farmers now are dairy farmers and much of the veg in the local shops and supermarkets is imported. Brendan and the Transition Town’s vision is to see more of this money staying in the local economy and more shops stocking locally grown veg and not products shipped half way around the world by supermarkets. The excessive concentration of buying power in supermarkets is putting more and more pressure on small farmers both in Ireland and across the world to produce goods at a cheaper and cheaper prices with hugely detrimental long-term social and environmental costs.
The community garden is just one small, but not insignificant, link in this chain. And it seems to be slowly achieving its short-term aim of becoming a centre for promoting local sustainable agriculture.
Recent developments at the garden when I visited included a new CE scheme gardener beginning her tenure.
Julie, an experienced gardener, can work two or three days per week in the garden under the scheme. Julie’s work will mostly consist of maintaining the garden and preparing it for next year. This week she was busy planting herb cuttings to go in to the polytunnel which can then be sold to generate some income for other projects and designing a plan for a sensory garden.
Efforts are ongoing to build on past successes. Open days, Celtic festival celebrations and volunteer days are held at the garden; and educational and outreach work is continuing. Fingers crossed funding proposals recently submitted will bear fruit and the efforts to develop the garden and the wider transition town projects further will get the focus, energy and responsibility they need. Either way, the constellation of actors and resources working on similar lines in Scariff make it a very exciting place to be.
Thanks to Brendan and to Karen for hosting me in Scariff.