This primary school visit in Galway was a real pleasure. Adrian Carey, one of the support teachers, showed me around the excellent garden project on the school grounds and I got a chance to meet a group of sixth class pupils to tell them all about my adventures and hear about their experience and opinions of the garden.
I was then invited to meet some of the other teachers at break time and got treated to some tea and cakes by the charming school tea lady. A really enjoyable visit.
The garden is unique in a number of ways. One is that it is a joint community and school garden. The school is located on the west side of Galway city; it has disadvantaged status and hence qualifies for funding under the government’s RAPID scheme. More resource teachers being available to teach ‘life skills’ is one of the benefits of this. The garden also had something else at its disposal that most city schools wouldn’t: a large empty space. So, a couple of years ago one of the teachers saw the potential to put these two things together and came up with the idea for the garden.
A few years later and not only can the kids now see the whole process from
planting a seed to watching it grow to preparing the food in their cooking classes, but the garden has also developed in to a hugely positive educational and social resource for the community. So much so that it is now used as a model by Galway Education Centre who use the garden to run its courses for teachers on how to set up a school garden.
Talk about good use of resources!
Adrian showed me around the garden last Friday and told me about things work there. There are 29 plots, 8 of those are just for the kids where they grow and harvest their own veg for cooking classes, and the rest are maintained by the community members. Member numbers have ebbed and flowed but there are currently around 16 core members. Each member is asked to commit to maintaining one small plot and to contribute to the general maintenance of the garden. The group meets once per week and member numbers have reached 29 at their peak. Attendance has been intermittent at times and difficulties have
arisen in getting members to attend consistently. A play area and sand pit for young kids was developed on the site to make it more practical for people with younger children to attend.
A gardener comes once every 3-4 weeks to give members skills training and advise on the garden maintenance. This is funding dependant and some funding has been cut recently. In addition, when HSE and RAPID funding is available nutrition classes are provided for parents involved in the garden allowing them to develop their food preparation skills and dietary knowledge as part of the community garden experience.
Some of the projects that the kids have really enjoyed in the garden are the willow dome where some groups come to do reading classes -when the weather permits! The ‘insect hotel’ and the ‘daffodil maze’ are popular with the younger ones and a scarecrow competition is now held each Halloween. These are just some of novel ways used to get the kids engaged in the garden; they also learn about the importance of skills such as rainwater harvesting and composting and the role they play in an organic garden.
A fruit orchard has been planted in the garden and it’s hoped that by next year apples, pears and cherries will be ripening beside the school yard. Temptation!! Aidan was telling me that the kids enjoy the garden so much that the gardening and cooking classes are used as incentives for good behaviour. Useful tools for teachers to have up their sleeves I’m sure.
Until now, a small committee consisting of 2 teachers, the gardener and 1 or 2 parents have been overseeing the garden project. During the summer when the school is closed, the local community members take over and a rota is developed to ensure that the garden is maintained and the harvest is shared communally between the members. Efforts are going to be made to increase the numbers this year in order get more community members involved at committee level.
It seems austerity is beginning to bite even a hugely positive project like this though. At a recent HSE and Rapid meeting regarding the future of funding for community gardens in Galway, cuts in funding were forecast and groups were encouraged to skill share and communicate with each other concerning best practice in order to achieve efficiencies. While constructive in its intentions, if a project like this, which is beginning to take a holistic approach to both education and community development, is not allowed to continue because of austerity measures, it would be an enormous step backwards. It seems the challenge for Adrian and the other garden members will be to make the garden as self-sufficient as possible by training and including community members.
Congratulations to Adrian and all involved in the amazing community/school garden in Shantalla. It really is a model for others. Thanks especially to the kids in 6th class and their teacher for the warm welcome; and to the tea lady, of course, for the cakes and tea, just what I needed to help me on my short cycle-100km- up to north Mayo!