When Claire held her first GIY meetup, together with her friend Aoife, she had no idea what she was taking on. She definitely didn’t envisage the difference it would make in her community and in her own life, bringing growers in her community of Crumlin and Walkinstown together.
GIY is short for ‘Grow It Yourself‘. Behind it stands an Irish Social Enterprise that promotes growing your own food and cultivating what they call “food empathy”, or a deeper understanding of where our food comes from.
This year, the Grow It Yourself movement will work with 65,000 people in 1,500 community groups and projects around Ireland and abroad. That’s 65,000 people who share the same vision that a world where people understand what it takes to grow our own food is a better one. Many have helped to build the grassroots movement and Claire is one of the local GIY Champions, her changemaker journey started in Clontarf, Dublin:
I visited a GIY meeting in Clontarf together with Aoife. It was run by our mutual friend Sue. We enjoyed it so much that we said: â€œLet’s do this in our areaâ€. We just thought it was something fun to do together, help us to meet other gardeners but also something good for Crumlin.
GIY Groups and these meetings are at the very heart of the GIY movement. They are a simple way to bring growers together and share knowledge on growing food. It can start with 5 people or with 100, coming together to listen to presentations from experts or just having a chat about their own best practices about growing food. Most of the groups also do regular plant swaps where everyone can bring extra plants or varieties they’d like to share with the group.
Claire’s group has been meeting in a back room of Walkinstown Library for four years now. They use the room for free and they pay in cake as she tells with a wink. 15 to 30 people gather here on the third Monday of every month. The day we visit the meeting everyone brings along some of their homegrown and one of the growers, Ciara also brings along some surplus food from Marks & Spencer that she had picked up throughÂ Foodcloud before the meeting.
We are a very casual group. There are always a lot of questions, people are happy to share their knowledge, so you don’t always need a speaker to get a conversation going. There is also always tea and cake for everyone. For many people, it’s much more about the social aspect. I’ve learned so much more from other members just casually chatting than I have from the official speakers.
Claire just needs to start the discussion. Putting one word up on a flipchart that a non-grower might struggle to understand, like â€˜Mulching’, immediately turns into an engaged discussion about all kinds of techniques on how to cover the soil of your beds and leads to tips on where in Dublin is the best place to pick up seaweed, a common mulching material: â€œJust take it from the beach, not from the rocksâ€, â€œgo after a stormâ€, â€œjust take the freshest pieces or you’ll have to drive home with your windows open to get rid of all the flys in the car,â€ and, â€œdon’t forget to cover up the seaweed layer again.â€
Running a GIY group is not about gardening knowledge. I know less about growing than most of the people who come along. My role is a facilitator in bringing these people together and sharing knowledge on growing â€“ I love that and I learn more every week!
What Claire learned later was that the GIY group would also become a tool for her to build a local community of growers that would help her to kick off other projects. Her biggest one to date is the school garden she set up in St. Agnes Primary School in Crumlin with the aspiration to teach kids how to grow themselves and to educate them on the basics of growing food.
It’s so important that students know where fruit and vegetables come from. That potatoes come from the ground but peas grow above it. What different plants look like. How some are very quick to grow and some are slow and to appreciate the effort that goes into growing food.
Every class in the school has their own bed to cultivate.
David, Lisa and Angela getting a lesson on potatoes
I love the project and I am so proud of it. It’s just great to see the enthusiasm of the children. The school lessons allow us to pass on our love of gardening, the understanding of where food comes from and the healthy life that comes from that, to the next generation. I can’t think of anything better. I see the impact it has with my own two kids. They will eat what they have grown and even love kale now.
In the beginning it was just me with the crazy idea to do it. It took a year to get the money â€“ we started with 700 Euro â€“ to build the beds. Most importantly: I needed the confidence and volunteers to help me run the project, and I wouldn’t have both without GIY.
Claire got another grant from GIY and Dublin City Council last year to build a polytunnel on the rooftop of the school that will allow them to grow tomatoes, lettuce or herbs throughout the whole year. The rooftop at St. Agnes school is a safe place for the kids as it used to be the school yard for about 4,500 kids.
I’m lucky that I have a lot of flexibility in my job. If I was working a normal 9 to 5 job, I wouldn’t be able to do all of this. I have to squeeze it into my day. I can come to the school garden in the morning and stay at work late at night. My husband is very supportive and will mind the kids whilst I’m working late or running off to some meeting or other.
Wanting the whole Crumlin community to benefit from her passion, Claire decided to follow the great example of the GIY group in New Ross and, in agreement with the City Council, started a growing project in the middle of Crumlin village. In four community beds that would otherwise have typical flower arrangements, Claire is now growing herbs, corn and more. Another little group of volunteers from the village, Willie Brennan who is associated with the Dublin Community Growers, Sarah Jordan Marshall, Linda Jordan and Eithne Meredith helped Claire to get this project up and running.
After doing the school classes I wanted to take the idea of education about growing food and evoking excitement and interest around the topic into the wider community. I heard from the City Council, who have their office on the opposite site of the beds, that people often stop to look at it and to pick herbs. That’s just amazing to hear.
Sarah, one of the young volunteers who helps Claire with the community beds
But in the end, with all the projects and community work that Claire has started around growing food, her own motivation for growing is still a very personal one:
I was in my allotment the other day, down on my knees weeding and a man walked by and said: What are you doing? Praying?’ In some sense that was right, it’s a bit like my church. I think I get the same feeling of calm and peace that others get from religion. I lose all track of time. It’s my Nirvana.
Would you like to get involved with a GIY group in your community? Check out the existing GIY groups to join one or start your own community of growers by setting up a new chapter in your area. We’ll support you with everything you need to get it done.