As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded in March and people were confined by restrictions, we saw a spike in popularity for growing food at home. Our #thecommunitycall project Grow it Forward, enabled up to 50,000 people to start growing in their kitchen, garden, balcony, or window sill, many for the first time. This initiative not only taught communities how to cultivate some of their own fresh food from home, but also provided people with an outlet during lockdown restrictions, and helped to increase biodiversity in neighbourhoods.
Although growing seeds at home was the end goal for everyone, every reason for growing and way of going about it was unique. We’ve shared some of our favourite stories from our starters over the last few months. We hope they will inspire you to Grow it Forward.
A lifetime of growing food with Raffaella
Having spent 10 years living in Italy with her Irish husband, Raffaella and her young family moved to Cork to pursue their dream to grow their own fresh produce in their garden. Since they moved to Kinsale, they have transformed their garden with raised beds, a polytunnel, and some apple trees, and are now transforming the front garden into an orchard. Raffaella was actively involved in their community garden and was already sharing seeds with friends and family when she found out about Grow it Forward, and she thought it would be a great way to share plants and seeds with people walking by.
“I planned to leave plants outside my gate every Sunday (if the seedlings are big enough) and up to now I already shared more than 60 tomato plants between friends, neighbours and random people”.
Raffaella believes that Grow it Forward motivated her to share more plants with her community and hopes people will call by her door if they ever need help growing food at home.
Connecting with neighbours in rural Kerry
Lorcan from Glencar, Co. Kerry had a similar idea, to put a seedbox out at his front gate for sharing seeds and plants, “just like the ‘wee libraries’ people build to share books”. Lorcan is an outdoor teacher and began working from home since school closures. He decided to take advantage of the extra time to start growing food with his kids, so he started the Grow it Forward group in his community. The group has been active since the lockdown and Lorcan found it was a great way to connect with neighbors who live nearby.
“We appreciate the time we have and use it to connect with our neighbours who live very spread out in our community”
Starting a community garden in lockdown
Caught up in the frenzy of panic buying due to Coronavirus fears, Barry Leonard from Multyfarnham in Westmeath realised how fragile the food supply chain can be. This led him to the decision to set up his own community garden, “some space where relearning lost knowledge would reduce our reliance on unstable systems”.
“I felt that shifting a little further toward self-sufficiency and trying to build a more localised economy would reduce food waste, save money and reduce the village’s environmental impact”.
Barry approached the friars of the local Franciscan Monastery about locating a small community garden on their grounds and they agreed. The community garden hopes to offer locals a better option. By adding another polytunnel and looking to supply excess produce through the recently opened online Neighbourfood Market platform, they link the customer directly to the supplier and ensure a fair price for produce.
“Community gardens such as ours have a key role to play educating people on where their food comes from. I hope that the garden will provide a microcosm of hope that might inspire people to become more self-sufficient and to grow chemical free, healthy food in a sustainable regenerative environment”.
Composting is also a key activity in the garden. It currently accepts food waste from both the Multyfarnham cookery school and nursing home, which is composted on-site, and then used in the garden.
However, the garden’s biggest impact can be seen at the local community level. Now 20 volunteers strong, it has been proven successful in tackling social isolation and it has allowed people to meet outside safely in recreational spaces.
Moving forward, the community garden in Multyfarnham aims to be a training centre to promote environmental best practices and sustainability. Soon there will be outdoor workshops on a wide range of topics such as vegetable growing, food waste, composting, and biodiversity. The garden will also allow training to be provided on horticulture and ecological themes with a practical hands-on approach.
Empowering youth to support the vulnerable
Catriona is a school completion programme coordinator in Cork, working with children who are at risk of dropping out of school. Since the lockdown, she has been looking for ways to continue to help them to take part in Gaisce – The President’s Award. Normally, they would interview people in an elderly home and write their stories and take photos. Catriona thought of Grow it Forward as an alternative way to let the kids create a new positive story during lockdown for themselves and their older neighbours.
“I would like to give the seedlings to young people to grow their own food. They could then donate some of their seedlings or produce to vulnerable people”.
Revisiting Childhood pastimes
When lockdown began, Rose’s daughters aged 23, 25, and 27 happened to be home. They had always planted seeds and grew plants as children but not since. When Rose signed up for GROW it Forward, her daughters returned to their childhood pastime and began planting the seeds from the seed pack.
When the seedlings grew, Rose had the intention of putting them in containers to give to “unsuspecting neighbours and friends”, but to her surprise, she discovered that a lot of her community had already begun planting seeds as a lockdown activity.
Rose’s daughters now come and go from the house to check on the plants and she will continue planting and gifting pots to her friends and neighbours.
Cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.
Niamh Becton founded her GIY community garden in September 2019 alongside 15 other members in Newcastle, County Wicklow. Their new patch soon transformed into a community herb garden and they are now undertaking stage 2 of their course in Basic Horticulture. Although lockdown put their course and herb garden on pause, they started GROW it Forward to keep their community in touch. Niamh thought this would be a great way to keep the community interested in growing while in isolation “All the while promoting good mental health, growing your own food, reducing your carbon footprint, plus the health benefits of eating food from your own garden”.
Niamh explained that GROW it Forward was really helped by the online courses available from GIY and that it really motivated them to keep growing over quarantine. Alongside their novel motto, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes”, their community’s plants and pots flourished during lockdown.
Niamh and her team are only getting started. They now intend to start their own version of the hit TV show, “Grow, Cook, Eat” in Newcastle and also have plans to connect with the local direct provision community.
“We also want to integrate residents from Newcastle and Direct Provision Hotels to come and socialize, grow their own food and cook their traditional meals for both communities as most of these residents do not have the facilities to cook their own meals or grow their own food”.
Growing from home has been a different experience for everyone. We hope that these stories will inspire you to take action in your community and grow in whatever way works for you.
How has your community connected during lockdown? Have you found new ways of growing seeds or engaging your neighbourhood from home? Let us know at [email protected]