Interview with Sara Whelan, GIY New Ross
Sara Whelan loves growing vegetables so much that she isn’t just working on it in her own garden, but in three. She takes care of her Dublin garden, her garden in New Ross and last year she decided to also start growing vegetables in a public place in the middle of New Ross. Sara hopes to repeat the project this year and if she gets the support of the New Ross Municipal District Council, the first courgette plants will be sown at the beginning of June.
The season for urban vegetable gardens starts soon, so we talked to Sara to learn a bit more about what’s involved in setting up a public bed in the middle of the town. If you’re interested in doing it yourself, this should give you some guidance. To give you the full picture, we’ve pulled together a step-by-step guide with Sara’s help that you can find here. > 5 Step Guide to urban gardening.
Why did you decide to start the urban garden project in New Ross?
I read an article about Todmorden in England and how people there had turned the entire town into a giant public vegetable patch for everyone to pick what they need.
With just three beds we were far away from that, but anyway, I thought it would be a fantastic way to brighten up New Ross and to encourage people to grow their own vegetables.
I have been involved with the local GIY group for a while so I was in a great position to get started with the help of lots of experienced growers.
You selected a very central location for the beds right at New Ross bridge, how did you get permission to do that?
Firstly we had the idea to plant a bed on a roundabout on the street that goes into the city but we changed our mind quite quickly realising that we needed a place where lots of people walk by, and have time to take a look at the plants. We also needed a place that was open and sunny. I talked to the municipal district council who suggested a few spots and we agreed on one very quickly. It turned out to be perfect, with the river nearby for water and lots of shops around whose owners were happy to help us with whatever we needed.
So, getting the municipal district council on board and finding a good place for the vegetable beds was the first step to getting started?
Yes, but it’s important to be well prepared for the appointment with the council to convince them that the project is a good idea and is well thought through. I had a map showing what we planned to do, some sketches of how we would build the beds, pictures of the vegetables we wanted to plant and lots of convincing arguments as to how the community would benefit from the project.
The main argument was that it could brighten up some forgotten corners of our town and give people a reason to go there. It’s really important that it looks nice, with lots of bright colours. One chapter of the information package included pictures of the plants we would grow: Red lettuces, cabbages, spinach, chives with purple flowers and some edible flowers. I also presented evidence from Todmorden showing that vandalism actually went down in the town after the vegetable beds were planted.
Another important reason for doing it of course is promoting food-growing as a healthy lifestyle.
And did you also get any funding from the town for the project?
No I didn’t. I applied for the AIB Get Ireland Growing Fund and got 500 Euros from that, which allowed us to print some promotional material like banners that we tied to railings and even more important, to hold a harvest party in September as a get-together for the community and a thank you to everyone who helped make the project happen.
To be honest, it’s totally possible to start a project like this without any funding. The only help you really need is the help of the people in the community.
What kind of help did you get?
In the first place we got help from the GIY group that I’m already involved in. About 20 people helped with planting and seeding but also looked after the beds later on. My main job was to make the rota plan, check in with everyone every now and again, then organising the event at the end.
We also got lots of support from shops around the place where we grew the vegetables, especially for the party. The garden centre donated some small vegetable plants and boxes for compost.
For projects like this, people are generally very willing to help but you should also think about something to give back to people. It’s not just a begging thing, a charity. In the case of the shops and the garden centre, for instance, we always mentioned them as a sponsor.That way everyone around was involved and felt part of the project. It really brought the community together for a while.
Can someone who never grew vegetables also do this?
Anyone can take the initiative but you should have some help from experienced growers. You need at least a small network of people to do the planting and seeding of the plants in advance.
If you would like to give it a try and start your own urban vegetable garden in the middle of your town, here is our step-by-step-guide to getting started.
If there is no GIY or SlowFood group in your city to help out, find out how to start your own GIY group.