by Robert Moss
Download document as pdf printer friendly version: A History of Dublin Community Growers 2009-2014 by Robert Moss
This article documents the first 5 years of Dublin Community Growers, and looks at the activities, projects, and events that it was engaged with. It is not exhaustive, does not account for every project, and nor does it attempt to credit the work and ideas of the many individuals who contributed their time and energy to Dublin Community Growers over this period. Instead, I have tried to document the aims of Dublin Community Growers, the key events the organisation engaged with, and the opportunities presented and lessons learned as progress was made. Any article of this nature is inherently reductionist, and as it is also written from the perspective of an individual it will be somewhat subjective. This said, I have made the effort to ensure the accuracy of events and activities held over this time period.
Establishing Dublin Community Growers:
Dublin Community Growers was established in August 2009 by Marian Kelly, Robert Moss, William Brennan, and William Morrough. Dublin Community Growers pursued a similar role to that of a proceeding initiative called Dublin Food Growers. While the latter was focussed on food sovereignty, and re-introducing urban growing to Dublin, Dublin Community Growers took a much greater interest in community development via community gardening.
At this time community gardens were a fairly recent addition to Dublin’s urban landscape, with the first documented examples being set up in 2003 and 2005. Back in 2009 Dublin, was adjusting to the recession caused by the global financial crash. Many people found themselves unemployed, and many of us in this situation looked for community projects to engage with in-order to occupy our time in a positive way. Gardening has always been an option of choice for many people in times of uncertainty … and unemployment, but in many parts of Dublin people did not, and do not have the benefit of their own garden.
Dublin Community Growers was created at a key period of community development in Ireland, which was provoked when this last recession hit in 2009. This saw a strategic opportunity to partner unused urban land with unemployed volunteers at the height of that recession. The first contemporary community gardens, as opposed to allotments, only appeared in Dublin from around 2005 onward. As such they were a relatively unknown experience for the local authorities on whose land many community groups wished to set up new community gardens. Dublin Community Growers quickly found itself advocating on behalf of community groups wanting to set up communal gardens on public land. Consequently, one of our first initiatives was the “Planting for People Proposal”. This proposal was a simple idea that sought to partner two problems to deliver a solution. These being unused land and unemployed labour. Throughout 2009 and 2010 Robert Moss and Marian Kelly promoted this concept to Dublin City Council, its Special Policy Committees, and various other agencies on behalf of Dublin Community Growers.
Another founding concept of Dublin Community Growers was to advise, and to offer answers to questions that were being faced by many nascent community garden projects in Dublin. Having helped establish Serenity Community Garden in 2009, I was aware that there were plenty of hard-won lessons that we had learnt in-order to successfully establish this community amenity. In-order to assist other community gardens on this journey to acquire community support, official support, insurance, and access to funding, Dublin Community Growers opened up its monthly Monday meetings to all interested parties. This allowed anyone to come along and ask questions, find contacts, and seek advice. The founding aims of Dublin Community Growers were to provide and promote:
Having successfully established itself during the summer of 2009, Dublin Community Growers spent most of 2010 organising and arranging its operations. This involved a good deal of prosaic but necessary toil, such as agreeing on a written constitution, arranging a bank account for funds, commissioning a website, researching opportunities for meeting venues, as well as promoting and helping to organise events hosted by community gardens in Dublin. Inorder to promote community gardens, and in response to the input of ideas and aims from an increasingly diverse number of attendees at the monthly meetings, Dublin Community Growers began to organise larger scale events and activities. These events extended beyond, but were also dependent upon the collaboration of, multiple community gardens from across Dublin. Our first such initiative was a series of presentations and talks delivered at the RDS, where Dublin Community Growers provided speakers for the Garden Section of the Spring Ideal Home Show. This event ran on the afternoon of Friday the 16th of April with the following speakers:
- Ciaran O’Byrne – Guerilla Gardening
- Willie Morrogh – Allotment History in Dublin.
- Robert Moss – Benefits from Community Gardening
- Marian Kelly – Phibsborough Community Garden Project
- Peadar Lynch – Transition Towns
All of Dublin Community Growers volunteers were offered free tickets to the RDS Spring Ideal Home Show on this date. One of the most positive outcomes was a meeting between Robert Moss and the RTE Production team for Nationwide. This led to the filming of an article for the Nationwide Programme about community gardening in Dublin.
RTE Filming for Nationwide was carried out at the de Courcey Square, Serenity Garden at Great Western Square in Phibsborough, the South Circular Road, and Greenhills Community Gardens. The programme was screened in July of 2010.
The 2010 promotional poster, and participating cyclists visiting Serenity Community Garden in Phibsborough, Dublin 7. Saturday the 22nd of May 2010. Photograph by Robert Moss, 2010.
This first Food-Cycle in 2010 occurred on a hot sunny day, during a period of warm sunny weather that spanned throughout May and June 2010, after a mild sunny spring throughout March and April 2010. In June the weather had become still sunnier and hotter, leading to a drought for gardens that only began to break on the 9th of July. This saw the drought of June 2010 broken by lumpy “Mamma” cloud eclipsing the skies above Dublin, ahead of drizzle, and then persistent evening rain that drew many snails from wherever they hide during a drought. The 2010 early summer heatwave was a noticeable contrast to the unusually cold snowy weather that book-ended the year, starting in January 2010, and then returning again in November and December 2010.
During 2010 Dublin Community Growers also ran a series of Butterfly Garden Workshops at four community gardens across Dublin. These were researched and delivered by Robert Moss, with funding from An Taisce’s Green Communities Programme, and additional support, speakers, and materials provided by the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club. The workshops aimed to share knowledge of the Butterflies that coexist with us among the urban landscape of Dublin, while at the same time bringing people into the community gardens hosting these events. By hosting these workshops at community gardens, we sought to both highlight the usefulness of community gardens as an amenity, and to promote their potential for biodiversity improvement within the city. The Dublin Community Growers Butterfly Workshops ran as follows in 2010:
- South Circular Road Community Garden, Dublin 8 – June 2010
- Bridgefoot Street Garden, Dublin 8 – August 2010
- Serenity/Phibsborough Community Garden, Dublin 7 – September 2010
- Finglas Community Garden, Dublin 11 – September 2010
The first activity of the year was Dublin Community Growers participation in a Willow Hedge Planting workshop. This was organised by Serenity Community Garden and funded by An Taisce’s Green Communities Programme. Mark McDowell, of the Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, directed the work and provided all the materials for the event on Saturday the 26th of February 2011. Mark chose Osier Willow for the hedge, which although not native to Ireland is found in Britain, and consequently it fits in well with the Irish Ecosystem. In 2011 gardens began to emerge from winter quite early, towards the end of February. The year was marked by mild weather in January and February, after extreme cold and snow at the end of 2010, although the day of this Willow Workshop was cold and sunny. This meant a constant flow of people throughout the day, as it was too cold for many people to spend the whole day in the garden. In total there were around 30 people who attended, with one lady coming all the way from Westmeath. The help was certainly needed as we began work at 12 pm as scheduled, but the willow fence was only completed at 4:30 pm, so a long cold day.
Spring brought mild sunny weather throughout March and April, and these two months were extremely dry, leaving many gardens with the additional task of watering their plants. May 2011 saw a break from the mild, dry, sunny weather of March and April. Instead, this month brought colder and more unsettled weather. Even when there was sunshine the temperature was still markedly colder than normal. Although there were plenty of sunny days scattered throughout the summer, on very few days did the temperature rise to bring warm sunny weather. This situation continued throughout the summer, with a few exceptions in late July and August when we had the odd bout of hot weather. Despite the spring drought, followed by a chilly May, most gardens thrived through the summer of 2011 and its unsettled weather.
In 2011 Dublin Community Growers was also a key partner with the “Growing Our Green Communities” Seminar held on the 5th of March at the Wood Quay Venue. This was organised by the Dublin Community Forum’s “Environmental Focus Group” of which both Marion Kelly and Robert Moss were active members. This presented a useful opportunity to showcase the aims and the increasing activities of Dublin Community Growers. The seminar was initially conceived of in 2010, in response to the success of the launch of the “Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening” by the Environmental Focus Group in February that year. Because of the success of this event, it was decided to host a similar seminar on an annual basis, but with a broader environmental remit. The event itself was initially planned for October 2010, but it had to be postponed until March 2011. This postponement was fortuitous in that it coincided with a springtime interest in nature and the environment. It also created the pattern for an annual environmental seminar to be hosted by the Dublin Community Forum Environmental Focus Group that continued each year until 2014 … ahead of the disbandment of the Community Forum in June 2015.
This “Growing our Green Communities” seminar provided a platform for Dublin Community Growers to deliver the following presentations:
- Thomas McDonagh – Community Garden Activity across Ireland.
- Robert Moss – The “Planting for People Proposal”.
- Marion Kelly – City Farms.
- Kristina McElroy – Transition Town Initiatives.
- Lorna Kelly – Biodiversity and Biodiversity Action Plans.
- Ciaran Hopkins and Peadar Lynch – Community Project Initiation Projects.
In June 2011 Dublin Community Growers had a very hectic schedule with two back-to-back events on Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th of June. The first of these was the 2nd (soon to become annual) Dublin City Food-Cycle. This year the event coinciding with National Bike Week in June, and was co-organised by Dublin Cycling Campaign. On Saturday the 18th of June, convoys of cyclists set off along two routes, one through the north-side and one through the south-side of Dublin City. Numerous community gardens were visited before finishing at Iveagh Gardens for lunch. This year’s event was very lucky with the weather, taking place during the afternoon of a sunny but cool day. Later in the day showers began to put in an appearance, ahead of torrential rain that evening.
The 19th of June saw Dublin Community Growers participate in the annual convergence event organised by “Cultivate”, an NGO now based in Cloughjordan that focusses on sustainable living. This year the Convergence festival included a community garden seminar organised by Peadar Lynch. This seminar aimed to further develop a shared vision of community gardens and allotments with practitioners, key stakeholders and experts. A series of short talks, followed by a facilitated world café session, were held at Cultivate’s then Dublin Office “the Greenhouse” on Andrew’s Street, Dublin 2. This event included numerous Dublin Community Growers speakers and project participants from supporting organisations such as “Healthy Food for All”. The event worked well, and Convergence expressed their thanks and congratulations on a well worked forum. The event was facilitated by Chris Chapman and the speakers included the following:
- Robert Moss: Dublin Community Growers
- Frances Byrne: OPEN
- Georgina Buffini: Healthy Food for All
- Eamon Rafter: Glencree Peace and Reconciliation Centre
In 2011 the ‘Nyeleni’ Food Sovereignty Conference was held in Austria. This was a cross-European forum on the issues of subsistence growing and food sovereignty. The event took place for five days from August the 15th, and it was agreed that this would be an ideal forum for Dublin Community Growers to meet and learn from their counterparts across Europe. Two participants from Dublin Community Growers attended; Carmel Ennis received a bursary from Dublin Community Growers to attend and write a report on what happened, and also to collect any information relevant to Dublin Community Growers. Miren Samper also attended on behalf of the Latin American Solidarity Centre, but also provided information for Dublin Community Growers at our meetings following the event. Miren reported that 400 people attended the Nyelini Food Sovereignty Conference, and Carmel’s report can still be accessed upon the Dublin Community Growers website.
The first Dublin Community Growers field trip was also organised in September 2011, to the Bothan Doibe Organic Nursery run by Jessica Farrell, near Rathangan in County Kildare. Because the organic nursery runs on a “shoestring”, it was thought that a lot of the labour and money saving techniques that had been learnt could also be of use to community gardens. Bothan Doibe is an ongoing model for living off 2 acres of land without retail shopping, and without refuse collection. Around 85% of the nursery plantings are organic, and everything that they grow for themselves is organic. William Brennan sought and obtained the use of a Gardai Community Minibus for this excursion, and there was a large up-take of interest in the field trip with 23 people confirming their intention to attend. The field trip began outside the Carmelite Centre, Aungier Street, Dublin 2, at 9:00 am sharp on Saturday the 24th of September. Those who braved the mild sunny weather were treated to a guided tour of organic orchards, raised beds, wild-flower meadows, pig/vegetable plot rotation, an excellent lunch of goats’ cheese, bread, vegetables, honey, jam, and fruit that was all grown or made by Jessica and her family. After lunch we received a very informative introduction to herbal medicine . There was great appreciation to everyone who made the day a success, especially Jessica Farrell, William Brennan and the Gardai Community Minibus, An Taisce’s Green Communities Programme which provided a €250 grant for the training event, and also everyone else at Dublin Community Growers who worked hard to make the day a success.
The final event of 2011 saw a return to Serenity Community Garden in Phibsborough, Dublin 7. This community garden was developing rapidly at this time and a grant had been obtained from An Taisce’s Green Communities programme to install a greenhouse made from recycled plastic bottles. This “Plastic for Plants” workshop was held on Saturday 3rd of December 2011, and it saw a big turnout of around 30 people who came to help build the plastic bottle greenhouse at Serenity Community Garden in Phibsborough. Those who volunteered managed to organise themselves into separate work groups which undertook complimentary tasks on a complex project very efficiently. This occurred without much oversight, and any casual observer would have thought that we all knew what we were doing! Even though it was a cold day everyone stuck at it until all the plastic bottles were used up.
The first significant event for Dublin Community Growers in 2012 was another An Taisce Green Communities funded training trip to Bothan Doibe Organic Nursery, held on Saturday the 21st of April. It was a great success, with 23 people making their way to Jessica Farrell’s small holding and organic nursery, near Rathangan, County Kildare. All 23 people who arrived were distributed amongst 7 cars, which was also an impressive feat of carpooling. As well as strong attendance from Dublin City community gardens there were also people who attended from Counties Meath and Fingal – North County Dublin. Specifically, we were delighted to see that Deborah Tiernan, from Fingal County Council Parks Division, attended to find out more about the horticultural methods being practised for greater environmental benefit.
Highlights included the Herbal workshop with its infusions and tincture preparations, as well as seeing the goats, and being provided lunch within a poly-tunnel!
The weather was typical of April 2012 in being cold and unsettled. This was after a warm dry March. Unfortunately, from April onwards the weather was very poor, being predominantly cold and wet all summer and likewise into the autumn. This was blamed on an irregular jet stream bringing unsettled polar air down over the British Isles all summer. While there were odd hot days scattered across the summer this was not one of them!
In 2012 Dublin Community Growers also embarked on its most ambitious project to date: The Dublin Harvest Festival. This was made possible by close cooperation with the Dublin City Community Forum, and the Community Foundation for Ireland … which provided much of the funding required for the event. It was also supported by Dublin City Council, An Taisce, and Dublin City TV.
Preparations began in late 2011 with support from the then Dublin City Lord Mayor; Andrew Montague. A number of meetings were held in December 2011, and again early in 2012 at the Mansion House. The support of the Lord Mayor assisted greatly in Dublin City Council allowing Wolfe Tone Square to be made available to Dublin
Community Growers. This provided a city centre location to hold the Harvest Festival later in September of 2012. The Lord Mayor also made the garden of the Mansion House available to Dublin Community Growers for a promotional launch of “Harvest 2012” on the 17th of May. Within the press release for this event the Lord Mayor said “As Lord Mayor of Dublin, I want to encourage people to access organically grown vegetables from Dublin’s allotments and community gardens. I would like to see a regular seasonal “Fruit & Veg” Market in Dublin and I believe that September’s “Harvest 2012” event will provide a significant step in that direction.”
Dublin City Lord Mayor, Andrew Montague attends the promotional launch of “Harvest 2012” within the Mansion House Gardens.
Photograph by Ita Martin, 17th of May 2012.
The annual Dublin City Food-Cycle was again held during National Bike Week on Saturday the 16th of June 2012. This year there were three cycle routes that all culminated in the Phoenix Park Walled Garden. It was this year that our luck also ran out with the weather, and we had a cold showery day. Unfortunately the event was something of a washout due to this unseasonal cold wet weather.
Dublin Community Growers were also involved in an interesting side project throughout 2012, coordinated by Marion Kelly (DCG) Deborah Tiernan (FCC) and Mary Tubridy (Environmental Consultant). Representing Dublin Community Growers, Marion Kelly worked with the Heathland Habitat Project which later became known as “Goats for Howth” and was run jointly by Fingal County Council and the Howth Special Amenity Area Order. Dublin Community Growers member Marion Kelly was responsible for monitoring the welfare of the small goat herd which was re-introduced onto heathland above Green Hallows Quarry, Howth.
Photograph by Robert Moss 11th of September 2012.
An open day was held on Tuesday the 11th of September 2012, aimed at encouraging volunteer participation from across the wider community with help in monitoring the goats’ welfare, as well as helping to contribute towards grazing research within the Howth Special Amenity Area Order. This innovative agricultural and environmental project eventually led to the establishment of Dublin City Farm within Saint Anne’s Park.
Dublin Community Growers marked the start of the first Dublin Harvest Festival with a film screening event at the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, on Thursday the 27th of September, just two days before the Harvest Festival itself. Kevin Dennehy organised this event, with a screening of ‘The Hidden Garden’ documenting the creation of a small communal garden upon a waste land site within Summer Row, just off the North Circular Road in Dublin 1. The 12 minute film of “The Hidden Garden” is by Garvan Gallagher, one of the Summer Row Garden project’s founders. This was then followed by the award winning 2008 documentary film called “The Garden” which is about a 14 acre community garden in Los Angeles. Peader Lynch and Robert Moss then delivered brief talks about Dublin Community Growers and the upcoming Harvest Festival, prior to a question & answer session.
The Harvest Festival event itself was held in Wolfe Tone Square on Saturday the 29th of September 2012, and was launched by an address by the then Dublin Lord Mayor; Naoise Ó Muirí. The event brought community gardeners and allotment holders togetherto encourage others in the community to get growing and to set up their own community gardens. During the event organically grown produce from Dublin’s Community Gardens and Allotments was exchanged with any individuals who wanted to join in by pledging to help out with their local community garden. A large number of talks, workshops, and live music sets were scheduled throughout the whole day from 11 am to 5 pm. This was a huge initiative … and commitment. Nearly a year of planning and meetings across different groups and organisations, as well as with funders and participants, had taken up almost all of the Dublin Community Growers committee’s time and energy in 2012. The logistics were compounded by the fact that the harvested produce made available to the public had to be collected and delivered from many different community gardens across the city.
Dublin City TV broadcast from 2012 Dublin Harvest Festival
After a month to recover from the stress of the Harvest Festival, and to consolidate the publicity it had created, Dublin Community Growers then organised a visit to the Cloughjordan eco-village. This Dublin Community Growers visit to the Cloughjordan eco-village, in County Tipperary, was by train departing on Saturday the 13th and then returning to Dublin on Sunday the 14th of October 2012. Kevin Dennehy had applied on behalf of Dublin Community Growers to a competition run by The Wheel, this was to win free return tickets to any destination in the Republic of Ireland served by Irish Rail. At the time this annual competition provided 50 free tickets to one community group a year, and in 2012 Dublin Community Growers won! We had a good weekend of weather late in the season with a fresh sunny day, although with cloud and the odd light shower. But this sunny weather over the weekend ended with the arrival of colder weather and rain in the afternoon prior to our departure on Sunday. 21 people made it by train to Cloughjordan on Saturday, but more arrived by car later in the day. During this busy weekend we gained a lot of information and swapped many ideas. Our activities included:
- A tour of the RED garden with Bruce Darrell
- A volunteer work party to help tidy the garden fruit beds
- A tour around the eco-village with Davie Philip
- A visit to the local Pub!
- A foraging walk with Robert Moss
- A visit to the organic bakers within the ecovillage
2013 was a complicated season for Dublin Community Growers, Community Gardens, and for Gardeners across Ireland. The growing season was very late in arriving with cold unsettled weather up until the 19th of May, when we had our first hot sunny day of the year. There had been a farming crisis that year with many farmers unable to secure fodder for their livestock due to a lack of grass growth during the spring. When the weather improved in late May, we then faced a heat wave, with warm or hot sunny weather stretching onwards into September. The turnaround from the poor growth within gardens was rapid, and by June this delayed growth due to poor weather had been completely remedied in just a few weeks. 2013 actually delivered a bumper crop for most gardens!
At the same time 2013 was also probably the most ambitious year to date for Dublin Community Growers in terms of its number of public meetings, the number of active participants, projects embarked upon, and the organisation’s involvement with other groups and projects. Not only was there the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival to be organised for September, but we were also given access to the Mansion House in March by the then Lord Mayor of Dublin City; Naoise Ó Muirí. This was to launch the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival ahead of the Harvest Festival event itself, and to raise its profile within the media. Dublin Community Growers events and activities in 2013 began with this launch of the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival within the mansion house on Thursday the 7th of March. This was a huge event in-itself, and it required a great deal of organisation starting way back in 2012. Ultimately it was a great launch at a great venue, which allowed us to thank all of the partners and volunteers that assisted Dublin Community Growers in delivering the first Dublin Harvest Festival back in 2012. This was a very memorable night, and a real coming of age moment for the community garden movement in Dublin. The City Wide video article by DCTV of this event can be viewed here:
Dublin City Television’s City Wide – Harvest Festival News Bulletin
Highlights of the 2013 Harvest Festival launch included the address by the Dublin City Lord Mayor, Naoise Ó Muirí, and an endorsement by Duncan Stewart of the RTE Eco Eye programme. Dublin City Television also arrived and conducted interviews with festival organisers where the rooms of the Mansion House provided a luxury of film location settings for them. There was also plenty of fine food, prepared with ingredients from Dublin’s Community Gardens. Mary May and other Dublin Community Grower volunteers were working in the Mansion House Kitchen all day preparing the food. Mary also prepared the hampers of homemade bread that were presented to some of the supporters who backed us in delivering 2012’s inaugural Dublin Harvest Festival.
Almost immediately after the promotional launch of the 2013 Harvest Festival there was then the Saint Patricks Festival at Merrion Square. Dublin Community Growers were asked to run a stand at the Science Zone as part of the family day at St Patrick’s Festival on Saturday the 16th of March 2013. A Seed Bomb workshop was provided, as the target group to engage with were children. Marion Kelly ran the workshop and communicated with St Patrick’s Festival. Ciaran O’Byrne, William Brennan, and Susanne Fuchs also helped out at the workshop throughout the day from 11am until 6pm.
In 2012 and 2013 Dublin Community Growers had approached Bord Bia with the proposition that we take an information stand along with other NGOs at the Bloom Garden Festival in the Phoenix Park. This proposal was not granted by Bord Bia in 2012 or 2013, instead we were asked to provide Bord Bia with copies of the 2009 Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening to be handed out for free to visitors. When I became aware that An Taisce were planning to operate a marquee at Bloom in 2013 I raised the idea at the monthly An Taisce Head Office meeting on the 27th of March that there could be a joint An Taisce/Green Communities Group presence at Bloom. This plan was also agreed at the 16th of April Dublin Community Growers Harvest Festival Steering Meeting.
The plan was for Dublin Community Growers to run a variety of workshops including seed bomb making, and herb plant propagation at An Taisce’s marquee to help attract visitors and participants. In return Dublin Community Growers were able to register volunteers for the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival, and potential volunteers for Dublin
Community Gardens across Dublin. This involved displaying a large map of the known community gardens across Dublin. Dublin Community Growers also distributed free copies of the Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening, and flyers promoting Dublin Community Growers and its monthly meetings.
There were many meetings with An Taisce and Dublin Community Growers between March and May 2013 which were required in-order to put in place the planning, logistics, and materials needed to deliver this initiative successfully. I was aware that Dublin Community Growers would need to be prepared as much as possible prior to the festival itself, as there would be no time to organise ourselves during the event itself. Aisling O’Connor kindly made available the South Area Youth Service office on Aungier Street in-order for Dublin Community Growers to run a rehearsal workshop for the volunteers delivering the actual workshops at Bloom. It also gave us the opportunity to run through the logistics and rota of volunteers.
This was a huge undertaking for Dublin Community Growers as the Bloom Garden Festival ran for 5 days from Thursday the 30th of May to Monday the 3rd of June 2013. It was also necessary for our volunteers to collect and deliver the materials for workshops onsite by Wednesday the 29th of May, prior to the site being closed to vehicle traffic. In total we secured 30 free passes for Dublin Community Growers volunteers to man the stall and deliver the workshops.
The Bloom Garden Festival went well for Dublin Community Growers with many new contacts made, a big increase in our profile, and free access to Bloom for many of our volunteers. Highlights included a visit to the An Taisce/Dublin Community Growers marquee by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins. It was a great example of Dublin Community Growers collaborating with other organisations to punch above its weight.
On June the 15th the 4th annual Dublin Community Growers and Dublin Cycling Campaign Food-Cycle was again held in Dublin with two routes converging at Aras an Uachtarain. Both groups of cyclists were due to meet up at the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre at 2:15 pm, prior to a visit to the garden of Áras an Uachtaráin at 3 pm. The weather was perfect with a warm sunny day, despite the forecast for unsettled weather. The day turned out to be a window of summery weather, after rain showers on Friday evening the rain did not return in significant quantity until Sunday night. Many thanks to William Brennan of Dublin Community Growers who organised the visit to Áras an Uachtaráin for everyone.
- Meet Pearse College Allotments 10;00 am
- Depart at 11;00 am to Blarney Park Community Garden/Plots Sundrive road
- Depart Blarney Park at 11 30 am to Drimnagh Castle Longmile road
- Depart Drimnagh Castle at 12;30 to Royal Hospital Kilmainham
- Depart Royal Hospital at 13;45 to Visitor’s center in Phoenix Park
- Depart Visitor’s center at 14;45 to gates of Aras an Uachtarain for tour of gardens
- Meet Millennium Park Walled Garden Blanchardstown 10.00 am
- Depart at 11.00 to Finglas Community Garden
- Depart 12.30 to De Courcey Square
- Depart 13.30 to Serenity Community Garden
- Depart at 14.30 Visitor’s Centre in the Phoenix Park (lunch).
- Depart Visitor’s center at 14;45 to gates of Aras an Uachtarain for tour of gardens
The Goats for Howth Project was also very active in 2013. The main aim of the project was to showcase the benefits of goat grazing in managing scrub and Heathland in a traditional and environmentally friendly way. This DCG partnership with Fingal County Council was led by Marion Kelly. To promote the project in 2013 Mariona Kelly was filmed by the RTE Nationwide programme on the 29th of April at Newbridge House. This event was then screened on TV on the 8th of May, and this TV coverage was useful in promoting the project’s open day up on the Hill of Howth, when 60 school children made the trip up there to see the goats on a fresh breezy day on Friday the 10th of May.
As part of its Harvest Festival promotions Dublin Community Growers organised a free film screening on Thursday the 12th of September; The Vanishing of the Bees. Hosted by the Dublin Food Co-op, Newmarket Square, Dublin 8, and organised by Gavin Kenny, this screening was a success with 55 people turning up. Costs incurred by DCG were €100 for food provided by the Dublin Food Co-op and €85.19 for the license and DVD to screen The Vanishing of the Bees. The DVD did not arrive in time for the screening, but luckily Marion Kelly was able to provide a copy.
The 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival was held on Saturday the 14th of September – a wonderful sunny day, which marked a perfect celebration for an excellent 2013 growing season across Dublin. That year’s Harvest Festival was again held in Wolfe Tone Square on Jervis Street in Dublin 1, and was aimed at all members of the family. As well as the distribution of community garden produce, there was live music, face-painting, seed bomb making, a pop-up garden, willow weaving, children’s story telling, apple pressing, and even a composting demonstration. Councillor Áine Clancy arrived to represent Dublin City Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn, and Eco Eye Presenter Duncan Stewart was also interviewing some of the many participants involved in delivering this year’s Dublin Harvest Festival. Also visiting the festival was Dublin’s MEP Emer Costello.
Many community groups such as Mud Island, Serenity, South Circular Road, South Dublin Allotments Association, Summer Row North, WALK, Weaver Square, and other community gardens were involved in providing festival volunteers and stall holders, or they helped by supplying organic produce for distribution on the day.
There was a great deal of strain bourn by all the Dublin Community Growers volunteers and committee members in delivering this second harvest festival … to the extent that a debrief meeting was held on the 13th of November, looking at whether it was viable to continue with events of this scale.
2013 was a very successful year for Dublin Community Growers in terms of its projects and activities, but it was a close-run thing. The fallout from the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival in particular, on top of a significant number of other events in 2013, highlighted the fact that Dublin Community Growers was over-extending itself. It became obvious that there is a limit to the amount of event management, advocacy, and community development that can be delivered by volunteers in a loose knit organisation as open as Dublin Community Growers. The scale of these events, the funding applications and reports that these required, volunteer coordination, stakeholder liaison, and associated administration could have easily occupied multiple full time paid positions. However, Dublin Community Growers had no premises or business assets, neither revenue or VAT registration, nor charitable status which would have assisted with securing commercial sponsorship. Consequently, the difficult questions as to who should fill such a role, whom they would report to, how they would be paid, and what they were to be doing never arose. Instead, the only option was to scale back on what Dublin Community Growers was asking itself to undertake. The 2013 Harvest debrief in November of that year was an important step in redefining what Dublin Community Growers is, what it could and should achieve, and where it should focus its limited resources. Up to this point the previous 4 years had been spent pursuing every available opportunity in terms of relevant projects, funding, workshops, and events that came our way. This had increasingly come at the expense of being able to engage with the founding aims of Dublin Community Growers. These were primarily to provide assistance with new and existing community garden projects. The amount of time, advice, and assistance given to new garden projects diminished sharply as the Dublin Harvest Festival and its’ numerous sub-committees and side projects expanded to take up all of the committee’s time, while also asking for more and more time and work from the volunteers and supporting community garden groups.
The meeting itself was held at the former premises of the Dublin Food Cooperative on Newmarket Square and was a very tense event. The dozen or so people present were still unhappy about different details of how the 2013 Dublin Harvest Festival was run and managed. One of the questions raised was how Dublin Community Growers was benefitting from organising and funding such a large annual event, and there did not seem to be a convincing answer. Broadly there were two opinions; to continue with the Dublin Harvest Festival because it was popular and promoted healthy food, and that running Dublin Harvest Festival had displaced Dublin Community Growers core aim of promoting existing and new community gardens in Dublin. These opposing visions were not resolved and because of this, or despite this, the Dublin Harvest Festival had run its course. Dublin Community Growers did not hold a similar event in 2014 or 2015. In 2016 Dublin Community Growers held a similar large-scale event in Mountjoy Square after being approached and assisted by Dublin City Council, but this has not yet been repeated.
A Dublin Community Growers Gathering had been planned in 2013 for November of that year. This aimed to address the following:
- What are the Community Garden issues?
- What are the latest developments in urban agriculture?
- What can DCG do for Community Gardens?
The event itself was planned as part of the national “Gathering”, a 2013 initiative based on grassroots events by organisations like Dublin Community Growers. The “Gathering” was not a single event but provided an umbrella framework for varied activities across Ireland throughout 2013.
The consensus at the October 2013 Dublin Community Growers meeting was that November 2013 was too soon to organise an event successfully after the September Harvest Festival. Arguably the Harvest Festival had been just such a gathering event anyway! January 2014 was ruled out for this Dublin Community Growers Gathering as it would have clashed with the AGM. So instead it was decided to hold a spring gathering event in March 2014.
Eventually this concept developed into a Dublin Community Growers “Urban Growing Gathering”, an event that was held within the downstairs “Luncheonette Restaurant”, at the National College of Art and Design on Thomas Street, Dublin 8. The event began shortly after 7 pm on Wednesday the 5th of March.
The evenings events began after more than 80 guests were offered organic wine with a freshly prepared food buffet by the Luncheonette Restaurant. An administrative misunderstanding resulted in two separate orders of organic wine being delivered … but this seemed to go down well with those in attendance!
Marion Kelly began the evening by talking about the power of growing your own food. Robert Moss then delivered a short update about ongoing plans for a National College of Art and Design, Dublin Community Growers, and An Taisce Green Communities collaboration. This would be run by Tony Lowth and aimed to create a social animation project to provide training, resources, and the materials to engage unemployed people in horticulture. Gavin Kenny took on the role of M.C. for the evening, and then set everyone to work on a Strength/Weakness/Opportunities/Threats analysis as to what is involved in setting up urban community gardens in Dublin. This was then followed by a talk by Seamus Bradley about his visit to Charles Dowding’s horticultural research station in England. Kevin Gallagher of Irish Seed Savers also attended to offer a selection of heritage vegetable seeds which were available for purchase. Perhaps with the assistance of so much wine in circulation it proved to be a profitable night for Irish Seed Savers!
The NCAD community garden was initiated by Tony Lowth, and ran successfully at a high tempo throughout 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It’s location within the Liberties of Dublin 8 provided a much needed amenity for community cultivation within an area of high population density, and very little green space. This project delivered a prominent example of how a community garden could operate on a brown field site within the centre of a capital city, and it explored the kinds of community enterprise and revenue generation that other community gardens were already embarked on in cities like London and Berlin.
Dublin Community Growers assisted in launching this initiative in important ways, such as extending its own public liability insurance to cover the workshops and the groundwork involved in setting up the garden for its first year of operation. Dublin Community Growers also helped to organise Corporate Social Responsibility events for the NCAD Community Garden during its first year in 2014.
The first of these Corporate Social Responsibility events was coordinated by Marion Kelly and Tony Lowth and saw Air B&B employees arrive on site at the NCAD garden on Friday the 4th of April. Tony Lowth delivered a talk about the project. Groundworks included digging a lazybed and planting potatoes, and also laying down wood chip upon the pathway. This led the way for the next big Corporate Social Responsibility event that Dublin Community Growers organised to assist getting the NCAD Community Garden up and running. Volunteers from AOL visited the site on the 16th of May and completed a large range of tasks from building more raised beds, to planting potatoes, and clearing some peripheral areas so that the space could be more fully utilised. Dublin Community Growers also helped source the loan of garden tools from other community gardens across the city for these events.
2014 also saw another memorable summer of sunny hot weather for weeks on end. April was a fine sunny month, followed by unsettled weather in May, which in turn was followed by hot sunny weather in June that stretched on throughout the summer. As well as an ideal growing season … for those gardens with access to a supply of water, the summer of 2014 also saw a huge number of festivals and events being organised across the city. Dublin Community Growers were increasingly being approached to participate in some of these events, which were increasing in both number and scale across the country. This was a feature of public life that built up from the start of the 2009 recession, and which continued to grow as the country slowly developed and worked its way back to growth and activity, as well as prosperity … for some. Some of these events were specifically aimed at encouraging more activity and consumption to support this growth, such as the national gathering in 2013. Other events were themselves enabled by people having more disposable income, and the income stability for recreational time. The overall feeling by 2014 was that the worst of the recession was over, and that opportunities for funding and community development were also growing along with the economy. This brought its own challenges for Dublin Community Growers as fewer people had time to volunteer, and at the same time there were more and more initiatives looking for volunteers and making requests for promotional and practical support. Personally, there was also an atmosphere of people having to work longer and harder to just keep up with the expense and demands of living within a growing economy, both in terms of their work and home life.
Early in March 2014 Christ Church Cathedral had contacted Robert Moss about a new festival they were organising. This Dublin Garden Festival was to be held over the May/June bank holiday weekend at Christ Church Cathedral from the 13th– 15th of June 2014. Christ Church Cathedral were seeking the participation of Dublin Community Growers to contribute to the festival by providing workshops and an information stand. Despite our intentions to rationalise the activities of Dublin Community Growers in 2014 we decided to go ahead and participate by providing Swift Box Workshops, volunteer registration, food and water usage surveys, and general information on community gardens and allotments across Dublin. This decision was made after discussing the merits of promoting Dublin Community Growers at a high-profile location within the centre of Dublin. Robert Moss also negotiated a donation from the festival to cover the costs of materials and volunteer expenses. Another reason for embarking on participation in this festival was that it coincided with Bike Week 2014. Colm Ryder, from the Dublin Cycling Campaign, confirmed with Robert Moss at the end of March that their organisation would again participate in the 2014 Food-Cycle, which Dublin Community Growers had organised each year since 2010. It was therefore decided that the 2014 Dublin Community Growers Food-Cycle event should coincide with our participation at the Christ Church Cathedral Dublin Garden Festival on Saturday the 14th of June. This saw two Cycling trips running across Dublin that year, organised by Sean Shanagher and Miren Samper, one through the north side and the other through the south side of the city, with both finishing up at Christchurch Garden Festival from 3 pm onward. It was also arranged with Christchurch Cathedral that all Food-Cycle participants were also to be admitted into the Cathedral free of charge for a guided tour as the culmination of the 2014 Food-Cycle.
Our participation in this first ever Christchurch Cathedral Garden Festival, on Saturday the 14th of June, went well on a warm sunny day with a lot of visitors. Dublin Community Growers volunteers delivered Swift Box Workshops, with the assistance of Helen Burke and Mary Noonan from Dublin City Council. Helen and Mary were on hand to promote the Dublin Swift Box Project, and the Dublin City Swift Survey. Dublin City Council also provided Dublin Community Growers with another pop-up marquee to accommodate the volunteers who were registering interested persons for community garden projects in their areas, handing out literature about these Community Gardens, the Dublin Swift Box Project, and other environmental community initiatives.
There were significant logistical issues in getting people and materials on site for this event as there was no parking access to the busy city centre location of Christ Church Cathedral, which is surrounded by main arterial traffic routes. Another factor that we had not anticipated was that the majority of visitors to the festival were tourists visiting Dublin from overseas. This somewhat blunted the desired aim of driving up the number of public volunteers engaging with Community Gardens, Dublin Community Growers, and associated environmental projects. On the plus side the event helped raise the profile of Community Gardens, and Dublin Community Growers activities within Dublin. Dublin Community Growers contributed to a strong environmental theme within Christchurch Cathedral Garden Festival, and also delivered a very enjoyable day of activity for both Dublin Community Growers and Dublin Cycling Campaign volunteers.
The other large scale event that Dublin Community Growers engaged with in 2014 was the annual Saint Anne’s
Park Rose Festival in July. Early in the year Marion Kelly and Robert Moss had attended a meeting at Saint Anne’s Park with Noel McEvoy and Mick Harford from Dublin City Council Parks Department. This was to discuss the possibility that Dublin Community Growers could participate within the Rose Festival which is held annually within the grounds of Saint Anne’s Park around the facility of the Red Stables.
The July Rose Festival would see different community gardens and groups promote their activities under a single Dublin Community Growers marquee that would be provided by Dublin City Council. Dublin Community Growers would in return be providing workshops and presentations, and we also organised the presence of a number of stalls promoting different Dublin Community Garden initiatives. This new initiative for Dublin Community Growers was attractive as it offered us participation in a festival of even larger scale than the “Dublin Harvest Festival” without having to expend the time and energy on the logistics of organising, funding, and promoting it. Instead we could focus our attention on what Dublin Community Growers was set up to do … promote and support community gardens across the city. In truth the Rose Festival was probably a more similar event for Dublin Community Growers to that of the Bloom Garden Festival at the Phoenix Park in 2013. This was in so far as we were part of a larger and more diverse festival that was held over two days, on Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th of July 2014.
The following community garden groups were hosted within the Dublin Community Growers marquee in 2014:
- Dublin Community Growers
- Alupro (Every Can Counts)
- Virgin Mary/Muck and Magic Community Garden
- Cherryorchard Community Garden
- Julianstown Community Garden (Sunday only)
- Urban Farm
The introduction of the Dublin Community Growers Marquee to the “Eco Village” section of the 2014 Dublin Rose Festival allowed many community groups to access this festival for the first time. These groups included; WALK, Serenity Community Garden, Muck and Magic Community Garden, and Virgin Mary Community Garden, and all of which were able to display and distribute their locally grown produce. This was also a well received social enterprise, as it enabled many visitors to take home locally grown organic produce without the need to visit the supermarket on their way home! A very pleasant day out in the park for all. Saturday, the first day of the festival, started off somewhat misty but warm, with sunshine then breaking out in the afternoon, before more late afternoon mist.
In 2015 I began to step down from my role on the Dublin Community Growers Committee which had involved manging the administration as secretary, a period as public relations officer, and also as events manager.
From 2015 Dublin Community Growers moved away from large scale events requiring significant project management, and that were aimed at the outreach to new gardens and volunteers. Instead the organisation began to focus on promoting the activities of its constituent active community gardens. Annual events such as the Dublin Food-Cycle, and participation with Saint Anne’s Rose Festival continued as they fitted well with the core activities of the community gardens, and these events continue to be a pleasant way for like minded people to meet up and promote specific community garden projects, and the wider benefit to Dublin that they bring about.
The last Dublin Community Growers event that I was involved with was the Dublin Made Me Market. This was a free one-day market and talks event, held within the Smock Alley Theatre on Sunday the 1st of November 2015. It was organised by journalist Catherine Cleary, and was one of the events held to promote Dublin 2020 – Dublin’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2020.
At the talks we heard from Tony Lowth (NCAD Garden), Kaethe Burt-O’Dea (Spuds and Lifeline project), Iseult Ward (Food Cloud), Elaine Doyle (seed bombs), historian Juliana Adelman (a short history of farm animals in Dublin), Robert Moss (The Garden City) and Duncan Walker (from the Walkinstown Green Kitchen).
Dublin Community Growers volunteers manned an information desk promoting the various community gardens around the city, and registered plenty of garden volunteers. Robert Moss, Sonya Agnew, and Will Brennan volunteered to help represent Dublin Community Growers on the day, and to engage with the public. Also present was the Fallen Fruit project coordinated by Bernie Brannick. Andrew Jordan from the DCU Community garden ensured that a free flow of freshly pressed apple juice was available to all, and the Bridgefoot Street Community garden also supplied the potatoes that were cooked by Graham Neville into a delicious Champ.
More recently in 2020 I was approached separately for information about the mapping of contemporary community gardens across Dublin, by Dublin Community Growers, the Community Gardens Ireland Network, and the Mapping Green Dublin UCD Geography Project. This was in relation to a lack of visibility on the number and location of currently active community gardens across Dublin and Ireland. I first attempted a comprehensive review of Dublin Community Gardens in 2009 as part of an MSc Research Project; “opportunities and constraints on community gardening in Dublin”. Some of this research work was then condensed into the “Dublin City Guide to Community Gardening” launched by the Environmental Focus Group of the Dublin Community Forum in February 2010. I did later write an updated “Dublin Guide to Community Gardens” launched again by the Environmental Focus Group of the Dublin Community Forum in October 2013, and this contains a relatively more up to date list of community gardens. In total 45 community gardens were then listed in operation across Dublin, an amazing increase since 2005 when the first contemporary community gardens, as opposed to allotments, began to appear within the city.
It is likely that since 2013 the overall number of community gardens has declined within Dublin as the economy has grown. This economic recovery led to rapid commercial development across Dublin, putting pressure on sites available for community gardens, and in addition the increased economic activity led to a reduction in the amount of time available to community gardening volunteers. From 2017 there was a rapid closure of a number of inner-city community gardens, with Weaver Square, Bridgefoot Street, Sitric Road, and South Circular Road Community Gardens all closed down either in 2017 or 2018. All of these community gardens were displaced by developmental pressure within areas bereft of public green space. In fairness two of the community gardens were closed to make way for parks, but the transient nature of community gardens within the city just underlines the need to track where they are, and how valuable they are. My experience in writing the Dublin Guide to Community Gardens back in 2013 was that this is a very time consuming endeavour, and as also pointed out by Dublin Community Growers it requires updating on an annual basis.
Certainly, it is in the interest of the local authorities to have a live listing of community garden projects, as they deliver on numerous local authority policies, foster community development, and contribute to a more sustainable and greener city. It is also worth drawing attention to the fact that Community Gardens are an important element within the 2019 Dublin City Climate Action Plan, under the theme of Nature Based Solutions. Here they are referenced under the following climate actions awaiting budget:
- N34: Assess feasibility of additional green space for local food production, including community gardens and urban orchards.
- N36: Identify sites suitable for community gardens for local food production (Codema, 2019)
It would seem to make sense for Dublin Community Growers to receive suitable funding from any budget assigned to these climate change actions. Dublin Community Growers are closely involved and part of the fluctuating situation with regards to contemporary community gardens, and other urban growing projects across the city. The modest funding required to maintain a single live listing of community gardens would also assist these individual gardens in promoting their activities, and with attracting new volunteers.
Additionally, there is a significant academic interest in the community garden initiatives across Ireland, and particularly within Dublin. This includes research students from across Europe, as well as students from DIT, Trinity, UCD, DCU, etc. I spent many hours from 2015 to 2019 in Bridgefoot Street Community Garden being interviewed by different students, working on a wide variety of studies directly or indirectly related to community gardens. Some of these were of a practical urban agricultural nature, others more ideologically driven social science studies, where the gardening was somewhat incidental to the research being written. Inevitably I would be asked where the researcher could access the list of all community gardens in Dublin, or when the next update of the Dublin Guide to Community Gardens was due to be published! A live listing of community garden projects, and an archive of previous garden projects would lead to a clearer academic profile of Dublin’s Community Gardening movement, and consequently a greater appreciation for what has and can be achieved.
In this context it is also worth noting the Royal Irish Academy webinar “Can Climate Education Save the Planet?” that was hosted in November 2020. Among the progress that needs to be made in terms of climate change education were the following requirements:
- An educational move toward climate change solutions and collective actions, rather than just the causes of climate change
- That people need to be participants in climate action
- There is a need to map climate action resources at a national level (Royal Irish Academy, 2020)
It would seem that local authority, regional, and national level mapping of community gardens would align well with these identified requirements, especially as community gardening activities could potentially link into the national school curricula.
While being interviewed by students researching the community gardening sector in Dublin, I have often been asked what could be done better, or where improvements could be made to deliver more benefits from community gardening in Dublin. One obvious area was, and continues to be, the unexploited market for locally grown organic produce from Dublin Community Gardens being made available for sale. While this happens on an ad-hoc basis with individual gardens or at individual events, it would be an improvement if this could be done on a more organised city-wide scale, perhaps in collaboration with the Dublin Food Cooperative or a similar organisation that Dublin Community Growers already has a strong relationship with. To date the bureaucracy of registration with revenue, with VAT, insurance, and health and safety requirements always proved impenetrable for Dublin Community Growers volunteers to navigate through. It might be worth looking at some of the other organisations that have set themselves up as community enterprise initiatives, and that operate tangentially to Dublin Community Growers, such as Connect the Dots, and the Market Gnomes operating out of Dublin City University Campus.
While this is not the only option to consolidate Dublin Community Growers as a self-funding community enterprise initiative, it would seem to one well worth pursuing, alongside the aim of acquiring charitable status.
Codema (2019) Dublin City Council Climate Change Action Plan 2019-2021. Dublin. Available at: https://www.dublincity.ie/sites/default/files/2020-07/2019-dcc-climate-change-action-plan.pdf.
Royal Irish Academy (2020) ‘Can Climate Change Education save the planet? European perspectives’, in Climate Change Education Webinar. Dublin: The Royal Irish Academy. Available at: https://www.ria.ie/news/policy-andinternational-relations-international-activities/climate-change-education-webinar.
About the Author:
Robert Moss became Chairman of the Environmental Focus Group of the Dublin Community Forum in September 2009, at the same time as being one of the founding members of Dublin Community Growers.
He was formally elected to Dublin City Council’s Environmental Special Policy Committee in November 2015 as a representative of the then Dublin City Community Forum. This is a role that he continues to fulfil as one of the two PPN representative members of the Dublin City Council Climate Action, Energy, and Environment SPC.
He has written a number of published environmental and socio-developmental articles focussing on urban environmentalism and food security. These have been published by the Goethe Institut, An Taisce – The National Trust for Ireland, and Dublin City Council.