Food for all: How a Cork community garden is leading by example

Food for all: How a Cork community garden is leading by example
John Paul O’Brien, NICHE community health worker, participant Ian O’Connor, and community gardener Triona Murphy in the Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill Community Garden

Tucked into a maze of terraced houses, parks, sports areas and clubs, an oasis of calm, colour, and fragrances, a world of food has been created. 

And in every way the best food, the freshest food, the most organic, creative, and satisfying food. It’s all on a once-derelict site on the Cork Northside hill of Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill.

The site has been transformed and there are endless benefactors. Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill Community Garden, a public amenity open to all, has been developed by Niche, which is celebrating 20 years as a HSE-funded community health initiative.

It’s a worthwhile concept which works in partnership with other local resources as required and has translated into practical application. And it starts with the root of all good food — fresh, local, and organic.

The colourful garden has planters overflowing with vibrant vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit bushes weighed down with ripe produce, a large polytunnel and seed beds. 

They have been developed by participants who have the pleasure of planting, weeding, harvesting, cooking, and eating what they grow. 

As well as learning how to cook, they swap skills to use their produce imaginatively to press flowers for pictures and printing cotton bags, making perfume, lip balm, honing wood, and rolling porcelain for other handcrafts. 

Beetroot is not just eaten but also used as a dye.

Horticulturalist Triona Murphy is an inspiring, energetic overseer of the gardens.

“Committed carnivores have come here and we have converted many to preparing and eating at least some vegetarian meals. Insurance restrictions mean we can’t cook fish or meat here, so we turn what we grow into substantial main courses which participants learn how to cook,” she says.

The meat-free meals haven’t always been appreciated. She laughs when she remembers a few of the men arriving for Christmas dinner and finding there was no turkey. 

There was some puffing and blowing until they ate what was there and realised how delicious and substantial it could be.

Guest chefs give their services to teach a variety of ethnic cuisines which make good use of the vegetables grown on site.

One of the longer-term participants recalls that the smell of manure took some getting used to. 

“I got into the gardening and did some research of my own online. It was only then that I discovered that strawberries grow overground.”

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#kale #plantingseeds

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This week he will make strawberry jam and later more from black, white, and red currants and gooseberries. It turns out he loves making it.

Volunteers can share the produce, and a vegetable box scheme is available for anyone to buy. 

In the summer, the outdoor cob pizza oven and barbecue get plenty of use. “We eat and laugh here”, chorus a group of gardeners.

The team of organisers make sure health information on conditions such as diabetes and digestive problems is provided, and dietary advice is always available. 

Another participant admits he would never have bothered to drink water until he got involved.

Creative workshops and activities are held indoors in The Studio. 

Yoga (for children and adults), T’ai chi, relaxation sessions, herbalist and nutritionist workshops are organised when enough people want to do them. It’s all up to them.

The Tool Box and Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill Men’s Shed (part of Irish Men’s Sheds Association) takes place every Wednesday from 11am to 4pm.

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Lentil and vegetable soup (with a few flowers..) From garden to bowl. #healthysoup #communitygarden #healthycork

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Men talk about health issues, acquire or use existing skills to make anything from picture frames to planter boxes and furniture. 

They paint and decorate the premises from time to time. It’s an important, relaxed forum for men to chat.

Women are very much involved in all aspects of the project, but Wednesdays in the shed are exclusively for men.

There are seasonal events, with barbecues when weather permits, and giant pumpkins for Halloween.

This garden is the essence of community living and co-operation. Education is practical, and sharing skills nurture and benefit all participants. 

An appreciation of good food often starts by growing it. Healthy choices result. And if laughter is medicine, they should all be very healthy.

The garden is located beside Harbourview Rd, behind Apple Green Garage, in Hollyhill, Cork. For enquiries call: 086-726101.

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