Two billion people are starving or malnourished across the globe, while hundreds of millions more are obese.
Those twin statistics are shocking, especially when they are linked to the fact that for the first time in history diet-related diseases have surpassed those that are infectious.
A nutrient deficit in land and food, chemical reliance and long supply chains, diets that are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar and a lack of understanding for food are some of the issues underlining the problem.
Against that background, GIY (Grow it Yourself), the Waterford-based movement of people who grow their own food, has developed a new €1.45m national education centre and headquarters on a three-acre site at Ardkeen, five miles from the city on the outer ring road.
Over 30,000 cars a day pass by the site, opposite Waterford University Hospital, and that, according to GIY, provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to start a new conversation about well-being and food.
GIY believes that growing and eating healthy, seasonal, home-grown food leads to improved physical and mental health, wellbeing, and self-esteem. In 2016, it will support 150,000 people and 5,500 community food groups in Ireland and UK.
The new headquarters will be the home of the GIY movement and a place where people can come together to grow, cook and eat homegrown food.
It will incorporate a growschool, cookery school, a 65-seat home grown food café, an orchard, farm shop, and training gardens.
A self-sustaining social enterprise, it will also create 22 jobs and expects to help GIY to impact the lives of over 500,000 people in its first five years.
GIY has raised €1.2m to-date for the project from a mixture of loan finance, crowd funding, a community bond issue, philanthropic donations, and government grants.
Supporters include Aramark, thee Tony Ryan Foundation, Diageo, the One Foundation, Bord Bia, Cashel Blue Cheese, the Department of Health, Ardkeen Quality Foodstore, Genzyme, Ballymaloe Cookery School, and Flahavans.
GIY has now launched a Grow Circle Challenge to raise the final €200,000 needed for the project before the end of March.
The organisation, founded in Waterford in 2008, aims to inspire and support people to grow some of their own food at home, school, work and in the community as a lever to a healthier life.
It is now looking for 20 visionary companies to commit to a €10,000 investment, spread over three years (€3,333 per annum) and help it to start what it is is calling a “food empathy revolution”.
GIY founder Michael Kelly said: “We think that most diet-related health problems are caused by a lack of connection and understanding of food.
"Food empathy is about reconnecting with our food and understanding it more by growing just a little of it ourselves.
“A food empathy revolution happens if we can help people to look under the hood of how food works and that’s what Grow HQ is all about.”
Each Grow Circle company committing to the investment will get in return a range of benefits relating to corporate social responsibility, public relations and human resources.
Grow HQ fundraiser Karen O’Donohoe said: “This is not about donations. We’re offering a very definite return on investment for each Grow Circle member.
"That’s on top of the positive corporate social responsibility (CSR) legacy of starting a new conversation about food and health and impacting so many lives.
“We will run a food-growing programme for up to 40 of their staff, either at their office or at Grow headquarters, helping their employees to re-connect with their food and get healthier and happier at work,” she said.
Ballymaloe Cookery School founder Darina Allen said: “GIY is one of the most important social initiatives to come out of Ireland in the last 20 years and the high-profile urban location of Grow headquarters makes it rival any sustainable food project I have seen internationally.”
The location of a high profile food project in a city is also seen as relevant because 60% of Irish people now live in urban areas, while an estimated six billion people on the planet will reside in cities in the next 20 years.
Michael Kelly said the centre, due to open in September, will help to make nutritious food available to all and help people live healthier and more sustainable lives by inspiring and supporting them to grow their own food.
The centre will expand the reach of GIY’s mission, increase the number of people growing their own food, create a broader empathy for food and create an internationally replicable model for sustainable food in an urban setting.
GIY says that letting a broad number of people try growing some of their own food is the key to unlocking problems in human well-being and the environment because it creates an understanding and empathy for food, where it comes from and how it is produced.
The Grow HQ project was launched in November 2013 with Taoiseach Enda Kenny; the sod was turned on the site by Tanaiste Joan Burton last December.
Mr Kenny said when you go to a school yard and talk with children, you don’t need to be an expert to understand that some are on the wrong path that is going to lead to problems in later years.
He said the centre can be an educational project of real interest to thousands of people, not just in Waterford.
It can also spread as a message throughout the country, “going back to what we always did for so many centuries, growing our own food”, he said.
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