GIYers appreciate food skills

That’s one of the conclusions we can draw from the early success of the new Grow it Yourself (GIY) movement.

Within a couple of months of Michael Kelly kicking it off in Waterford, there were six GIY groups within a 50 mile radius.

A journalist who moved with his family to the city five years ago in search of the “good life” of growing their own vegetables and keeping hens and pigs, he found it hard to get useful advice.

He organised a meeting, about 100 turned up, and the end result is GIY, a not-for-profit initiative established this year by Michael and other enthusiastic growers from Waterford, to promote back-garden vegetable growing.

Their aim is to establish GIY groups in every town and village, and more than 200 attended their recent launch at the Waterford Harvest Festival.

Hundreds are taking part for free in monthly meetings, talks and demos, garden visits, seed and plant swaps, produce bartering, mentor panels and growers’ ‘meitheals’.

Members include many young people inspired towards self-sufficiency by the likes of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver on TV.

The spread of ages goes from a 12-year-old who keeps hens to an 83-year-old vegetable grower.

Some believe the success of GIY is due to the realisation of many young people that the academic skills they have concentrated on are now less important than basic life skills like being able to cook, garden and maybe keep a few hens.

And others seem keen to get on with it and help themselves and make a difference, while the politicians are trying to find a solution to the national mess.

The perilous state of the economy seems linked to increasing concern about the food system, and unprecedented interest in producing food — often organically — in back gardens, allotments and community gardens.

This not only makes sound economic sense, but also connects people to the community and environment.

At the very least, forgotten skills are being revived, which can help us cope with recession.

For those who feel their recession-hit world is going out of control, growing their own food will mean taking back some control.

Even if you can’t do anything about the economy, swine flu, global warming, or the weather, you can stick a seed in the ground and watch it grow.

Literally, that is what Norman Borlaug did, and he is credited with saving more lives than any other person who has ever lived.

His death on September 12 didn’t make the front page headlines like the deaths of Michael Jackson and Edward Kennedy, because where our food comes from is not yet a major preoccupation for many people. It was wheat varieties developed by Borlaug which averted the widespread famines and mass starvation predicted in the 1960s.

Previously hungry countries like Pakistan and India were transformed into self-sufficient producers of wheat, and the technology was repeated for rice, leading to similar results in China. Thankfully, the world appreciated his role in global food production, because Borlaug was one of only five people to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in the US and the Nobel Peace Prize (an honour shared by Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Junior).

Well done also to Michael Kelly and his GIY team for playing their food production role.


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