The €1.45m centre for Grow It Yourself (GIY) — which was officially opened in Waterford the other day — was the brainchild of Michael Kelly, founder of the movement dedicated to promoting home-grown food.
It will serve as a national food education centre and promote the growing and eating of healthy seasonal food to hep improve physical and mental health, well-being, and self-esteem.
The new HQ in Waterford incorporates a grow school, farm shop, cookery school, a 65-seat café and training gardens.
It expects to attract 250,000 visitors, reskill 17,000 people to grow and cook their own food, and is expected to create 22 jobs over the next five years.
Over the next year, GIY will be offering 15 different learning courses each month for adults and children, covering all aspects of growing and cooking food, nutrition, and sustainable living.
The movement brings people together in homes, workplaces, schools, communities and online to inspire and support each other to grow food.
Having grown his own fruits and vegetables for several years, Michael Kelly discovered there was no local food growers group in Waterford, so he set one up himself.
With the aid of some of his fellow growers, he founded GIY Ireland in 2008 with the aim of opening a group in every town in Ireland.
Having started with a meeting of just 100 people in Waterford City Library in 2008, GIY has become an emerging global food movement.
It supports more than 150,000 people and 6,000 community food-growing groups and projects in Ireland and Britain this year.
The objective is to create abroader understanding and empathy for food and increase the number of people growing their own.
Mr Kelly wanted the movement to grow but he needed to prove how easy and successful it could be.
However, he was not in a position to bring hundreds of people a week out to his house to show them polytunnels and introduce them to chickens.
The movement needed a place where people could come and learn how to grow and cook food.
He also had a vision of a garden, where fresh produce would be sown and harvested year round.
He further pictured a kitchen to prepare, preserve and cook that food and a café that would focus on serving only the freshest seasonal vegetables grown by GIY on its own site.
Mr Kelly imagined the centre would be a place where people could socialise, be well looked after and enjoy great food and good company.
His vision was that visitors would also buy seeds and a bag of compost on their way out and that the entire project would be financially self-sustaining.
The local authority showed him a three-acre site, on the side of the Ardkeen Roundabout, on a bypass, about five minutes from Waterford city centre.
Soon, the potential of the site began to reveal itself because 65% of the world’s population live in urban or suburban settings and have the most to gain from a food education centre.
Being on a main road just across from University Hospital Waterford made it visible and accessible. More than 30,000 cars a day pass the location.
Waterford City Council saw the honesty, passion, and value in what GIY was offering and agreed to give it the land on a 100-year free lease.
Fundraising for the project was launched almost three years ago by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. It delivered a mix of donations, sponsorship, crowd funding, grants from State agencies and Foundation gifts.
A corporate challenge raised €250,000 in 78 days for the project, exceeding the target by €50,000.
More than 200 GIYers from around Ireland donated or sponsored a sod on the green roof, or supported other fund raising activities.
Then tánaiste Joan Burton turned the sod last December for the building, which includes numerous sustainability features, including a sedum grass roof.
More than 28,000 litres of rainwater will be collected from the roof each year to minimise water use. And all of the takeaway cups and containers at the centre are fully compostable.
Mr Kelly said the centre started as a simple idea.
It was a concept to create a place that would allow it to take people to a real-life working demonstration of how the GIY lifestyle can work for everyone with the aim of building a healthier Ireland in the coming years.
“It is a place we hope will offer people a deeper understanding of where their food comes from, a place where children can come and learn about food, and where young and old can reacquaint themselves with the life skills of growing and cooking,” he said.
The need for a global food revolution is obvious. Statistics show that 2bn people are starving or malnourished and another 1bn are obese, including one in five Irish children.
GIY believes that system change happens when a critical mass of people gain a deeper understanding of food by growing some of it themselves.
Mr Kelly said the centre will be the tool to help it deliver its primary goal — helping people to really understand where food comes from and removing the barriers that normally exist between where food is grown, cooked and eaten.
He recalled leaving his job in IT eight years ago and setting out from Dublin with an ambition to change his own pace of life and lifestyle.
But it was also his aim to reach out to others to see if they were willing to join him for the start of a journey that has now led to the opening of the splendid new centre in Waterford and the realisation of a dream.
“It is such a very proud day for all of us on the GIY team and for the broader GIY community around Ireland and Britain,” he said.
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