Cork also has a long history in food and food production and was home andwas home to Ireland’s first botanical gardens.
Established in 1808 by the Royal Cork Institution on the site of what is now St Joseph’s Cemetery in Ballyphehane, Scottish botanist James Drummond was the sole curator of the gardens, which closed some 20 years later due to lack of money.
The site was sold to Fr Theobald Matthew to be used as a cemetery for Cork’s poor.
Cork also has a long tradition in market gardening and much of what is now student housing in the environs of UCC was once market garden around Glasheen and Hartland’s Avenue and other parts south.
A report was published recently on urban agriculture in Cork, funded by Cost Action Urban Agriculture Europe and facilitated by Colin Sage and Tara Kenny of UCC.
It was commissioned to identify which public spaces might be available around the city for use as community gardens, allotments, and other productive spaces, and to identify areas that could be greened-up.
There is a lot happening around Cork at the moment, with many groups, voluntary and otherwise, involved in developing gardens and growing food.
Dr Sage, along with Cork Food Policy Council (CFPC) wants to bring some joined-up thinking into the mix, and the first step of this report was to identify what’s happening where in terms of food production; to look at the reasons for, and benefits of, urban food growing, and to draw from international examples.
It’s also hoped that the report will help the process of developing a more strategic approach to food growing to enable Cork to become a greener, healthier, and more abundant food-producing city.
We all know the importance of reducing food miles and the benefits to our diet of eating locally.
The report found that Cork has “obvious opportunities to build on its strengths, including nearby fertile rural hinterland, food growing, and agricultural skills, well-established ‘gourmet’ food culture and interest in local food”.
What is also important is that we don’t lose the ability to produce food from the soil around us.
It doesn’t all come from the chilled aisle in the supermarket — no, it all comes from the garden.
Food is easy to grow, good for you, and the pleasure that is gained from working in the garden, not to mention the aerobic workout, is irreplaceable.
Loss of skills in food growing were cited as a problem for the future, as small farmers and vegetable producers struggled to compete with international markets, and heavy farming subsidies.
With increased awareness and skills around healthy eating, cooking, and growing food, the shared activity of gardening and food growing is now vital to ensure knowledge and skills transfer, bringing generations of people — and those of mixed backgrounds — together.
The report found there is a need for more education and awareness within the public and institutions around unsustainable food production systems, climate impact, food waste, and the value of organic or quality production and locally produced labels, which brings me back to where I started.
We have a long tradition in education and food production, and now is the time for both to work together to make Cork the horticultural jewel that it has the potential to be.
Formal education will play its part, of course, in developing the county along this path, but informal education may be even more effective.
The health and therapeutic values of gardening are plain for all to see and the social capital created in community gardens cannot be underestimated.
Midleton Community Garden Project, for example, saw the value of linking the adjacent hospital to the garden, and is developing links with wider health groups such as an elderly daycare centre, and local mental-health services and Men’s Sheds.
The report’s authors spoke with groups from Knocknaheeny and the Glen Community Garden, and referring to Cope Foundation and Cork Autism Society, found that gardening has many benefits for those involved: “People come to the site for relaxation, and to meet others… one lady came up to me saying the garden had given her something to look forward to after church… whereas before she would just go home and see no one all day.
“We get lots of phonecalls from parents with children with autism, as a group they are quite isolated… so something like a gardening group could be very beneficial.”
One of the main hurdles facing any potential community garden or group of volunteers is the lack of available space and when available space is identified, in making contact with the landowner, either private or public.
To help with this process the CFPC is offering to help as facilitators and are asking any landowners or interested groups or individuals who have identified a site to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.