Thursday 23th July, 11.11am

In the meanwhile gardens

Community gardener with Groundwork NI and ‘Grow It Yourself’ activist Mick McEvoy tells Belfast Food Network how he’s transforming unused urban spaces in Belfast into temporary food gardens.

We all remember the Celtic Tiger. How she purred. Then the global financial crisis struck and stalled much needed development across the country including Belfast. 

Sites that were earmarked for future houses, offices and shops now lie empty, as proposed projects, scattered across the city, remain on hold. In the short–term, ‘meanwhile’ uses for this land can be found, providing environmental, social and economic benefits – until the conditions are right for longer term development.

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What’s this all got to do with gardening? Well, I work with an environmental and wellbeing charity as a community gardener with Groundwork NI. We’ve developed a ‘meanwhile’ solution for some of these derelict eyesores across Belfast. Working with the landowner, the Department for Social Development, and with funding from the Public Health Agency we have created four thriving half acre ‘meanwhile’ or ‘pop– up’ organic food gardens, in partnership with local communities – green oases in the midst of the concrete jungle of Belfast.

We were inspired by the huge four acre Prinzessinnengärten – Princess Gardens – in Berlin where a community group called Nomadic Green reclaimed a site which had been a wasteland for more than half a century. Along with friends, activists and neighbours, the group cleared away rubbish, built transportable organic vegetable plots and reaped the fruits of their labours. This vision for a new model of urban living, where people can work together, relax, communicate, share skills and enjoy locally produced seasonal and organic food is an idea for our times.

Groundwork NI is piloting this concept across the four ‘meanwhile’ community gardens in Belfast. They are located in Connswater Street and the Beersbridge Road in east Belfast, upper Ardoyne in north Belfast and on the mid–Shankill Road in west Belfast. As the gardens have literally popped up, conversations have begun within these communities and beyond about where our food comes from, how it is grown and just how easy it is to grow it yourself.

We are using damaged plastic kerbside recycling boxes to grow the vegetables, fruit and herbs. These boxes have been gifted to us from Bryson Recycling and we fill them with the compost made from your food and garden waste collected by local councils and manufactured in Belfast– it’s rocket fuel for veg.

Growing salad leaves in old recycling boxes

We facilitate, teach and mentor anyone who wants to get involved in growing in the gardens and also offer healthy cooking workshops using the produce grown on site. Therapeutic horticulture workshops are also offered to help with the modern epidemics of stress, anxiety and loneliness that plague many city communities and citizens.

Our leases on the four plots of land run to the end of the growing season in 2017. What then? Maybe new social housing will be constructed on one of the sites and we’ll need to vacate. No big problem. We’ll pick up our mobile garden and find a new derelict plot of land and continue growing…there’s plenty to choose from.

The food growing revolution is getting stronger on this island, spearheaded by GIY International (Grow it Yourself) – I’m championing the initiative in Belfast. Our annual GIY festival, Grow Fest, is based in Waterford; this year, it will be held over the weekend of September 11th to 13th. Its theme is, aptly enough, – Grow–Cook–Eat – and GIY will have discussions, skill–shops, demos and more.

GIY will be bringing the festival out onto the streets of Waterford this year and will have lots to entertain GIYers old and new. There will be growing, eating and drinking involved.

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