In this ‘Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Gortahork local Joanne Butler shares her journey of becoming an environment educator and setting up the social enterprise OURganic Gardens an outdoor green space focused on food, sustainability, and horticulture. While also reflecting on her learning experience and the importance of embracing sustainable living and making small changes to support the environment.
16 Years ago I moved to Donegal, coming for the big smoke of Derry to a relatively rural area and never having grown a vegetable in my life. The following year in 2004 having tasted my first cabbage straight from the field, I asked my landlord at the time for a drill and bought my first seeds. In 2008 my husband and I bought an old cottage with a wonderful view in Gort a’ Choirce. We carefully restored the house for myself, my husband and my (then only) daughter to live in.
Three years later now with 3 children we started to slowly work on our 4 acre garden at this stage I was already growing some of our own food for a number years but, I still was not really aware of where our food comes, thinking back on it now, I was living in a bubble, a nice cosy ‘good life’ bubble as we had observed the land for a number of years (being a bit busy with the kids) we now felt confident to start working on the plans we made.
First things first we wanted to clear the land as much as possible and as natural as possible, so we enlisted the help of a few friends, we enlisted the help of some pigs and they got straight to work clearing the ground for us. In 2013 my local community group Pobail Le Chéile asked me to run a Community Garden, it pushed my boundaries and enabled me to work with people in my local community, we shared tips, stories and food.
Coming initially from a background always doing some sort of community work I wanted to put together a programme of events that reconnected the links between the food we grow, the food we eat and the people we feed. We ended the year with a harvest festival, inviting people from all over the area to come together to celebrate food and enjoy the experience of coming together in a social setting. This sparked the flame and OURganic Gardens was born.
That winter I attended many courses and events around the country connected with community gardening, I joined the community garden network and completed my FETAC level 6 train the trainer. I put together a community garden course working with local people growing, cooking and connecting with each other.
I then started to look beyond just the gardening aspect of it , outside the ‘bubble’, I wanted to bring more than just healthy eating into the classes, I wanted to show people the impacts of what we do here now, locally and how it will affect other people in the future and Globally.
In February 2014, I began a FETAC level 4 in Global Development with Donegal ChangeMakers, this opened doors I didn’t even know existed. It took me on a journey of learning that not only burst that bubble but entered me into a whole new world of conscious thinking. Hearing the shocking, hard hitting facts I learnt left me feeling overwhelmed to say the least. We looked at the developing countries and how our lives here, affect their lives there. And then more than ever this word CHANGE started to resonate deep within.
I went on to complete a tutor facilitator course and I remember hearing more and more disturbing insights into the global state of play, where we were at with our natural environment. I had heard enough, I left the course early on the last day barely unable to breath …. I had heard a lot …. I thought to myself … What could I possibly do in any way that could make one ounce of impact in the world today. In tears I wept, for the peoples who’s lives that our choices are destroying, the unfair food trades that are dealt. For the lack of control that we have over large companies that wreak havoc on our food and the environment.
But it was then that for me the defining moment came. And it was around that time that the ripple effect, for me came into play. I realised that what we do here, now and the choices we make, while at the time may feel like it’s only a tiny drop in a puddle. But if we allow this drop to affect everything it meets, then in turn this drop creates the possibility to reach all of the ocean. Even the smallest changes we make can affect the people around us.
“For me community gardening and teaching about growing local food became my drop”
Since then I have worked with lots of different groups in community gardens and Community Gardens Ireland. Fast Forward four years and the more that I left home to work with people about sustainable living, I realised that I was not being sustainable myself, I was driving all over the county and beyond and not taking time out for me, my family and my garden. So since the beginning of 2018 I took the decision to start to work from my home garden in Gortahork. To start a social enterprise that will show people how and why I do it.
I have since discovered permaculture which is set of ethics and principles that help me understand nature and work with it rather than against it.
EARTH CARE – PEOPLE CARE – AND FAIR SHARE
When I work with groups now we talk about the nature of our global food system. A system where the fruit, vegetables, and herbs found in grocery stores have often been grown hundreds of miles from our kitchens and packed, shipped, distributed, and displayed, all while being refrigerated, this is a process that can wreak havoc not only on the environment but on the flavour and nutrients.
To talk about how growing a simple bag of salad naturally at home can not only cut down on your chemical intake, but in terms of the water it takes to grow the vegetable from seed to bag. In a country like Kenya where water charges are literally costing the earth. As most companies’ triple wash their salads at packaging point, we are literally running the well dry and that doesn’t even take in the transport.
To learn about how only a few generations ago, most of the food on the dinner table had been growing in gardens only hours before it was served. While it would be a full-time job these days to feed your family this way, it’s surprisingly easy and fun to grow some of the staples on your grocery list and it saves a whole lot of air miles in between.
We follow the principles as best we can. We observe nature, use and value diversity, produce no waste and use small and slow solutions. Now me and my family have taken it one step further and have looked at these permaculture principles in all our aspects of life at home. From saving our rainwater, building with natural materials, managing our waste materials and using renewable resources we are hoping to show people how they can live more sustainable lives on a home scale basis.
I now work with a fantastic team at OURganic Gardens and during 2019 we ran successful courses in Permaculture, Horticulture and social and therapeutic gardening. We have set up volunteer days and community garden co-operative sessions. We have done numerous walks and talks around the land and we have even set up a small stall at the house providing surplus vegetables to the community with an honesty box to help keep the garden going.
This year we plan to do more of the same with some extra workshops and further development on the land. Who knows what route our learning together will take at OURganic Gardens, but one thing I do know and that’s the more and more people we can get involved in our garden project then the more and more people that we can get thinking about their own ripple effects and in the near future we look forward to a tidal wave of hope from all of the ocean!
Go Raibh Maith Agat
Adapting to Change
Joanne is currently doing a series of online live facebook videos on Sundays under the title #GrowTogetherDonegal check it out here