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
NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.
“The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are” Maya Angelou
On 1st February NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network held the county’s first Herstory event in support of a national women’s storytelling movement to tell the stories of women past and present. The event brought women together to share stories through a creative process and created a space to reflect on the importance of ensuring women’s everyday lives, contributions and stories are both told and included in our history.
As part of this day Julie Griffiths an Artist and facilitator from Donegal Changemakers a development education project lead a unique workshop entitled ‘Mighty Women’ commemorative plates a creative way of talking about and celebrating the women who have influenced and enrich our everyday lives.
We are delighted the Commemorative Plates created by the woman on the day will now been on display in Donegal Town, giving others the opportunity to see these unique piece and read about the women who influenced their creation. These unique plates will be on display in Simple Simon, Donegal Town from Thursday 5th March in celebration of International Women’s Day.
We would like take this opportunity to thank all the woman who participated in this event, the stories their shared are inspiring and highlight why it’s so important women’s lives and voices are both valued and heard. And to Julie Griffiths and Simple Simon for organising and facilitating the display of these unique plates. We invite the community to stop by and see them 🙂
In this month’s Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Sharon Doherty shares her learning experience on the importance of embracing self care and making small changes to support our health and well being.
Hello and Happy New Year!
My name is Sharon Doherty, from Quigley’s Point, Co. Donegal. As we enter a new decade, I think there is so much hope for our health and wellbeing. Here’s a little bit of my life story so far.
I was diagnosed with stage two invasive breast cancer on the 22nd August 2013 at the age of 37. I found the lumps myself but naively thought they were due to hormonal changes and didn’t get them checked out for almost a year.
While I was a little surprised, I knew I had been under a lot of pressure at work, some of it self-inflicted. I was also still grieving for my son who had passed away as a baby nine years previously. I knew in my heart these had been taking their toll. What I didn’t realise at the time of my diagnosis was just how many silly mistakes I had been making that contributed to my illness.
Illness isn’t even a word I really associate with it though because I never felt sick, although I was very tired a lot of the time. Having had breast cancer has brought nothing but hugely positive changes to my life. It was a real wake-up call.
On the day I was diagnosed, the consultant told me I would be returning the following week for more tests. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I let him know I was going on holiday that week and the tests would have to wait until I returned. It still makes me smile. And it was a blessing that I took that time to go away and not be panicked into treatment. I think this is really important. Not to panic or worry overly. Worry achieves nothing positive.
I began to read and research all things health related and I started making some small but significant changes to my life. The more I read, the more I realised just how little I knew. I was fascinated by what I was learning, and still can’t get enough. More importantly, as I implemented the changes I noticed almost instantly, improvements to my health. It was then I began to realise that we have an incredible ability to heal ourselves given the right environment.
When I stopped eating dairy products, headaches that I got frequently, vanished. That was the first and most startling discovery. For years I had been eating painkillers for headaches and simply cutting out dairy prevented them. Too much sugar and white flour products in my diet were contributing to dandruff, candida overgrowth and a mucousy cough in the mornings – lovely. That strong coffee driving to work was making me nervous and on edge all day and seriously damaging my immune system unbeknownst to me. A glass of wine on an empty stomach in the evening was putting further pressure on my body. All of these little things added up and on top of the stress and previous trauma in my life, became too much.
I was able to change so many of these things I and haven’t looked back. I thought I wouldn’t like coffee without milk. Or that I couldn’t live without cheese! But these little changes have been so easy to make. I have also started making a vegetable juice a few times a week which has massively strengthened my immune system. I make bone broth and look after my gut health. I eat a lot more vegetables and I try not to be the stress head I used to be.
One of my friends asked for the bullet points of what I was learning because she didn’t have the time to do all the research I was. From there, the idea for my little book was born. Simple little tips, for general health that people could easily implement into their daily lives. It has taken five years, but finally, You Got This, is in print. It’s available in the Four Masters bookshop in Donegal Town and the Bookmark shops in Letterkenny.
I had a mastectomy at the end of November 2013. By this time I had done enough objective research to know I didn’t want to have chemotherapy or radiation. I was unsure about the hormone drug that it was suggested I take however. I remember clearly the exact moment I decided not to take it.
I had spent the day on my computer and my head was full of conflicting information. Many websites pointed to all the benefits and yet the World Health Organisation listed it as a carcinogen. I simply didn’t know what to do. I looked to the sky and said out loud, “Oh for a moment of clarity.” And the answer came to me straight away. If I took the drugs, I would have absolutely no way of knowing for sure if they caused a recurrence or not. If I didn’t take the drugs, but made changes to my diet and how I was living, then perhaps I would remain healthy and not need any further treatment at all. This is what’s been happening so far.
I have discovered so much through this particular journey. One of the most important things is that prevention is so much better than cure and that everyone has the power to make small changes every day that might just prevent them becoming one of the worrying statistics. I think we live believing that it won’t happen to us, but it can if we’re not looking after ourselves.
The most exciting thing is that there is so much we can do so easily to look after our health and wellbeing. Eat good food and really enjoy it. Laugh and chat with friends, family and loved ones. Get out in the fresh air and breathe deeply. Learn new things and have experiences. Dance, sing, listen to music. Go for regular physio, massage or reflexology to release tension from the body. Have kinesiology, go to a nutritionist or naturopath and find out the root causes of little ailments in the body and make the necessary changes. Stop at times during the day and be aware of life and grateful for it. Pray, meditate, exercise moderately but regularly. Slow down!
NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.
NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network is a feminist organisation, we see women as equal to men and work to support the realisation of that. But Patriarchy stands in the way of achieving this, which is why we work to dismantle it!
NCCWN Donegal are pleased to be offering a free gender justice course in Donegal Town. This is an engaging and empowering informal community education course providing participants an opportunity for to begin an educational journey to raise awareness and understanding of patriarchy and gender inequality.
Over the course participants will;
Begin an educational journey to raise awareness and understanding of gender inequality and patriarchy.
Explore the roots, dynamics and nature of gender inequality/ patriarchy.
Make connections between women’s own experiences and how patriarchy impacts on their lives.
Explore the ways in which systems and structures have and can be challenged to achieve gender justice.
We are offering this course over four Tuesday morning sessions 10am-1pm start 17th, 24th Sept, 1st, 8th Oct or alternatively two Saturdays 10.30am-4pm 5th and 12th October. Sessions will be held in the NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network office in Donegal Town.
If you would like to sign up for this Free course please fill in this online form here stating which sessions would best suit you and we will get in contact with you.
Some highlights from our previous gender justice course delivered earlier this year.