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.
In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature a Donegal woman shares her thoughts on why we should celebrate International Women’s Day, highlighting the importance of reflecting on achieves made in advancing women’s equality but also recognising the work that still has to be done and remembering those women whose voices go unheard and are excluded from realising their full potential.
Sunday 8th March is International Women Day, a day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide. The overall purpose of this day is to draw global attention to gender inequality and violence against vulnerable women. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on progress, change and to celebrate those acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
Imagine a world where everyone has equal rights and opportunities, where gender equality is the norm. Men and women sharing the care work at home and getting paid equally for work of equal value. Picture equality on factory floors, corporate boardrooms and in political leadership. Women would have an equal say in decisions that affect their lives, their bodies, their policies, and their environment.
It’s easy to dismiss International Women’s Day as a day just for women and why it’s needed. If we look at the typical life of a woman in a country like Ireland, you might be slightly cynical as to why it would be necessary. After all, women can do what they want here – they have the vote, can work where they want, receive the same education, everything on the surface seems straightforward.
But it’s important to remember that International Women’s Day is over 100 years old. And here in Ireland no less than 50 years ago, women had to leave their job in the civil service if they got married. Women were not permitted to own property outright and were also prevented from collecting child benefits – it had to be paid out to the father. And while there has been much improvement within the last 50 years or so, regarding Irish women’s position in society, this is not the same in every country.
We must look back as well as forward, and remember the struggle that women faced throughout the centuries in gaining fundamental rights. The rights that are often taken for granted in western countries, and are urgently required in many developing ones, for instance, the right to vote, own property, and to have an education. Those rights were required in a hard fought battled against those who sought to deny them.
International Women’s Day is a further opportunity to honour the incredible achievements that women have made throughout the world. All too often women have been erased from the history books, and this particular occasion is a great opportunity to experience the wonderful literature, music and scientific discoveries as well as all the contributions for which women have never been accredited.
Women like Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell (1883-1957) who was a member of Cumann na mBan, and a dispatcher during the Easter Rising for the rebels. She was a midwife and a fierce Republican who stayed in the GPO throughout the rising caring for the wounded. However, Nurse O’Farrell was ‘airbrushed’ out of history when her shoes were all that remained in a photograph of the 1916 surrender, in which she appeared alongside Padraig Pearse.
Also women like, Jenni Wyse Power (1858-1941) who is one of the better-known female figures in the Rising and politics of the 20th century. She was an activist, feminist, politician and businesswoman, a founder-member of Sinn Féin. She was appointed to the first Seanad, and used her position to campaign for women rights. Stories such as these are commonplace, and therefore it is important that women are remembered for their contributions to society.
Ireland is imperfect to the law of equality, for example, the wage gap disputes and also the vast inequality in politics. However, we need to recognise that events like this are an essential step of active solidarity for many women around the world. We, therefore, must reflect on the work that still has to be done and remember those women whose voices go unheard and who continue to be excluded from realising their full potential.
This is why International Women’s Day is essential – it provides otherwise silenced women with a voice, which is a vital step in the right direction.
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.
“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 🙂
NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network invites you to join us on Saturday 1st February 10.30am-3.15pm in the St. Patrick’s centre, Donegal Town for our Donegal Women’s ‘HerStory’ event. This event is a creative day to honour the women who inspire us and celebrate St.Brigid’s Day Ireland’s triple goddess and matron Saint.
During the day we will be joined by the Carolyn Farrar a journalist and writer who will be leading a creative writing session to celebrate women’s lives and those who inspire us. In the afternoon we will be joined by Julie Griffiths an Artist and facilitator from Donegal Changemakers who will lead a unique workshop entitled ‘Commemorative Plates’ a creative way of talking about and celebrating the women who have influenced and enrich our everyday lives.
The Donegal HerStory is being held in support of the national Herstory Irish women’s storytelling movement. A unique project that tells the life stories of historic, mythic and modern women that have not been told. The movements mission is to give the public authentic female role models and a game-changing egalitarian education programme, inspiring countries around the world to start their own Herstory movements. To find out more please visit https://www.herstory.ie/
The Donegal HerStory event is a day for women in to come together meet other women and share stories through a creative process, have chats and a good few laughs throughout the day. While also creating the space to reflect on the importance of ensuring women’s everyday lives, contributions and stories are both told and included in our history.
The event attendance fee is €8 with a light lunch provided, spaces are limited, so if you would like to secure your place, please fill in our online form here.