Peadar Lynch was unique in the line-up of food producers to win a Chef’s Larder award at this year’s Blás na hÉireann awards. The Cherry Orchard garden mixed salad logo features a pair of wellies sprouting flowers and a bird. So far so humble. But the bag of fresh leaves contains a climate and community solution which has the potential to be replicated across the country.
Lynch is the manager at the Cherry Orchard Community Garden, a social enterprise with a mission to provide training and healthy food in a west Dublin community. They’ve always grown organically, and are due to achieve full organic certification in February, he explains. It will be a significant step that should open up even more potential.
Growing vegetables commercially is a dying art. At a time when human and planetary health needs us to eat more plants, the number of field vegetable growers in Ireland (not including potato growers, of which there are about 300) has dwindled to just 60 farms today. More than 80 per cent of the fruits and vegetables we eat are imported.
A lot of the participants really enjoy it. It’s combating isolation and it gives them a sense of pride
Growing vegetables close to where they are eaten is a common sense solution. The garden has been in Cherry Orchard since 2010, but began to take off as a social enterprise in 2019 when Dublin City Council funded a garden manager job and Lynch was appointed. In that first year they generated €4,000 in sales. This year it has grown to €24,000.
“It is very much a demonstration project,” says Lynch. Part of his mission was to show how much food could be grown year-round. Some of the polytunnels will rest over the winter, with buckwheat and phacelia planted as green manures to nourish the soil life. The rest will be growing winter salads which, along with the kale and herbs, will keep the garden productive until summer salad season starts again in May. Surpluses are regularly donated to Bluebell Food Bank and the Vincent de Paul.
The vegetables are grown, minded and harvested by a small number of volunteers and people on the Tús community work placement scheme. “A lot of the participants really enjoy it. It’s combating isolation and it gives them a sense of pride,” says Lynch. Work in the garden has led some participants into community employment schemes. Food safety training and record keeping for organic certification are all part of the skills of the urban farmer, a role that Lynch would love to see becoming a viable job for many people. “I’d love to see it expand across the country as a local sustainability initiative.”
You can get a taste of the success by buying the Cherry Orchard Community Garden salads, herbs and kale in the Dublin Food Co-op in Kilmainham and Small Changes in Inchicore. If community climate action funding is used to set up versions of this across the country, this healthy community-building food could be available more widely.