It's spring again and the 12-week course is in full swing - 13 nationalities this time. Dark and dreary when they arrived, but now the evenings are getting longer and the birds are singing and snowdrops, crocus and tiny daffodils are bursting in flower. For the past few weeks I've spent many cosy evenings by the fire flicking through seed catalogues, choosing varieties of vegetables, fruit and herbs to plant during the coming season. I can't wait for the ground to warm up enough to get some seeds planted. Our 12-Week Certificate students are equally impatient to get started. On the first day when they arrived, we showed them how to sow a seed and then gave them a lettuce seedling to plant into the ground so we've whetted their appetite to think about growing some of their own food. Every now and then one comes across a natural leader, a person with an impossible vision who has the tenacity and charisma to make their vision a reality against all the odds. Michael Kelly, founder of GIY Ireland is certainly such a person and it can be a tiny incident that sparks an idea – this whole movement which supports the growing efforts of 150,000 people and 6,000 food communities both in Ireland and the UK, all started with garlic.
Michael Kelly (Image Credit Ilovecooking.ie)
Michael was busily doing the food shopping one dark evening, not his favourite task, he picked up a bulb of garlic – 50 cents, he was outraged to discover that it had come ‘all the way from China’.
It set him thinking surely to goodness we could grow garlic in this country.
Out of this outrage was born, what is now one of the most important social grass roots movements in the country: GIY – Grow It Yourself. Michael shared his discovery with some of his friends; they decided to arrange a meeting to ‘test the waters’. Did others feel the same? Was there any interest in this topic? Was there a hunger for knowledge? Over 100 people turned up to the initial meeting in the Waterford Library one September evening in 2008, standing room only – obviously there was an appetite to learn what for some was a ‘forgotten skill’ for others a longed for skill to learn how to sow a seed and grow even a little of their own food.
Michael had inadvertently stumbled upon a longing, among a significant number of people to discover the magic of sowing a seed and having the satisfaction of watching it grow into something they could eat and feed to their families in the secure knowledge that it was nourishing, wholesome and free of chemicals. Since that small beginning in 2008, Michael and his messianic team many of whom have soldered by his side voluntarily since the very beginning has travelled up and down the country starting branches, organised eight
GIY Gathering Conferences in Waterford, supported over 6,000 local champions, inspired and encouraged and continued to dream. Michael was invited to deliver a DO lecture in Wales in 2012, during that event he became even more aware that the movement needed a headquarters, a centre where people could visit, see edible gardens bursting with vegetables, herbs and fruit, learn how to grow, eat and gather together to share the fresh seasonal food from the garden.
On the ferry boat back, he scribbled a ‘note to self’ on his pad – ‘must do, GIY HQ’ and stepped off the boat at Rosslare with an enhanced mission.
He shared his vision, it resonated with many people.
A vision is one thing, but raising €1.4 million to realise that vision is quite another – a massive fund raising campaign ensued over 4 years and on 8th October, GIY HQ was opened to a joyous reception from hundreds of supporters, well-wishers and local businesses and the passionate GIY team. It’s rare enough to find a work force so totally committed to an ideal as the group of twenty six super charged individuals who are overjoyed to be part of this project.
Michael thanked the myriad of people who had helped and supported his vision along the way but reserved extra special mention for Waterford County Council who had unanimously voted to donate the 3 acre site at Farronshoneen on Dunmore Road opposite the University Waterford Hospital and the Solas Centre to GIY.
Myself and Rory with Michael at the opening.
The sustainable building on was designed by Solearth Architecture and encompasses class room, café, shop and cooking school –and now the work really begins. Check out the Grow HQ website... and come and see him at this year's Litfest in May, at Ballymaloe.