Community Gardens Ireland (CGI) and Social Farms and Gardens Northern Ireland (SFGNI) have joined together in a call to improve policies north and south of the border, to enable communities to deliver climate and biodiversity friendly actions.

CGI and SFGNI Spring Gathering and Forum event was held Saturday March 2 and marked the third year since the two organisations have worked together on this event.

This year, 216 people registered to attend making it the “largest” annual gathering of community growers on the island of Ireland.

The 2024 theme for the event was ‘Food Education’ and attendees received presentations from landmark community growers based across Ireland, including:

  • Caitríona McCarthy, Edible Landscape Project, Westport, Co. Mayo;
  • Gary Clarke, Louth Urban Food Sanctuary;
  • Kevin Byrne, Sarah O’Connell and Denise Lynch, Scoil Bernadette, Co. Cork;
  • Kathy McKnight from Holy Family Primary School, Omagh, Co. Tyrone;

A key area of discussion at the gathering was on the need for stronger policies and legislation to be enacted north and south to support community growers.

SFGNI’s, Patricia Wallace gave an update on the implementation of a Benchmark Standard for community growing and allotment provision.

Belfast City Council has recently adopted the Benchmark Standard’s recommendations, the main one being, a third of an acre per 1,000 household should be set aside for community growing.

SFGNI ,anager, Patricia Wallace said:

“We are delighted that Belfast City Council has adopted the Benchmark Standard and hope all councils in Northern Ireland will follow their lead in the coming months.

“The growing number of attendees is evidence of the interest in communities to be connected to soil, nature and food growing.”

She also said how by improving access to land, this will enable communities to grow food more locally.

TD for Waterford, Marc Ó’Cathasaigh presented a draft for Community Gardens Bill, and recent updates on the Planning and Development Bill.

Community growers

This amendment accepted for review by the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning, Kieran O’Donnell, would create the role of community gardens in law for the first time in Ireland.

The development would also help enable discussions regarding additional requirements to be placed on local authorities to provide community growing spaces where demand is present.

Chairperson of Community Gardens Ireland, Dónal McCormack said:

“It is clear from listening to the speakers how community gardens and allotments encourage people from all backgrounds to come together and grow food, not hate.

“Despite the huge benefits, local authorities are still not required to provide allotments or community gardens where demand is present.”

McCormack also said that access to land needs to made more accessible for community growing purposes across Ireland.

The final presentation of the day was by Hans Zomer from Global Action Plan. Zomer took the attendees through the work that Global Action Plan (GAP) is doing from its Climate Heroes programme.

In addition, Zomer gave details on the GLAS Community Gardens and how “beneficial” these spaces are to biodiversity.