Wednesday 17 January 2018

From Farmville to the real thing. . . GIY is blooming

For Michael Kelly, the strongest motivation to keep growing his own is knowing he can access the freshest food for his children

Aidan and Caragh O'Donoghue with their son Luke
Aidan and Caragh O'Donoghue with their son Luke

Michael Kelly

For many people, the motivation to grow their own food comes from wanting to make sure their children have the best food to eat. Certainly in my case, a continuing strong motivation to keep growing, is knowing that we are able to access the best, freshest and most natural food for our two children. It also helps that by getting them involved in the growing process, they seem more amenable to eating the lovely veg that comes from the veg patch.

So it was also for Aidan and Caragh O'Donoghue from Bishopstown in Cork who were the winning family in this year's Operation GIY Nation – our campaign to help families live a little healthier and more sustainably by growing their own food.

Though the O'Donoghues had always wanted to grow their own, it was the arrival of newborn bundle of joy Luke that gave them the push they needed to get started. "We were eager for his first foods to be grown by us," said mum Caragh, "so we would know exactly where they came from and exactly what the ingredients were. We wanted to start out with good, healthy food."

Over the years in GIY, we've spoken to lots of busy parents that would love to try growing but simply didn't know where to start. They tell us that they find all those weird horticultural terms and Latin names a bit daunting. They've thought about giving it a go, but find themselves wondering – 'what if it fails and I look like an idiot?' I can empathise with those feelings, because it's only a short few years since I felt that way myself.

So we decided to come up with a programme that would take the mystery out of food growing. The key, we felt, was to take things right back to basics, and devise a small number of very simple projects that any family could do. When we wrote the very first project handout, we circulated it to people that had never grown anything before – if there was anything in the handout that wasn't completely clear to them, we went back to the drawing board.

The O'Donoghues joined more than 500 families from around Ireland, taking on monthly food-growing challenges over six months from March to September. The idea was that we would start with a really simple project, like growing cress, that basically everyone could do (if you threw some cress seeds up in the air, they would most probably grow wherever they dropped – well, maybe not, but you get my point).

Each month, the projects got a little more challenging, aiming to build on the expertise gained the month before. The families progressed on to growing more challenging veg like spuds and carrots later in the year. "Our confidence grew," said Caragh. "We grew foods that we enjoy, but we also tried new things which meant we experimented more in the kitchen."

Not only were they able to enjoy the food themselves, but when the time came for baby Luke's first meals, the vegetables the family grew in the challenge featured heavily. "It varied from pureed carrots to courgette soups as well as mashed potato. The food was at its freshest – picked in the garden and used within minutes."

All over Ireland, families of all shapes and sizes got involved in GIY Nation for different reasons – to take control of their family's well-being; to live more responsibly and sustainably; to get back to basics and enjoy simple pleasures together as a family.

In Dublin, the Flannery Family started their growing in a typical small suburban garden – a potential food growing asset, previously home to a climbing frame, trampoline and garden shed. Busy mum-of-five kids Edel told us of the thrill they got from planting some apple seeds in pots on a windowsill.

In Wexford, single mum Jennifer told us she found it hard to make ends meet – she wanted to save some money on her grocery bills and do something fun with her two boys in their small, rural garden. In Laois, Henrietta Mulumba told us her three boys were Farmville fans on Facebook and that she wanted to give them experience of the real thing.

In Antrim, Colin Bell does the cooking and wants to grow vegetables and herbs in their suburban garden in Lisburn so that he can create healthier and more interesting meals. He wants to inspire his children and believes that if he can teach them how to grow their own, it would be a great legacy to leave them. In Roscommon, Roslyn McDonnell loves the idea of anything that gets her three kids out in to their garden and away from the TV or Playstation. Her family, she says, call her 'Dr Death', such is her lack of success with growing things. "If you can teach me how to grow something, you can teach ANYONE!," she said.

Meanwhile in Cork, Caragh and her husband Aidan want baby Luke (when he grows up) to be aware of where food comes from.

"GIY Nation has made us more aware of the seasonality of food and when best to sow/harvest as well as storing food for use later in the year."

Operation GIY Nation 2014 will start in the spring next year – get involved at

Michael Kelly is author of Trading Paces and Tales from the Home Farm, and founder of GIY.

Irish Independent

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