It wasn’t until 1916 that the allotment movement started to grow in a select few Irish cities. This was half way through World War I, and as you can probably guess food was in short supply. A reality in all war torn situations in our world.
A City Allotment Scheme was set up at that time in Dublin. There were about eighty plots in Dublin. The plots were allocated by Dublin Corporation who were stretched to find vacant land within the city limits. If they had it, they could have allocated plots to over 1,500 eager families at that time.
Fast-forward to 2020 Ireland where private allotment schemes now vastly outnumber those supplied by city and county councils. We are in a time where people are growing their own vegetables less out of base hunger and more-so out of a movement towards healthier living. For me this fed into our Congregational Focus on Care for the Earth.
Tucked away behind a tall fence in Bluebell, Dublin is an oasis of calm amidst the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. Re-opening on the 18th May, after lockdown, the allotment, where my sisters have a plot, has been a lifesaver for many a person who for weeks prior to the day were isolated and felt very much alone. There are many benefits of working the plots, especially at a time when the focus is very much on looking after your mental health.
On the site are many flower beds and vegetable patches which produce an array of fresh vegetables. One of the plot holders said recently that there is nothing like working in the great outdoors, filling your lungs with fresh air and clearing your mind. There is a real camaraderie on the allotments and it is a success story which continues to blossom and has transformed what was once a derelict site into a thriving hub which is also making a positive contribution to the environment and the lives of those who use it. A couple of weeks ago Dublin City Council and D12 Partnership organised a Sustainable Gardening Course which is very helpful.
People (including me) really get a lot out of seeing the vegetables they plant growing and there is always a great buzz about the place. The allotments can certainly help people de-stress, especially in the current climate.
I have discovered some of the benefits of working an allotment:
- Exercise through manual labour, fresh air, and tasty organic food are all to be found down on the allotment, alongside a side order of friendliness from other plot holders.
- Kitchen waste can be recycled on-site through composting.
- The allotment provides a learning experience for children as they develop an awareness of where their food comes from (my grandnieces and grandnephew are enjoying the experience too planting flowers and looking after them).
- Allotment gardening reduces stress, especially when it gets you away from the pressures of modern urban living. I have found my niche on the plot – weeding. I have acquired a new nickname “weeder”. The health and social benefits of allotment growing can offer a particular advantage to individuals with physical and mental health issues.
- Developing new skills is part of the benefit, as we pick up tips from other plot holders. I have learned that I really enjoy working in the soil and “getting my hands dirty”.
Covid 19 has brought a lot of hardship to our families, economy and country but it has also opened up for us new ways of interacting with our environment and our community. For me it was becoming involved with the community allotment scheme in Bluebell, Dublin. Working alongside members of my family gave me an outlet when we were confined to our locality and county. Social distancing is not an issue as there is plenty of room and human interaction is guaranteed.
A lot of hard physical labour went into preparing a piece of land (23 feet X 21 feet) for planting. The fruits of that labour have been harvested over the last few weeks – kale, onions, potatoes, spinach, beetroot and cauliflower together with some fragrant sweet pea that was also planted to give colour to the allotment.
“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?”