How Greenside Up is helping to promote and implement some of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals
We haven’t always been growing our own food. I grew herbs in containers for years, moving them from one rented house to another when I was younger having always been fascinated by their many uses and their history. Whilst I’ve carried a lifelong passion for protecting our environment, it wasn’t until I was expecting our first child 18 years ago that I really began to take an interest in nutrition and became more aware of the additives in food, being keen to feed our baby naturally from the inside out.
I became even more aware of the importance of good food and clean water after he was born and I began to breastfeed. Everything I ate and drank would influence the quality of my milk and I was acutely aware that I wanted to protect this tiny child from man-made chemicals for as long as I possibly could. Within a few years we found ourselves with five mouths to feed and like many, without the knowledge to cook healthy meals on a budget. We certainly couldn’t afford to buy organic food back then, so we began to grow our own fruit and vegetables in the garden.
Greenside Up – 7 Years Old This Week
I didn’t know anyone else growing their own and broadband still hadn’t reached us, so I read lots of gardening and recipe books and carried on regardless using trial and error, teaching myself. When our youngest started school I enrolled on a full-time, intensive horticulture course. I was like a sponge, soaking up the information provided by the various tutors and couldn’t learn quickly enough. The end result was that seven years ago this week I started Greenside Up with the grand aim of wanting to help as many people grow their own food as I possibly could. I simply wanted to share my new knowledge and teach people the basics so that they could start growing and feel confident doing so too.
I began by working with individuals, quickly moved to group workshops where I could reach more people and for the past few years have been specialising in social community gardening; tutoring, consulting, talking about, designing or helping others to plan their gardens. I really enjoy this work as I can both see in others and feel for myself the many benefits. I also volunteer as a coordinator of the community garden network as well as on the committee of a new two-acre community garden in Carlow town.
Greenside Up is more than just growing our own food
One of the first things we discovered when we began growing our own was that it’s immensely empowering. It opens our eyes to many of the issues that are covered in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were published last November.
Ranging from the importance of water to climate change, health and wellbeing, responsible consumption, food waste, small scale food production or decent work, the simple act of sowing some carrot seeds began to open our minds to a whole world we might never have taken an interest in. We also learnt that the actions of one person can make a difference. If we choose not to spray with pesticides, thousands of beneficial life forms will survive and help to keep our gardens balanced and productive. Another unexpected bonus of growing our own was finding that we were much more likely to eat it or give it to friends or neighbours than waste it after all the hard work that went into growing it.
Along with several others in county Carlow, I recently became a Master Composter, learning about food waste and composting from the Stop Food Waste team. Shocking figures were shared on those winter evenings about food waste and we all went home and sorted through our cupboards and freezers, took inventories and became more mindful about our actions.
We grow enough food on this planet to feed everyone and yet every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted from production, manufacturing and consumption. A third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste, that’s enough to feed three billion people. Nobody needs to go hungry. We’re all consumers in one form or another and for these figures to change, we need to take on our own share of the responsibility.
When I teach people how to compost or save water, either through writing my blog or working with groups, we talk about the changes we have or can make in our own lives and I actively encourage discussion. When people are informed they generally want to do things differently, but unless these conversations take place, or people are given access to education after they leave school, they often aren’t aware.
I’ve never described myself as a political person, but being informed means that we ask our Public Representatives where they stand on certain issues when they knock on our door, we let them know that sustainable food and the environment are important to us, I might even write to them just to say that it’s not okay that people are hungry or in poverty. We refuse to buy palm oil unless it’s come from sustainable sources and we only ever buy organic apples now we know that apples are the most sprayed item on the shelves.
All of that happened because we started to grow our own fruit and vegetables.
One of my favourite quotes is by Helen Keller “Alone we can do so little, together so much”.
Will you take the #SDGchallenge and make some changes in your homeplace?
Dee Sewell is owner of Greenside Up, a Carlow based social enterprise that teaches people how to grow their own and specialises in community and workplace gardens. For more information about Dee’s work see www.greensideup.ie