Back in 2020, while everyone was stuck in lockdown for the very first time, a small group in Old Balreask estate, Navan, decided this would be the perfect time to build a community garden. Two years later with several accolades to its name, it is still expanding at a rapid pace and has garnered notice from several organisations.
The garden began with only the simplest of vegetables, cabbage and potatoes, to get things started and see if anyone else from the local community was interested.
Since these humble beginnings, a once empty grass patch has now turned into a long line teeming with a variety of flora from turnips to wildflowers. There are even plants and vegetables unavailable in stores such as Arran Victory potatoes that are no longer sold anywhere in Ireland. Many of the older residents are loving the potato taste that was almost lost to time, so much so that someone from Kerry requested some of these rare spuds. They are also experimenting with several other types of potatoes with some being more blight resistant than others.
The garden has been supplying both locals and other community groups in the area looking for cheaper and homegrown produce, including nuns getting turnips for their convent in Meath.
Their troubles have not come unrewarded, however, as the local gardeners now have several accolades to their name for their hard work. They have been awarded the 2022 best Energia Get Ireland Growing day award last July alongside 5 other community groups in Ireland awarded for a variety of achievements related to local gardening and horticulture projects. Their hard work has also been noticed by Meath County Council, awarding them the 2021 Pride of Place Award for both the Navan municipal District and for Meath county.
Several of the features built by the local children were learnt in school and online, such as a water pump powered by solar energy. The pump is connected to a stream running behind the farm and a small solar panel powers it, supplying water for the entire farm.
Another invention was a magnesium rod connected to the greenhouse which measures the heat inside it and opens a window if it gets too hot. There are even recent successful experiments where plants have been grown through a process called hydroponics. This is a method of growing plants without using soil which can be done all year round and requires less water then soil based growing.
Two other green spots in the state have turned into orchard areas with apple trees with funding from Changex, a group supporting local communities. This was to fill up any drab green spots that were otherwise unused and to make the estate a more vibrant place to live.
Art made by children is spread across the garden walls, making sure the greenery growing is not the only thing making Old Balreask a more colourful place to live.
There was also a small bench built by a juvenile currently residing in Oberstown detention centre which sits neatly right next to the greenhouse.as part of his Gaisce Award programme.
The trees are grown small enough so the kids can grab the fruit easily while also not taking up too much space in their small green patches throughout the estate.
“For me myself it is a huge benefit because being retired, sometimes it’s hard to fill your day,” a local resident said about the community garden. “I would try to encourage more people to come here and interact,” she continued.
Older members of the community reminisced about back when Old Balreask Woods was a hay field and they would work on the farm every harvest. To them, this is a nostalgic trip back to those days on a new smaller but larger variety of greenery growing.
“It was great when it (the garden) came along during covid, really when it started to take off cause the kids had not much to do during that time,” Carol Bent said, Chairperson of the local committee. “Even in the space of a year or two it has come on so well it’s fantastic” Bent said.
The community has been nominated for the Meath County Council 2022 Pride of Place awards in the Community Well-being category, a prize they won in 2021, so only time will tell if they add another accolade to their already extensive collection.