Locked Out: Community garden project locked out of plot and left in limbo

April 4th, 2018

For several years now, the Our Farm community garden at the National College of Art and Design has been using a small two-acre plot for educational, artistic and social activities.

The project – a collaboration between NCAD’s student union and the Dublin Community Growers network – aims to provide the skills, tools, and space for students and the local community to produce organic fruits and vegetables.

The brainchild of landscape gardener and social activist, Tony Lowth, the project’s volunteers collect food waste and cardboard from local businesses to create compost and enrich the soil to grow their organic produce.

The garden has also become a communal space, hosting drug and alcohol recovery programmes, as well as offering apprenticeships to youth offenders and early school leavers.

The gate to Our Farm community garden was locked in December 2017 PHOTO: RAMYA RAMALINGAM

However, things changed last December when Lowth and some volunteers arrived one day to find the garden gates locked. According to one of the volunteers, Amanda McKnight, this was done without any notification.

“This is a shame because we have been doing a lot to support the community by offering an alternative to waste management, and we have been doing something positive for the health and future of the soil,” she told The Green News.

McKnight says that the project has plans to use the garden space “as a resource to help the homeless community” and to expand its support to the wider community. “We are doing a lot of positives… but sadly these activities have been hindered by the college.”

Vegetables growing in the garden Photo: Our Farm community garden

Change of College’s Position

In a statement to The Green News, NCAD said that it has “temporarily closed” the community garden because of “concerns about the absence of a clear operational model for those using it, and the risk this creates in terms of health and safety and public liability.”

According to Lowth, there was initially a “lot of prejudice” against the idea of setting up a community garden at the college. “I kind of kicked the door down,” he says. “It took me seven to eight years, and I didn’t get much support in the beginning, but persistence paid.”

The garden was recently incorporated into the college’s campus and Lowth expected that NCAD would release official health and safety documents.

However, this did not happen and Lowth believes that the college`s attitude changed after two directors recently left NCAD with whom he had a good relationship, adding that some people at the college don’t fully understand the role played by the garden.

“A lot of people don’t understand that my motive is good, that we want to bring about change. That is strange to a lot of people. We want to grow vegetables. We want to make compost. We want to build a social community and break down barriers.

“I have fallen in love with the garden, so it worried me a lot when it was locked,” he says, adding that there is about 100 tonnes of compost left at the garden worth €10,000.

Tony Lowth outside of the locked gate PHOTO: RAMYA RAMALINGAM

Tony Lowth outside of the locked gate PHOTO: RAMYA RAMALINGAM

Hope for the Future

Yet, Lowth is hopeful about the garden`s future following the appointment of Sarah Glennie as the college’s new Director in January. Lowth has previously worked with her on another project.

“I am very positive about everything because the new Director has actually got an allotment somewhere else,” he says. “That gives me great encouragement that she will be directly interested in the garden, which is essential. I am certain she will be involved in the garden and will visit it.”

According to Lowth, the college is now preparing a health and safety document. “Once that is approved and written up, the garden will be flying,” he says.

In a statement, NDAC said that it is “working with Tony Lowth” to develop a “clear operational framework that meets everyone’s objectives” and allows for “more ambitious thinking” about the garden’s future.

“NCAD fully recognises the garden is an important part of the College and the local community and is committed to finding a long-term solution that ensures the garden is a vibrant part of NCAD’s future,” the statement concluded.

In the meantime,  McKnight has set up a petition to remove the lock and have been giving talks around Dublin in search of support.

She says that she wants to show people that “our garden – and all community gardens – are valuable and should be supported in a community, not tossed aside”.

About the Author

Felipe Wasserstein

Felipe is studying for an MA in Journalism and Media Communications from Griffth College Dublin. He is passionate about the environment, history, and cinema.

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