In the second part of our special feature, Joanne Butler continues her story.
Life, as they say, is not a bed of roses.
“In year one and two, we had a small vegetable garden close to the kitchen. But after having the three children, I struggled to find the time and the daily stress and anxieties that come with being a stay-at-home mum were overwhelming,” Joanne said.
“My time was obviously taken up so much with three young children, all under three, and my garden time became limited. I read books and planned our garden on pieces of paper, but the thing I remember most was when my husband would come home from his long day at work and take the children from me. He would say go! Get out into the garden! And as soon as I felt my hands sinking into the soil I would feel the release. All my stresses of the day with my ‘wonderful’ but noisy children would leave me, and I’d be Joanne again, not mum, not maaaaaaaammy. Just me.”
In 2011 Joanne went back to education to complete a FETAC in Horticulture and a year later, she took up a home study course with the RHSI.
“With my children aged 5, 3 and 2 years, I couldn’t wait any longer,” she said. “I had to design and build my new vegetable garden.
“Set in just under an acre of land, my husband and I built the beds and started to look forward to all the tasty vegetables we would grow ourselves. That’s when it all took off for me really. In 2013 my local community group, Pobail le Cheile, asked me to help out with the running of the healthy garden course with the HSE. After that I joined up with groups in Dunfanaghy and Letterkenny.”
Joanne said she quickly began to see the amazing benefits that community gardening brings, not just from a healthy eating aspect, but from social, mental and environmental aspects also.
“The good weather and lots of really good people created something wonderful in the gardens I was working in,” she explained.
“I soon started my own business as OURganic Gardens (it’s not mine, it’s OURS) as I believe that community gardening is for all of us, from young to old, from beginner to pro.
“I now run community garden classes in six different locations around north west Donegal and the benefits we all get from meeting up, getting our hands in the soil, is really something else. I believe being outdoors, learning new skills and having a productive day in the garden can do wonders for the soul. And that’s only my side of the story!”
At the end of 2014 OURganic Gardens won a Save Our Planet award, winning the judges’ and the people’s award. “I now co-facilitate a bio diversity project in Cluain na dTor, Falcarragh, a family run seaside nursery and garden centre by Seamus O’Donnell and Deirdre Brennan,” she added.
“With their help and knowledge, I now get a plethora of experience, from Latin names of plants to designing courses. I also facilitate outreach classes at a few local schools helping to design vegetable beds and encouraging growing.
Joanne said her hopes for the future are to continue working in what she says is a beautiful environment, meeting new people and learning new things every single day.
“When I get the odd day in my own garden, my children still love to be out with me planting veg and pulling weeds,” she added.
“I am still in the process of planning my garden which is extended into becoming a forest garden for walks and adventures in the hopefully not so distant future. If its sounds like the good life, that’s because it is.”
Joanne welcomes enquiries about her work and is conducting a survey of all of the community gardens in Donegal to develop a network for sharing information and knowledge. She can be contacted at (086)178-9971; www.ourganicgardens.ie; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org