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Celebrations at Dundalk Food Garden

30/10/2012 Celebrations at Dundalk Food Garden

The Dundalk Food Garden is a joint initiative between RehabCare Dundalk and the Simon Community Dundalk. The project promotes personal development and independence through growing and cooking a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, and also selling some of the produce at market. In addition, members of the group learn about nutrition and are encouraged to transfer their gardening and cookery skills into their own home life. For the past three years, the project has been funded by safefood, but this funding will cease in December 2012.

There are currently 16 people attending the project which has supported and helped many of the participants to set up, manage and improve their own gardens at home. Growing food at home has hugely increased people’s intake of affordable and available fresh, healthy food.

James Hanlon, a RehabCare service user from Cooley, Co. Louth attends the Dundalk Food Garden two mornings per week and spoke at yesterday’s event. “The food garden is great fun. I grow my own vegetables at home and I’ve learned lots of tips. My favourite part is getting the ground ready and planting the vegetables. We don’t use any sprays or chemicals; everything is natural. It can be hard work sometimes but I find it very relaxing and good fun.”

According to Deirdre Quinn, Community Services Manager with RehabCare in Dundalk, there have been many benefits to the Dundalk Food Garden. “Participants are more physically active; are eating healthier and losing weight. In addition, they are learning new skills, becoming aware of where food comes from and making new friends in the process.

“Integration with the wider community is a crucial element of the programme, and the project has been very successful in strengthening ties with the local community including Dundalk Institute of Technology, the local GIY (Grow it Yourself) club and the Blackrock Tidy Towns. Of course, there’s also the link with Dundalk producers’ market, where members of the Food Garden sell surplus vegetables, fruits and plants, as well as window boxes and wooden planters made in RehabCare.”

For Niall Mulligan, CEO of Dundalk Simon, the Dundalk Food Garden has been a hugely positive experience for all those involved. “In the garden, the labels of homelessness and disability simply don’t exist. It’s just a group of people working together. The garden has given our clients a definite focus. In addition to learning new skills and meeting new people, the garden has boosted their confidence levels. It has encouraged them to feel positive about themselves.”

Although current funding for the Dundalk Food Garden will cease in December 2012, both RehabCare and Dundalk Simon are keen that the project continues and develops further with plans to encourage the involvement of local schools in the future.

Attendees at the event included family members and friends of the participants, representatives from RehabCare and the Simon Community, as well as Peter Fitzpatrick TD, Senator Mary Moran, Councillor Mark Dearey and President of the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce Paddy Malone. Following the presentation, guests at the celebration were able to meet the participants of the Dundalk Food Garden and sample some of the delicious produce grown in the garden.

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