Saturday, 24 August 2013

Putting yards to use

Technical problems continue to make posting light for the moment. Hopefully that will change soon. Meanwhile, this article will appear in the Kildare Nationalist this week. 

Take a few facts from recent news reports and try to put them together:

1.) There are about two million homes in Ireland, according to the Central Statistics Office -- most, presumably, with front and back gardens, some near expanses of unused fields. Of these, 289,451 – 14.5 per cent of all homes here – lie vacant.

2.) Four hundred and twenty-seven thousand people are unemployed in Ireland, also about 14 per cent of the country. Five-and-a-half thousand Irish people are homeless, according to the Department for the Environment. Most, presumably, have little to do.

3.) Most of the food eaten in Ireland must be imported from outside the country, according to the Sustainability Institute.

These are no excuses for these facts to co-exist. It’s understandable if not all homeless can be put into currently vacant houses – homeless people can have many issues. But those houses have open space around them, room for gardens that could grow enough food for everyone in the area.

Ireland’s prodigious rainfall and long growing season create a paradise for agriculture, and we know that we can grow and make most of their own food and belongings, because for hundreds of years we did. Meanwhile, we spend money importing food from across oceans, food bred and grown to survive the journey rather than for taste or nutrition.

 Instead of gardens, all those homes have grass around them, which someone – presumably the owners of the estate – must pay to mow. Meanwhile, animals that could eat that grass stay in the surrounding fields, while their owners must pay for hay to keep them over winter. Some homeowners use chemicals on their lawn to fertilise the soil; meanwhile, they must find a way to get rid of their animal waste.

Other articles recently talked about the problem of elderly people living alone, with no one to talk to. These are people who grew up with the traditional self-sufficient crafts that got their families through hard times, yet now that times are getting harder again, younger people lack the knowledge to cope with hardship.

In other words, we have inherited several problems that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw to create a solution, and, year after year, choose to deal with them as separate problems. There are many ways of sharing land, but they all involve bringing together people who have time – say, unemployed, under-employed, homeless, children and pensioners – together with land that can provide food for the community with an investment of time and effort.

 In a fairly ambitious form of the plan, local organisations like city and county governments, sports clubs, churches and charities could decide to devote it to growing food for the hungry, and hires homeless or unemployed men to work the property. Alternately, they could loan the land out as allotments, to allow such people to grow their own food. The young men would learn vital skills, gain experience and avoid the trouble that comes from adolescents with too much time.

In the UK the Landshare Project has brought more than 72,000 such people together, in a country where tens of thousands of people have applied for community garden space and are waiting in queue. In one area of Manchester, where unused land has been turned into a community allotment, police reported a more than 50-percent decrease in anti-social behaviour, according to UK news sites – they believed it gave young people something to do.

A project like this does not have to be limited to estate gardens. Our area has many green fields that seem little-used, and could be put to work. It doesn’t have to be for growing allotments, either – local residents could use an overgrown vacant lot to graze goats, or plant young fruit and nut trees across green fields. To see if this kind of project would work where you are, walk around your area and ask these questions: how much of the land is unused? Are there unemployed or elderly people around with nothing useful to do? Are there people who don’t like spending money, or who like eating food?

See if you can find them. Take up the challenge.

Number of homes: Unemployment rate:

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