New ‘permaculture trail’ to transform canal bank plots

Keith Ryan, Martina Finn, Megan Bromley and Rósín Ní Fhaoláin working on one of the beds that make up part of Galway's new food growing and permaculture trail on the Eglinton Canal.

A new project has been launched which aims to transform small plots of land along the Eglinton Canal into a ‘permaculture trail’ – bringing art, culture, preservation and food into the public realm.

The project, which has been initiated Third Space Galway in conjunction with the Galway Tidy Towns, aims to create experimental sites where alternative means and methods of growing food can be used to engage the public in conversation about the pitfalls of chemically orientated farming.

According to Project Manager, Martina Finn, the idea for the trail emerged from looking at actions that can be taken locally to combat climate change – in particular, examining the possibility of growing food for local consumption.

“It’s one of the things that we can, as a community, on an everyday level do something about; we can grow food locally for ourselves rather than for the export market.

“We wanted to bring that conversation alive and look at how we can use the creative arts platform to actually engage the city in a conversation around it so we approached the City Council initially, looking for a piece of land to start a food-growing project for educational awareness,” explains Martina.

The group were seeking something in the city centre so that the initiative would be visible to a large number of people.

Galway City Council gave them an experimental site at Westside Amenity Park which has been transformed into an edible food forest.

Following on from its success, they approached Galway Tidy Towns with their plans – with a specific focus on ensuring that what is planted will feed the soil, as well as people.

“Tidy Towns were trying to meet certain criteria because they have climate change as part of their programme and they have a sustainability aspect and a land use aspect.

“We approached Cllr Niall McNelis who is heading up the Tidy Towns and asked him if he was willing to engage in food awareness and food growing – a sustainable living programme as part of this year’s project.

“Niall was delighted and embraced the possibilities – he was very open to it and we got Local Agenda 21 funding for it and GRETB funding for our tutors, our agro-ecologist and food forest advisors,” says Martina.

She says that there is ongoing co-operation with Galway Volunteer Centre and that they hope to get as many local people as possible involved.

“Niall identified these sites that are vacant and derelict along the canal – these set-down areas are a little bit of a neglected part of the city.

“People walk though it but don’t necessarily appreciate being there and we thought it would be great to plant it up with predominantly edibles with the key element within permaculture being that you are looking at yourself as part of an ecosystem,” says Martina.

As a result of the project, Martina says that it will be the first time there will be apple trees in the city centre where children can go along and pick their own apples.

“There are seven layers – the upper canopies which are the larger fruit trees or even nut trees like sweet chestnut. The next canopy is the apple trees and then underneath that, you have shrubs and bushes so you’d have your blackcurrants, raspberries and your gooseberries and then underneath that, you have what they call climbers.

“Then you have the root and ground cover so there are many layers that can work co-operatively together.”

They will also plant kale and chard to demonstrate the use of winter greens and they have planted a herb garden next to An Tobar Nua on Dominick Street.

The group have worked with Irish Seed Savers in Clare to source native Irish seeds and apple trees – ensuring that they grow harmoniously in the local environment.

Underlining all of their work is the regenerative process that plants can have on the ecosystem – eliminating the use of chemicals.

“It’s not just for yourself but you feed the soil with certain plants, you feed the bees, you feed the birds and you feed the ecosystem so it is self-sustaining.

“We are hoping to feed into the National Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 and we are not just identifying edible food spaces for ourselves but also edible food spaces for our wildlife and our bees.

“Some say that there are only 60 harvests left, that the soil has been so depleted after millions of years – that the way we have been farming it has been so do depleting and we need to make major changes,” says Martina.

She believes that it is an opportunity to make the canal a more attractive part of the city – providing an education in local food production and also a social space for the people of Galway.

“This is trying to create another beautiful green space and with the water, what is called a blue space. They are like nature spaces for the city to try and re-animate the canal as a place to go for a quiet nature walk.

“I think the more people that are in a space socially, the less neglect and abuse it gets because people have more of a connection with it and they want to keep it nice and keep it clean – people will pick up the litter rather than throw it,” says Martina.