Michael Kelly is the founder of GIY Ireland. GIY is a movement of people who grow their own food. Michael takes time out with us to talk about growing your own food. Here’s what he had to say:
What prompted you to set up GIY Ireland, and what does it means to you?
it’s a very long story, but started with a bulb of chinese garlic in a supermarket, which made me cross about food imports, that led me to grow my own garlic (badly!) and eventually to see the benefits of home-grown food in all areas of my life. When I started to grow my own food, I was so bad at it, I needed a network of people I could connect with to inspire and support me – that was the idea behind the first GIY group. From that tiny seed, we now have over 50,000 people involved each year, growing their own food at home, at school, at work and in over 800 community food groups and projects. To me GIY is about helping people to get a deeper understanding of where their food comes from as a lever to a healthier life. Food growing makes me happy, healthy and hopeful.
Who inspired you to grow your own food?
I guess that poor Chinese farmer that grew the garlic! The product of his labour flew over 10,000 miles to a supermarket in Ireland, and ended up for sale for about 50 cent.. if that’s not an example of how illogical, nonsensical and strange our food chain is, I don’t know what is!
Lots of us have limited space to garden. Is it possible to create a kitchen garden from an apartment or house with limited outdoor space?
Sure. We had a speaker at the GIY Gathering in Birmingham last year who grew something like €700 worth of produce on his balcony in London in a year. It takes some creativity to do it at that level, but anyone can grow some salad leaves or herbs in pots. It doesn’t really matter HOW much food you grow anyway – what matters is that you grow some food. Any shift you can make towards a deeper understanding of your food is a good thing.
What are your top three fruit/veg for beginners to grow, and why?
God, that’s like being asked to pick a favourite child! I think to start with I would go with fast growing green leaves – they are very reliable, and you have a quick return. So things like lettuce and oriental greens (mizuna, pak choi etc). Herbs are fantastic – cheat by buying a well established plant as opposed to growing from seed – it will reward you with fresh herbs for months, sometimes even years. And, of course, garlic. Sow in November or December and it’s ready the following summer – even the smallest space would support the growing of 20-30 bulbs. Simply sow the cloves from a bulb in the soil about 10cm apart and 5 cm deep. It worked for me!
“I can’t even keep my herbs alive. I think that I would just murder anything I tried to grow myself”. What do you say to this common gripe?
I feel your pain – I used to practically kill bonsai trees for a living. In my 20’s I killed 5 of them in a row with a collective age of about 3000 years. Stick with it. Plants want to grow, and all you really have to do is support them. It gets easy, but it’s a lifeskill and any lifeskill that’s worth having takes time to acquire. Don’t stress about it – enjoy the ride.
If you had a soapbox to the world and could tell everyone three things in relation to growing your own, what would they be?
1. Just get started.
2. Just get started.
3. just get started.
What’s your desert island dish?
A waterford blaa, lots of good butter, slathered with my own green tomato chutney and three of Jane Russell’s sausages..
Who is YOUR kitchen hero?
Darina Allen – she showed up at one of the first GIY meetings in Waterford back in 2009 just because she wanted to lend her support (and her name) to the cause. She has been a patron of ours ever since, and has done more for the movement than we could possibly have asked for (including donating a 12-week cookery course worth €12,000 for a fundraising raffle for GROW HQ, our new GIY centre which will open in Waterford next year). I am lucky enough to sit on the Taste Council of Ireland with her, and she’s a force of nature, the real deal.
GIY, has announced details of its brand new grow/cookbook, called GROW, COOK, EAT (A GIY guide to growing and cooking your own food) which will be published in October. The book is a no-nonsense month-by-month guide to growing your own food, written by Michael Kelly, and featuring seasonal contributions from over 35 of GIY’s favourite chefs, cooks and growers including Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Dylan McGrath, Donal Skehan, Darina Allen, Neven Maguire, Marian Keyes, Rachel Allen, Clodagh McKenna, Derval O’Rourke, Mark Diacono, Joy Larkcom and Alys Fowler.
The book is being self-published by GIY, and all proceeds will be used to fund GROW HQ, the organisation’s ground-breaking national food education centre which will open in Waterford in 2015. You can read more about the book at www.giyinternational.org/pages/grow_cook_eat_book. In tandem, GIY has also launched a national crowdfunding Fundit campaign, with a signed copy of the book as the entry level reward. GIY aims to raise €20,000 towards the GROW HQ project from the campaign and is offering a range of exciting rewards costing from €30 – from a green sod on the roof of GROW HQ, tickets to the exclusive book launch party, your name on the Living Wall at GROW HQ or even your chance to experience the ‘good life’ for real with an exclusive visit to Michael Kelly’s garden! Support the campaign and check out the rewards at https://fundit.ie/project/giys-grow-hq
Do you fancy yourself as a Master Chef? Have you always dreamed of opening your own little café? Or are you looking for a new adventure or a life-changing career switch? GIY’s Golden Ticket raffle in aid of GROW HQ in association with Ballymaloe Cookery School, is your chance to follow your passion and make your dreams come true.Ballymaloe Cookery School has generously provided a fully funded spot on their much-coveted 12-week certificate cookery course as the prize in the raffle to support the fundraising campaign for GROW HQ, GIY’s national food education centre, which will open in 2015. The prize, valued at over €12,000, also includes accommodation in a farmhouse cottage on site. Tickets are €25 from www.giyireland.com, and the draw will take place at the GIY Gathering in September.
Twitter: @BallymaloeCS donated a 12-week course worth 12k as raffle prize to help GIY’s @Grow_HQ. Tickets €25 www.giyireland.com. #goldenticket