A sense of community amidst the flora and fauna

The community garden project in Trinity Hall is underway, with students already reaping the rewards

Spring is officially sprung (albeit under the guise of some slightly more unusual weather). Hopefully, amidst the dewy grass and sprouting shoots, we each had some sort of unique encounter during Green Week that reminded us of the profound pleasure we find in our interactions with nature and its creatures. At some point you may have found yourself compelled to empathise with a bumblebee or a dogwood, or maybe it was a pigeon or a disgruntled flatmate. No matter; all are among nature’s finest.

Last year, in response to the national biodiversity crisis, thousands of students, staff, and members of the public voted in favour of returning several of College Green’s manicured lawns to a more natural, agrestal state. Now, flourishing wildflower meadows can be found dotted across campus, offering safeguard to plants and insects who otherwise struggle to survive in more urbanised areas of Dublin (the infamous housing crisis is perhaps not restricted to the human race). But this year we are welcoming a new and exciting addition to this blooming flora (and hopefully fauna). In Trinity Hall, students and staff have come together to raise a residents’ organic garden in the hopes of fostering the growth of a supportive community network, engaging in a deeper relationship with the natural environment, and promoting healthy eating habits, while reducing the carbon footprint of the food system.

Gaining sponsorship for their equipment from the Provost Sustainability Fund, Assistant Warden, Dr Bevin McGeever, has been at the forefront of this project since last spring. With the support of the Warden of Trinity Hall, Dr Roja Faezeli, a plot has been established just outside the botanic gardens at Cunningham House. I had the chance to speak with Dr Bevin McGeever and JCR Secretary and coordinator of the Halls Environmental Committee, Samantha Foley, to ask them how the project is going and what individual students can do to get involved or offer support.

While at the moment the garden is still quite “overgrown and wild”, the Environmental Committee are currently in the planning stages of organising plot layout, time slots, and planting maps, hoping to find room for growing herbs, flowers, spring vegetables, and even a wildlife corner. A growing concern regarding food miles and pesticide use in store-bought produce is what sparked this initiative, noted Dr McGeever, who advocates for investing in organic alternatives and encouraging sustainable consumer attitudes. Though progress is still underway, the JCR Garden was launched at the Green Week event “Grow a Garden Thursday”, and is finally ready to gain some attention from the student body. “We are looking for more students to get involved as we would love to see the garden reach beyond the Environmental Committee – the more the merrier!” says Foley. Any Halls residents that would like to get involved can email [email protected]

Alas, due to current Covid-19 restrictions, all provisional planning must be done virtually. However, the Committee plans to organise in-person time slots for individuals to safely help with the garden or look after their own plants. A tremendous part of any community garden is the “community”, a fundamental aspect of this project being the social environment it cultivates. As such, the Committee is eager to support those who want to get involved and help students work around their own time constraints and commitments. “[Working on the garden] encourages students to go outside to get some fresh air, to take a break and clear their minds,” says Foley, drawing attention to the importance of nature in maintaining both mental and physical health.  All the student body will be only too familiar with the immense social pressures of being a first year, and the difficulties in adjusting to life away from home for all residents. It is so important to provide residents with fun, accessible activities that require neither immense quantities of alcohol nor blaring techno to feel connected to their new environment.

As well as this, the garden is a great opportunity to learn lifelong skills, as it welcomes everyone, regardless of their experience. Whether the extent of your knowledge is potted succulents or polytunnels, it takes all kinds. As Dr McGeever says: “We’re all looking forward to digging in and doing a bit of learning as we go!”