Dublin City Council has set aside 6.6 acres in Ballymun for a community farm, according to a council official last week.
The land is near the crossroads of Sillogue Road and Balbutcher Lane, in the centre of Ballymun.
“That land is there for the city farm,” said housing manager Coilín O’Reilly, at the council’s North West Area Committee meeting on 18 October.
But “it’s not there forever. We don’t want to be still looking at it in 10 years time or 15 years time”, he said.
Stephen Hayden, a local resident and the Ballymun City Farm project manager, has been pushing the idea forward for more than three years.
The city farm group is running activities in the community and working on funding applications, Hayden says.
They recently submitted a business plan to Dublin City Council and he hopes they can avail of grants and possibly corporate sponsorship to get the project off the ground.
At a recent council meeting, councillors said they were concerned that city council managers were holding up the project, though, by not giving the group a lease for the site.
Hayden says the Ballymun City Farm has already started to run tasters of what the future could hold.
At the end of August, he and his team ran an open day to introduce local children to farm animals, including alpacas. They also hosted a beekeeping demonstration, soap-making workshops, and talks on wildlife.
“The response to the farm animals at the open day was huge,” Hayden says.
The group is also gearing up for the first-ever Ballymun spring show next year, he said. “The advantage of spring is you will have young animals, you’ll have lambs. “
They have rolled out a practical project in a local school too.
“They went to Trinity Comprehensive school and they put in hens, which sounds like such a simple idea,” says Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan. “But the school kids absolutely loved them.”
It was an incredible opportunity for the children to learn about where their food comes from. “It’s such a boost for the community,” she says.
The overall vision for a farm is more ambitious still, though.
There would be farm animals. “You’re talking, hens, ducks, sheep, goats, pigs and maybe some donkeys,” said Hayden.
But there would also be a community garden for growing fruit and vegetables, a biodiversity and nature trail on the boundary of the farm, a wetland and wildflower meadows, he says. “Providing a range of habitats for wildlife, insects and birds.”
The proposed city farm would contribute to the ongoing regeneration of Ballymun with educational opportunities, urban renewal and biodiversity, says Hayden.
Hayden says he is positive about the future of the project following the discussion at the meeting of the North West Area Committee.
“The headline for us is that the assistant chief executive Coilín O’Reilly said that there is six acres available for a city farm in Ballymun,” says Hayden. “That is visionary, I think.”
Leasing the Land
At the council meeting last week, local councillors said the group needs a lease for the land so they can go after funding, and called on Dublin City Council to do more to support the project.
The council should issue the lease to the group, said the Lord Mayor, Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy, at the meeting.
The group hoped to apply for EU funding recently and the funding was conditional on getting a letter from Dublin City Council to confirm that they had a lease on the land, she said.
The council should grab the chance to “forward a truly social enterprise, as well as the whole biodiversity, climate change benefits”, said Conroy. “The funding is going to slip away.”
Conroy asked the council managers to confirm that the site was there for the project. “I think it’s really unfair that it’s going on this long.”
Council area manager Jackie O’Reilly said the council had requested a number of documents from the group, which they had only submitted on 29 August, around a week before the funding deadline.
“We can’t just give a commitment on a piece of land unless we are satisfied with the timelines and what is going to happen,” she said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan said he was looking at a letter that said the group submitted the business plan on 29 July.
O’Reilly said that date was wrong, but then agreed that the business plan was in fact submitted on 29 July.
She said that some council officials had been on annual leave in August and only started to assess the proposal then in mid-August.
The group had submitted a “really comprehensive” business plan, which council managers are currently evaluating, said O’Reilly.
She said council managers will meet to discuss the city farm plans in the next couple of weeks. “There is absolute commitment from the council to support the city farm group.”
Hayden says the Ballymun City Farm group was working in partnership with five other city farms in Europe to submit an application for funding from the EU’s LIFE Programme.
“We’re very hopeful that the contacts we have made with similar projects in France, Italy, Belgium, Greece and Estonia will mean other opportunities arise for EU funding,” he says.
An Ambitious Vision
At the moment, council officials and those behind the city farm seem to have slightly different ideas about the scope and ambition of the project.
At the meeting, O’Reilly, the council’s area manager, said that what is included in the local area plan – which is the council’s vision and strategy document for the area – is a community farm, and the city farm group has more ambitious plans.
It might be better to build up the farm in phases, O’Reilly said. “Overall, it’s much bigger than the community farm as cited in the [local area plan].”
Hayden agrees that the group is thinking big. “It’s quite an ambitious project in terms of the range of offerings,” he said. “We are ambitious for our community.”
The city farm group has amalgamated with the Muck and Magic Community Garden, says Hayden. The spot where the local community garden is currently based is scheduled for redevelopment. So the plan is that the garden will become part of the new city farm, he says.
So, if the city farm goes ahead, the community garden would relocate to join it, he says, which means there’s already a team of volunteers in place to run a community garden at the city farm.
The board of directors for the city farm project includes people with expertise in education, marketing, farming, finance and business, Hayden says. “All of our governance structures are in place to ensure that in the longer term we are successful.”
They plan to run the farm as a social enterprise and to apply for charity status in time, says Hayden.
The group is in contact with city farms across Europe and is researching funding opportunities, he says, looking at grants and corporate sponsors.
They have been pursuing this project for around five years and intend to keep plugging away as the main thing is to get it right, says Hayden.
Some city farms in the United Kingdom are fully reliant on local authority funding, he says, but that might not be sustainable long term.
“Ultimately whatever is built needs to be sustainable,” he says. “There needs to be an offering that people are prepared to support.”
It has to offer more than a petting zoo, says Hayden, if it is to have a real impact in terms of education and biodiversity, and if it is to be partially self-funding.
At the area meeting, Callaghan, the Social Democrats councillor, said that other successful community projects, like the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun, were not developed incrementally.
“We do need to give them a hand,” she said. “They are a team of really dedicated people who have given up a huge amount of time and energy.”
Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly asked for a separate meeting in the next two weeks to work out what can be done to ensure the success of the city farm project.