GIY? The joys of growing your own

Michael Kelly and his team have been on a mission to educate people about the benefits of growing your own

Founder of GIY, Michael Kelly: a garlic moment led to Kelly founding GIY Ireland, an acronym for grow it yourself

Founder of GIY, Michael Kelly: a garlic moment led to Kelly founding GIY Ireland, an acronym for grow it yourself

 

About a decade ago, Michael Kelly had an epiphany in an Irish supermarket while buying Chinese garlic. Surely it was possible to grow garlic in Ireland instead of flying it across the world? This garlic moment led to Kelly founding GIY Ireland, an acronym for grow it yourself. Since then, he and his team have been on a mission to educate people about the joys and benefits of growing your own.

In September 2016, after raising the necessary funds of more than €1 million, they opened a café and food education centre called Grow HQ on Dunmore Road, right across the road from Waterford Hospital and just down the road from a large supermarket.

“When we were originally planning Grow HQ,” Kelly told a gathering of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild on a recent visit, “we had wanted to be down a leafy lane, like Ballymaloe House in Cork, for example. When we first saw this site, near the supermarket and the hospital, I wasn’t into it. But then I realised that this is exactly where we are supposed to be.” Here, they are very visible and amongst the very people whose mindset they hope to encourage towards change.

Walking through the front door of the building, designed by Solearth, who also worked on Airfield Trust in Dundrum in Dublin, brings you into the reception area which doubles as a shop, stocked with items aligned with the GIY Ireland mission, such as Synerchi Kombucha and handmade cards featuring vegetable based puns (“You’re a Dad that can’t be beet” for Father’s Day). To the right is the cookery demonstration room and to the left is the light-filled Grow HQ café.

Head chef JB Dubois and head grower Richard Mee work very closely together. “It’s a dialogue between the two of us,” says Mee, as he shows us around the organic garden, inviting us to pick bundles of kale, cavalo nero, baby gem lettuces and spring onions. GIY have a much larger market garden on the Cork Road, which helps to feed the café.

All the vegetables served in the café are grown by Mee and his team. The menu is mostly organic, largely plant-based, strictly seasonal and very creative. It’s not exclusively vegetarian, with local suppliers such as TJ Crowe’s and Dunmore Fish Shop bringing the pork and fish respectively.

“Working here has pushed me to be very creative,” says Dubois. “Out of respect for the the growers and the suppliers, I use as much of the products as I can. My compost bin has never been emptier.” That sense of using every part of the produce shines bright in a delicious cup of vibrantly green and tasty radish leaf soup. There is a sweet green-onion jam that they also sell in the shop, ideal for a cheese plate or as a sandwich filler.

There are salads of red chard with Ardsallagh goat’s cheese and quiche using Jane Russell’s merquez lamb sausages, kale and Cashel Blue cheese. Gorgeously tender hunks of slow-roast Crowe’s Farm pork neck is served with a tangy swede kraut, the tasty spoils of the pickling, fermenting and brining that Dubois has been doing in the kitchen. There are brownies and scones and well-brewed organic coffee.

The site outside is a work in progress and will continue to grow and evolve. As well as two more covered education areas, they’re building a garden right outside the café’s door to grow micro-greens, edible flowers and salad leaves, so that the connection between the growing food and their plates will be even more apparent to café customers.

“We’re trying to break down the barriers of where food is grown, cooked and eaten.”

For more, see growhq.org

- Aoife McElwain was a guest of Grow HQ, with thanks to the Irish Food Writers’ Guild

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