“Our plans are ambitious, a blueprint of wishes…” wrote Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon on the band’s 1997 album, Andromeda Heights.
Paddy might just as easily have been writing about the plans by GIY – Grow It Yourself – to build their own headquarters on the outskirts of Waterford City - a plan, unbelieveably, that was only hatched in 2012.
I say unbelievably because here I am, just four short years later, standing in the new GIY Grow HQ on the outskirts of Waterford City, close to University Hospital. It’s a modest, elegant modern building which serves as the world headquarters for the ‘emerging movement’ that is GIY, providing them with teaching space, offices, a small shop, a café, and a small plot of land to grow their own produce, produce which is then used in the café.
The four acre site for the centre was donated by Waterford City & County Council and is located in an area that is dense with residential housing - an instant audience for the simple and sustainable message that the organisation is keen to impart: yes, you can grow your own food, even in a small suburban garden.
The kitchen team at HQ is headed up by JB Dubois, who has cooked at Athenaeum Hotel, Momo and Bellissimo in Waterford City, and the café is open from 8am weekdays and 9am at the weekends, seven days a week. Unsurprisingly, the menu features entirely seasonal produce, mostly grown on site, and changes every day depending on what is at its best. Typical dishes include a quiche with garden broccoli, Cashel Blue cheese and a side of GIY organic leaves, or pumpkin prepared 5 ways: pumpkin soup; spiced savoury pumpkin pie; roast crown prince wedge; minted burger; and pumpkin and cinnamon soda bread.
I’ve been for breakfast a number of times, enjoying free range duck egg with black pudding, and potato rosti with Jane Russell’s sausages and green tomato chutney, or just a good flat white with a scone and some rosehip jam. Sarah Richard's excellent Seagull Bakery provides the sourdough bread. The café is a double height space with a large glazed wall, so it’s flooded with light, the furniture has been made from scaffolding planks, and the staff exude a friendliness and passion that makes this a really positive place to be. Hardly surprising it’s been bustling with business since the day it opened.
Apart from the café, GIY are now running a whole programme of courses on site, from how to grow your own food to bread making to fermentation: all the courses are listed on the Grow HQ website. If you attend any of the courses you’ll likely hear the phrase ‘food empathy’, which is a cornerstone of what GIY is trying to engender - a belief that if people play a part in growing their own food it will change the way they shop and eat, leading to a greater respect for organic and seasonal eating, leading ultimately to healthier and happier people!
It’s an antidote to the ‘food apathy’ which is so prevalent and which causes people to lose interest in where their food is coming from or what they are ingesting. Even the simple act of growing your own garlic can have a great impact on the respect the grower will feel for all the vegetables they eat - something I can attest to myself.
It’s a triumphant achievement for the GIY team to see their ‘blueprint of wishes’ made real and there’s a sense that the best days are ahead for this great movement, a movement that grew out of a kickback against a simple piece of Chinese garlic that was being sold in an Irish supermarket. But if you want to hear more of that story, then you’ll have to attend one of the courses!
Photos credit Eamon Barrett