It was once a dumping ground for scrap metal — and now it’s been transformed into a rich cornucopia which grows everything from giant cauliflowers to Jerusalem artichokes and chillis.
Allotment holders at Belfast’s newest patch have been celebrating an astonishing autumn bounty with a harvest feast of music and food.
The hard-working gardeners tucked in to vegetable quiche, beetroot and wild mushroom soup, home-baked bread and chilli jam — all cooked from produce grown on the new Colin allotment project in Poleglass, which only opened at the start of August.
Project manager Michael George told the Belfast Telegraph the site was once a waste dump for scrap metal and lay vacant for years up until the mid-1980s.
“Then it was all cleared and there was a lot of stone and clay put over it to cover any potential health hazards and any oil or toxic waste,” he said.
“Invest NI took it on as a potential site for a future factory but because of the economic climate we requested it to use as a proactive community project. They leased it to us on the basis that we can improve the site and turn it into a facility that may well in the future become the focus for a socio-economic environmental project.”
The project secured £400,000 from the Groundwork NI Shared Space scheme, channelled from EU Peace III funding, to develop 50 community allotments, poly tunnels and an eco-centre — the next phase of the scheme.
“We have people from across Belfast, people from ethnic minorities, we also have groups such as Disability Action, Colin Men’s Group,” Michael explained.
“Youth groups bring up young people to teach them how to grow their own and become more interested in the ecological future of the country.
“Everyone has been provided with raised beds and they pay a small donation.
“The raised beds are filled with compost and it’s up to them to maintain them. The amount of stuff being grown up here is amazing; it’s a natural site that lends itself to this project.”
Among the ‘allotmenteers’ is Lina Remmeikaite, who came to Northern Ireland from Lithuania nine years ago and “got stuck”. She now lives in Lagmore with her partner Anthony and son David and had been looking for an allotment for a long time. “Nothing was really coming up. We asked Lisburn Council as they have a number of allotments. That was two years ago and nothing, so we were still looking,” she said.
“We started here in August and it is very enjoyable. We planted carrots, tomatoes, cabbages, beetroot, parsnips, turnips and radishes.
“Today I made beetroot and dried wild mushroom soup, which is a traditional Christmas Eve dish in Lithuania.
“David likes planting peas. He is always helping us. Whenever you are putting in seeds he wants to do a row as well, he enjoys it.”
Meanwhile, Tony McCrory (53) is one of the newest allotmenteers as his group Action Mental Health only got on site two weeks ago — but their young seedlings are already flourishing. So far they have planted winter crops such as onions, cabbage, lettuce, pak choi and parsley.
“I lost my job just over a year-and-a half ago and I went downhill with depression and ended up in hospital. This is about trying to get your life together instead of sitting in the house and thinking about stupid things,” he said.
“Everyone was really hands-on. Next year we are going to set aside a section for potatoes and we will be growing a mixture of everything — broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, onions.”
Mick McEvoy, community gardening officer with Groundwork NI, says the next phase will be to build a Health Living Centre, possibly using a green method such as straw bales. This will be a focus for permaculture, traditional crafts, a sensory garden, a wildflower meadow and an orchard.
“At the core of the whole project is to address people’s physical health and mental health as well as education around food poverty. It's about giving people affordable access to be able to grow some of their own food,” he said.