FIELD of Dreams, the movie starring Kevin Costner as an Iowan corn farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his field, spurred one of the Silver Screen’s most often quoted lines: “Build it, and they will come!”
It also fed the imagination of Ray O’Callaghan, chairman of Down Syndrome Cork, to build his very own Field of Dreams near Curraheen.
Just last month, Field of Dreams was awarded Best Non Profit in the Cork Food Policy Council’s Sustainable Food Awards 2019, and recognised for its provision of educational and training opportunities for adults over the age of 21 with Down syndrome.
Field of Dreams Care Co-Ordinator, Debbie Kelleher, explained that most supports are available for young children with Down syndrome. The gap in support for adults after the age of 21 was identified by surveying the 360 member families of Down Syndrome Cork asking them what were the areas of most need.
The sod was turned on the project in 2017 with the Minister of Agriculture, Michael Creed, and celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, on a three-acre plot of land leased from Munster Agricultural Society, a mere stone’s throw from where Cork’s Summer Show is hosted every year.
The subsequent two years has seen Ray’s Field of Dreams take shape, develop educational programmes and receive their first participants.
The three-acre site has been developed into a horticultural zone complete with two poly tunnels and two modular buildings, one as an office and training space and the other a fully fitted commercial kitchen and canteen facilities. There are also five themed gardens, including a sensory garden which has proved a massive hit with the participants, as well as students from local Speech and Therapy groups.
The organisation runs a Life & Work Skills Programme and an Activation Programme for students to avail of practical activities such as cookery, arts and crafts, physical activities and horticulture. The training participants receive help to achieve certification which in turn may lead to future employment.
After a pilot scheme in spring last year, two programmes were launched at the Field of Dreams. The Work & Life Skills programme works towards QQI Level 3 in Horticulture, encompassing two modules of Potting & Planting and Work Experience two-days per week for two years. It is run with funding from the Cork Education and Training Board, and a recent partnership with Marks & Spencer saw all eight participants avail of work experience in the store and café in Cork. The support from Marks & Spencer has been huge, says Debbie, with possible future job placements to come.
The Activation Programme has six participants attending one day a week for one year and includes Arts and Crafts activity, harvesting produce and cookery. The day is structured and tasks are meaningful, but the emphasis is on opportunities for fun and positive engagement.
Helping participants to transition into employment when they finish their programme is the overarching goal of Field of Dreams. Work experience, and opportunities to sell their garden produce at the Cork Summer Show and Midleton Market, are all part of building up confidence whilst breaking down social barriers associated with disability. As Debbie put it, participants have as much desire to work as anyone; they want to contribute and are able to advocate for themselves.
There is a small but dedicated band of workers at Field of Dreams, covering everything from grant application to employment liaison, tabling Corporate Social Responsibility days, teaching and of course, gardening. Plans for the year ahead include the expansion of the Market Garden, helping to raise much needed revenue in addition to what is received from state funding and corporate sponsorship.
There are also plans to develop their third acre to include commercial pumpkin growing for a harvesting festival in October, and establishing a flock of sheep and chickens, adding to the biodiversity of the garden and reinforcing their status as a model of Social Farming, an ideal which secured the initial Department of Agriculture funding.
It takes a lot to keep three acres in top condition, as well as the programme of ongoing development. To keep things manageable, Field of Dreams liaise with companies to offer Corporate Social Responsibility days; office workers get to ditch the computer in exchange for a days’ graft at the Field of Dreams.
Everyone wins when this happens: companies fulfil their CSR obligations; those who come to work reconnect with their hands and bodies during a day of physical labour, and the project and participants benefit the most from the generous donation of time and effort.
People on CSR days arrive looking unsure about what to expect, but by the end of the day, Debbie says, they are completely transformed. Comradery is strengthened with colleagues, and there is an overall sense of achievement.
Participants at the Field of Dreams learn how to pot, plant, grow, harvest and cook food. These are all essential life skills that underpin our ability to live independently and eat well. Indirectly, participants are also learning about ecology, climate, soil, biology, mathematics, physics, co-ordination, co-operation, socialisation, cookery, art and physical exercise in an un-academic but hugely practical and effective way.
All of this from a garden! So many of us have lost touch with how our food is produced and where it comes from and the lesson here for every one of us is: from the soil comes everything we need.
While I was there, I had a chat with John. He completed the pilot project back in spring last year and loved it so much, he came back for more and enrolled in the Activation Programme. So far, I have been greeted by a kiss on the hand, asked for my autograph and shown the perfectly ripe kiwi fruits grown by his green-fingered mom at home. He has brought in one for everyone to try, and suggests maybe some of the seeds could be saved to see if they could grow Kiwis in one of the poly tunnels.
John shows me his work book. It is bursting with all the activities he has completed so far, chief among his favourites is his work experience at Marks & Spencer. He also recalls the puff pastry and cream hearts that were made when 30 UCC Occupational Therapist students came to visit on Valentine’s Day.
John then politely tells me it is 12 o’clock and time he joined his fellow students for lunch. Today’s starter is a green leaf salad of rocket, mizuna and mustard leaves picked just minutes before from the poly tunnel and dressed with French vinaigrette; followed by rosemary and garlic roasted butternut squash and finished off with one of those beautifully ripe Cork-grown Kiwi fruits.
Food that they have grown together, picked together, learned to cook together and now will eat together. For sure, that’s a winning recipe.
Interested in sponsorship or to volunteer under the Corporate Social Responsibility programme? Contact Eva O’Donovan 083 1925578 firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE ON THE RECENT AWARDS
Cork Food Policy Council — Food Sustainability Award Winners 2019 were:
Primary & Secondary School Category: St Coleman’s N.S, Cloyne:
The school believes it is important for the children to understand where everything comes from.
By inspiring them to grow their own in a school garden, they are helping them understand the importance of helping to protect our environment and keep the soil clean and safe for all our plants and animals to live and thrive.
The school focuses on topics like biodiversity — educating the children on native species also on water and electricity conservation and recycling amongst other things.
Primary & Secondary School Category: Our Lady of Mercy N.S, Bantry:
This is a co-educational primary school and has been a heath promoting school for the last 14 years as part of the HSE Health promotion scheme. The school is hugely committed to promoting both physical and mental health by participating in many educational programs such as Skipping Challenge, Weaving Wellbeing Programme, Zippy’s Friends Programme, and Walking Challenges.
They promote inclusion by integrating special classes with mainstream classes on daily basis. They are taught how sustainability can improve the lives of ourselves and other species and are made aware of all the sustainable food grown locally.
A Reduced Environmental Footprint is central to the school, which has been awarded five Green Flags to date.
Private Business Category: My Goodness
My Goodness is a Cork city based vegan food company specialising in raw, living, probiotic foods. They are striving to create a sustainable business model based on mutual respect between the land, the farmers who work it, people preparing the food, and the customers.
My Goodness strives to cater to those with the most marginalised diets — providing a menu that is completely raw and free of gluten, refined sugar and animal products. The company is working tirelessly to reduce waste and is committed to becoming a Zero Waste company by the end of 2020. Deeply committed to the DIY ethic — they are happy to share recipes and give free workshops on fermentation and krauting all over Ireland.