One day every day will be a 6am start!

East Cork’s Karen O’Donohoe is currently on our TV screens in a new show, Grow Cook Eat. Here she talks about her passion for food, sustainability, family and friends
One day every day will be a 6am start!

TV presenters, Michael Kelly the founder of GIY and Karen O’Donohoe Head of Community Development at GIY, who are presenting the new tv series GROW COOK EAT.

TELL us a little bit about yourself:

I’m from Ballycotton in East Cork and after 10 years living and working in Bristol I returned home to Ladysbridge in 2012.

Comfortable in wellies or heels but usually in my white Cons, I live in East Cork with my two superheroes Dylan and Saoirse and when we’re not zooming around in my trusty Rav4, we’re at the beach, at the market, at the allotment or at a mate’s. And generally, on a mission.

I’m in my element when working with others to make positive changes that promote health, community and sustainability at all levels. I’m also partial to a microphone and love to meet and talk to people of all ages about their passions and how they are part of the solution to personal, local, national and global challenges.

A socially conscious entrepreneur, I started The Cottage Market in 2014 (, a community-led initiative that puts homemade, homegrown and handcrafted back in the heart of communities and by the end of the year we’ll have over 25 cottage markets across the country.

I’m the Head of Community Development with GIY and work with a great team and range of partners on national campaigns to encourage people to grow as much food as they can wherever they can, at home, at work, at school and in their community as a lever to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

I also co-present a new TV series with Michael Kelly, founder of GIY, called Grow Cook Eat — a seven episode series that is all about food. Each week we focus on a particular veg, taking viewers on a plot-to-plate journey to show just how easy it really is to grow and cook with it.

We also travel across the country and meet the people behind some of the most incredible GIY projects in communities, workplaces and schools all across Ireland.

The series is a brilliant platform to showcase their work, energy and enthusiasm for food growing and to show the positive impact it has on their lives. I’m also delighted to say that we make a number of visits to Cork for the series, we visit Clonakilty Asylum Centre, VoxPro and the Cork Community Projects over the course of the series.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

Dylan and Saoirse are still young and with a very busy full-time job my Friday nights on the town are long gone — although the odd night I can still be found on the dancefloor with my friend Karen if Greg and Shane of Fish Go Deep are playing. So Friday nights are all about chilling with Dylan and Saoirse once the inevitable school uniform laundry wash is on, the rugby kit is found and we have a plan for the weekend sorted.

Lie ins or up with the lark... which is it for you?

Up with the lark – well the slightly lazier lark… I’m up and about by 7.30am for work/the school run and about the same time at weekends for swimming, rugby etc. I am determined to master the discipline of 6am starts every day of the week because I know that extra hour and a half would make a massive difference to my day with some exercise and quiet time to focus on a grant application or to plan my week/month/year ahead.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

I am very lucky to have a job that I love and sometimes I need to work across the weekend if I’m delivering some courses at GROW HQ, home to GIY in Waterford, visiting a Cottage Market or filming for Grow Cook Eat. The great thing is that not only has GIY a flexible working policy but we all trust each other to work hard and get the job done well, so if I do work across a weekend then at quieter times I take a day off to catch up on life. Generally I’ve gotten a lot better at protecting my time at weekends, particularly when I’m with Dylan and Saoirse, but can still be too reactive to an email or phone call so have learned to turn my phone off.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

I have the most amazing group of women friends from all the different chapters of my life, without whom I would not be here today. I will never be able to thank them for their love, support, help, advice, honesty, laughter and encouragement — they are all legends and I love them. With money no object I would sort out whatever work cover or childcare we all needed for the weekend (a long weekend!) and we would head to New York. I absolutely love that city and the high energy “go for it” pace suits me down to the ground. There would be a lot of amazing food, coffee and a whole heap of dancing. And then I’d plant five times the number of trees needed to offset the CO2 emissions from the flight.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

Only yesterday I headed to Garryvoe Beach to clear a very full stressed out head and after just 15 minutes of being barefoot on the beach and in and out of the water I was a new woman, with very cold feet.

I’m not as active as I’d like to be but a walk along Garryvoe Beach really gets the O2 flowing and after it I feel anything is possible. East Cork has the most amazing beaches and cliff walks and I wish everyone looked after them better – the Clean Coast three-minute clean-up is a really simple but effective way of keeping our beaches litter free and the less crap we generate in the first place the less plastic, take away cups etc. that will end up on them in the first place.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

Other than my mom who lives locally and my dad who lives in Glanmire, I don’t have any family in Cork and my brother and sister both live in America, so family gatherings are rare, but we all stay in touch with Facetime etc. I love to visit friends outside of Cork during school holidays, which usually takes a lot of planning, as we’re all so busy. But we manage.

I meet up with friends locally every weekend, even if it’s on the sidelines at rugby training, for a coffee at Midleton Farmers’ Market while the kids leg it around the grass area. My friend Lydia is particularly generous with her home so any number of us arrive to hers and everyone has somebody to talk to.

Do you get to indulge in any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

As you can imagine being part of GIY has given me a love of growing and I love to spend time at the allotment. Not as much time as I would like and sometimes I feel guilty that the raised beds and polytunnel aren’t being put to their full use but my friend Sonia and I work away and sometimes we binge grow and other times I don’t get over for a couple of weeks.

Our garlic is in, we planted spuds on St Patrick’s Day and beetroot and carrots etc. will go in soon. I’d love more people from Ladysbridge to get involved and hopefully some of the community gardens we visit in Grow Cook Eat, a number of which are based in Cork, will inspire others to get stuck in.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

I would love to entertain more but my friends are way better at it than me, so my contribution to a dinner is a bottle of Ecover and my promise to do the washing up at the end. I am famous for my roast chicken, so can, if pushed, entertain, but I’m looking forward to using Jack and Jess’ recipes from Grow Cook Eat — the whole point is to show that even novices can give them a go so I will put that to the test.

Michael Kelly the founder of GIY and Karen O’Donohoe Head of Community Development at GIY, they are presenting the brand new TV series GROW COOK EAT.
Michael Kelly the founder of GIY and Karen O’Donohoe Head of Community Development at GIY, they are presenting the brand new TV series GROW COOK EAT.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork — where are your go to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

I could eat my body weight in any of The Rocketman’s salads and if I’m in the city I love, love, love to walk around The English Market before stopping at The Sandwich Stall for a very large salad box and coffee. I’d love to spend a day at Mahon or Midleton Farmers’ Markets, as they have some great food producers that would totally sort me out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don’t get to go out for dinner very much ( I think I need to remedy that quick) but love Sage in Midleton — brilliant ethos and amazing food — I had blackened celeriac there once and my tastebuds still dance at the very memory of it.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

Sunday nights are all about getting very, very organised for the week ahead. Once the house is clean, the car is vacuumed (I am obsessed about having a clean car), lunches and dinners are vaguely planned (and I mean vaguely) and I have a plan for the week ahead. I try to get out for a walk and then chill with some Netflix before bed with a book. I’ve just finished Last Train From Liguria by Christina Dwyer Hickey and loved it.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

6am – and then I make several deals and false promises to myself (five more minutes, just five more minutes) before finally getting up at 6.30 to be on the road to Waterford and ready for all the week ahead will bring. One day, every day will be a 6am start.

More about Grow Cook Eat

The new RTÉ TV series is presented each week by the founder of GIY, Michael Kelly, and the GIY Head of Community Development, Karen O’Donohoe.

Each week the show also sees the presenters travel to meet and visit expert food producers, chefs, and community food growing projects all across the country. Delicious menu ideas will be shared each week by Jessica Murphy of Kai Restaurant in Galway and Jack Kirwan owner of the Sprout and Co food chain in Dublin.

Grow Cook Eat airs each Wednesday evening at 7.30pm on RTÉ 1 until April 25; the show is sponsored by Bord Bia and

For further details see website

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