Happiness is...home grown food which gladdens the heart

Chairman of Cloughmills Community Association, Patrick Frew pictured outside the fair traded Mongolian yurt, which is the hub of community activities.
Chairman of Cloughmills Community Association, Patrick Frew pictured outside the fair traded Mongolian yurt, which is the hub of community activities.

Five years ago Cloughmills man Patrick Frew set up a community garden in his home village, in the grounds of the Corner House.

Young people grew vegetables and kept chickens and in turn created a box scheme to provide vegetables and eggs for senior citizens in the area. This intergenerational enterprise involved schools, parents and grandparents.

Now his Incredible Edible project has moved to a disused mill, breathing new life into an abandoned space and invigorating the village itself. A garden with polytunnels and raised beds now occupy what was a millpond for the old corn and flax mill that dates back to 1720.

I visited the site last week and love the way it has developed over the years. A wild flower meadow greets you as you enter the garden with scarlet poppies, sunny daisies, golden buttercups and cornflowers.

Not only is this a beautiful looking area but it has been specially planted to cater for the arrival of beehives that will be erected soon.

An authentic Mongolian yurt stands in a lawn area and is used as a small conference area.

A wood burning clay oven with an adjoining canopied area means bread and pizza can be baked and enjoyed all year round.

Polytunnels and outside growing areas teem with courgettes, tomatoes, root vegetables, chillis, salad leaves, onions and herbs.

Volunteers gather the crops, weed and plant new produce. The garden is called the “Happiness Project” and when you walk into such a wonderful, tranquil and colourful piece of landscape, it’s easy to see why. There’s something about food growing wild and biodynamically that gladdens the heart and gives hope for the future.

Last year they had a fair at the site and I was delighted to attend and bake some traditional breads. Corn on the cob was grilled expertly by Texan native and garden volunteer Sarah, in its husk, on a barbecue and anointed with chilli butter. They had an on site brewery and stalls selling vegetables, jams and bread.

This was part of a community food initiative, that over the next three years aims to reconnect people with each other, their community and the natural world by developing a sustainable, fair and healthy food system in Cloughmills.

Everyone will know where food comes from, appreciate seasonal diversity and environmental impacts of food, be confident in cooking and celebrate the role of food in their lives.

When young people grow their own food and get involved in cooking it, they’re much more likely to eat it.

Patrick has now initiated plans to grow mushrooms and salad leaves on a commercial basis in order to provide employment in the local community.

Radishes are one of those vegetables that taste infinitely better when you get a bunch that’s been grown here and freshly picked.

Breakfast radishes are a variety that aren’t as hot but have bags of flavour. Slemish Market garden in Ballymena are growing them at the moment and are well worth sussing out.

While these scarlet bullets are lovely in a salad, they’re also delicious lightly cooked in butter and in this week’s recipe make a great accompaniment to mackerel and cockles.

The poly tunnels in Cloughmills were brimming with courgettes. Courgettes are fantastic when sliced, brushed with oil and either fried or grilled on a barbecue.

In Italy they then toss the hot vegetables into a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar, four of olive oil and some shredded mint.

It’s great served at room temperature.

My other recipe this week is for that seventies favourite, stuffed courgettes, brought up to date with a cannellini beans and salami.

The Happiness Project in Cloughmills is having a summer fair on the 15th August from 12-4pm and I’ll be there cooking what I can pick on my portable barbecue – see you there.