Returning to a ‘new normal’ and ‘Growing Together While Apart’ 



So, let me think, is it seven… or eight weeks since all this began??


Let’s go back a bit, Friday, 6th March, I was speaking at the Donegal Women in Business Network’s International Women’s Day It Starts with Local event in the CoLab in Letterkenny.  I was only too proud to be one of the speakers at that event, but when I turned up that day there was already the strange atmosphere in the room and the sense that something was coming down the line.


However, as with all Donegal Women in Business Network’s events, the day was amazing and it was so good to see all the women attending in the room!


But no one could prepare us for the news that was to come but a few days later. And, on Thursday 12th March, the upheaval came.


The rest we all know about in the wider context, but at home it all played out in a bit of a blur to be honest. I arrived back that day from my Acorns meeting in Donegal Town, to find my children already at home, having been picked up by my husband earlier in the day when the schools had closed.


And like so many other self-employed people around the country, myself and my husband soon found we were searching for answers as to what to do.  We quickly joined the long line of self-employed people in the tourism industry facing a really tough year. But within the panic and fear I found myself looking for options as to how we could adapt in this murky, unknown territory.


You see, 2020 was going to be ‘the year’ for OURganic Gardens.  I just had a feeling, a feeling that this year we were going to achieve some of the goals that we were working on for the last seven years . We had officially changed our business model from me being out teaching in the community Gardens of Donegal, to running our own educational garden nestled in the beautiful landscape of Gortahork. We were getting ready to open to the public for walks, talks, courses and events. We had already filled the spring calendar with exciting events from an Introduction to Permaculture, Willow weaving days, foraging in the forest events and courses on social and therapeutic horticulture.


We had spent the last year working on our home and outhouse buildings, fixing up the pathways and, in general, making the place look good for people coming to visit. And then, within a matter of days I was calling all booked tutors, refunding payments, and staring into a bit of a blank canvas to be honest!


But thankfully after a phone call with the Network’s PRO Evelyn Mc Glynn (also Evelyn Mc Marketing), a few days later I took her advice and decided against all odds that we, at OURganic Gardens, were going to stay visible!  That was her message, plain and simple.  Stay visible by helping others where you can, and to keep reaching out there with your brand. So, that is just what we did.


On 15th March I decided to start running Facebook ‘Live from the Potting Shed’ Sessions from my OURganic Gardens page twice a week. We have run two webinars on planning a vegetable garden, and we are now getting ready to start a series of six-week garden classes using Zoom as a medium, and connecting to a whole new community of gardeners (see website for more details). The feedback has been amazing!


We have also managed to provide almost 50 vegetable salad packs to members of the local community and have promoted what other growers are doing using our #GrowTogetherDonegal campaign.


The world around us quickly changed and people found themselves staying at home with time on their hands to literally go back to their roots – to learn to grow once more the very thing we take for granted all too often!


At OURganic Gardens, we have not only managed to stay visible, but we have adapted and become resilient in the current climate. As a business, and as a family, we have stayed at home and grown together, whilst being apart from others.


I can’t believe we’re now at the stage of life returning to somewhat of a normality, but as a woman in business, and indeed in my home life, I think we may have to reassess what normal will look like. It will certainly be a ‘new normal’ for us all.


Some of our friends and family have been severely impacted by the virus and some of us just got by. But my hope is that whatever happens in the near and distant future, that we all take stock of what really is important. Our health, our family, our food, and our time. Use it wisely and make the best of what you have.


Joanne Butler x

OURganic Gardens – Co-ordinator

Facilitator with ChangeMakers Donegal

Community Gardens Ireland

Gairdin Gortahork Chairperson

086 178 9971