2 minutes with… Michael KellyPublished 01/11/2023
If you feel overwhelmed by the environmental and sustainability debate, you’re not alone. We recently reached out to Michael Kelly ahead of his event Climate Action: Joining the Fight, part of the Dublin Book Festival Science Week programme, to talk about his experience growing and working in Ireland, and his Grow It Yourself initiative.
Michael Kelly is the founder of GIY, a social entrepreneur, author, TV presenter and grower. He co-presented and produced three series of Grow Cook Eat for RTÉ and presented the series Food Matters in 2023. He has written columns on food for The Irish Times, Irish Independent and Food & Wine Magazine. His book, The GIY Diaries: A Year of Growing and Cooking is a beautifully illustrated diary of a year in the vegetable patch that gives a month by month account of the growing season in Ireland paired with delectable recipes.
You were working in tech for 10 years, but that all changed when a bulb of Chinese garlic inspired you to found GIY. Would you mind telling us how that chance encounter inspired you to shift into working in environmental action?
I realised a bulb of garlic I bought in a supermarket was from China and it sort of shook me out of my complacency about the food system and my role in propping it up. I guess it was because it was SO cheap and had travelled SO far that really got to me. So I decided to grow my own garlic and got bitten by the growing bug from there. I started GIY a few years later because I had seen the impact the growing had on my overall food behaviours and I felt if we could get others to do it then it could have a big impact on the climate crisis and health outcomes.
GIY partners with primary schools for the GROW at School programme in Ireland – what was your favourite experience in implementing the programme?
The little stories of everyday impact we hear from teachers and kids. How it helps them eat more veg and fruit; how kids that might be struggling academically can thrive at it. And how it teaches them about the food system and their role in it. I also love the idea of scaling the impact school by school until it becomes mainstream.
You recently presented 2 TV series that help people grow (GROW COOK EAT) and demystifies the global food change (Food Matters), which are available on RTE and Amazon Prime. In making them, what was one thing that surprised you the most in your research process?
In Food Matters it was shocking to meet some of Ireland’s commercial veg growers and hear from them first hand how their sector is collapsing. We have just 60 of them left. I genuinely feel we’re only a few years away from having no Irish veg on the supermarket shelves unless we change how we produce and consume food. At the same time it was inspiring to meet people and projects that are trying to create a more sustainable food system at a local level in Ireland.
In writing your book the GIY Diaries what was your research like?
Well, it was effectively 20 years of research that went into it because that’s how long I’ve been growing food for. I think the book is like a greatest hits of those 20 years, outlining the highs and lows of the growing experience in that time. So the research was very much hands-on and done in the veg patch and kitchen over that time. I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still learning.
What other events at the Dublin Book Festival are you looking forward to?
Keeping on the general theme of food and climate, I’d love to check out my friend Dee Laffan and Blanca Valencia’s Winter Feasts event out in Farmleigh. I’d also encourage people with an interest in the climate crisis to check out some of the amazing people in the Naturalist’s Bookshelf talk like Lisa Fingleton and Anja Murray. And I love what Colm O’Regan is doing around Climate comedy and his Climate Worrier book.
Come plant yourself for a little while in the Printworks and join Michael Kelly in conversation with Catherine Cleary for Climate Action: Joining the Fight at 2 pm on Sunday November 12th to hear more about the small steps we can all take in tackling the climate crisis. We’ve got a lot of growing to do together, but these experts know all the best techniques, so why not hear it from them yourself! [TICKETS HERE].