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Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the company in 2015.
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Ireland’s first eco-garden centre: 5-acres, 40 shipping containers

Solas Eco Garden Centre, Ireland’s first eco-garden centre, has opened in Portarlington, Co Laois.

This is a unique concept, much of the 5-acre development built from old steel shipping containers, heralding an innovative and creative space, mixing garden, retail, and food elements.

According to its creators, it feeds into the common message of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

All steel, plastic, cardboard, and stone at the centre are 100% recycled.

A 40-foot tower built from reconstructed steel is a novel, and clever touch serves both as a tower of light and focal point.

Solas Eco Garden Centre

The centre’s creation is the realisation of a long-cherished dream by well-known Portarlington man, David Maher.

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The committed environmentalist and entrepreneur worked alongside his business partner, horticulturist John Carey to model on a directional, sustainable centre in Amsterdam.

“I have always been looking out for sustainable projects that breathe life into areas.”

“Some years back, I visited the Pllek development in Amsterdam, and I was bowled over by it.”

“It was leading the way in extending the life of materials that otherwise might have gone to landfill with all the associated negative consequences for the environment.”

He was determined to bring the concept to Ireland to promote a decarbonised economy and lifestyle.

Solas Eco Garden Centre, eco garden, farming news

Lay-out

He engaged an excellent firm of architects, Architect Taminiau BV in Amsterdam, to realise their vision.

“We have used 40 old steel shipping containers to house our street food café and market village. As well as being hugely sustainable, these 40-foot containers also have a very definite wow factor. It is bold and innovative.”

“We have an eclectic mix of stalls making up a vibrant eco food community.”

Its street food café and market village currently house 15 food and artisan stalls with plans to extend this to up to 40. He said this offers a showcase for local artisan food and crafts producers, both new and established.

Also, its retail shop and warehouse extend to over 40,000 sq feet and is full of local crafts.

“Our designs are energy efficient. We have permeable car parks. Our car park is the first 100% ‘green’ car park in the country. We have used an off the grip water supply for all non-potable water.”

“We are determined to make Solas Eco Garden Centre a beacon of light for sustainability and creativity. It is buzzing with goodwill.”

Furthermore, he said the centre is in a prime geographical location with over 1.2 million people living within 50 minutes of its location.

“It is going to attract people into the town, and the other hard-working indigenous businesses will get a spin-off boost.”

“The site that Solas Eco Garden Centre is developed on has a long and rich history and is a longtime landmark in the town.”

“As a steelyard, it offered much-needed employment to generations of people down through the years. Now, it is a landmark for sustainability, innovation, and creativity as well as employment.

Solas Eco Garden Centre, eco garden, farming news

Workshops 

Co-owner, John Carey, who leads the team of on-site horticulturists, added:

“I am a passionate advocate of getting people engaged and enthused about the environment by involving them.”

“When people are considered and made to feel part of something, they are far more likely to take ownership and responsibility for it and their part in helping the environment and reducing their carbon footprint.”

“Like everything, this starts with young people. We are getting kids involved in our lively, fun and interactive eco-warrior back garden workshops.”

“These one-hour skills courses are specially designed for kids. They are fun, hands-on and highly educational.”

“It gives young people the confidence they need to start planting and growing themselves.”
He believes these courses sow the seeds for a “lifetime appreciation” for the environment.

“People have developed a huge interest in gardening. Learning how to do it will ensure that people will continue this passion.

They are running rustic hanging baskets courses, which their expert horticulturists on-site deliver. They supply all materials and participants take home their completed work.

“Also, we have classes on how to grow your own vegetables, composting, wildflowers and sustainable green energy. It is all about knowledge and fun through education and engagement.”

“We have lots more plans, and it will be a constantly evolving centre,” he concluded.

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