The word meitheal describes the old Irish tradition where people in rural communities gathered together on a neighbour’s farm to help save the hay or some other crop. Each person would help their neighbour who would in turn reciprocate. They acted as a team and everybody benefited in some way. This built up strong friendships and respect among those involved in the meitheal. GIY meitheals are small groups of 6-10 people who meet up approximately monthly to carry out some growing-related task in one of the meitheal member’s garden.
We have found the meitheals generate a huge level of camaraderie and friendship - they are hard work and great fun. The picture that was at the top of the page is of a meitheal held in December 2008 in Crooke, Co. Waterford - ten people got together to make raised beds in one of the meitheal member’s gardens. We shifted 10 tonnes of soil before lunchtime - a fine time was had by all! We have found that GIY members are fascinated by the idea of meitheals - they seem to latch on to some innate need we all have for a sense of belonging and community. An interesting off-shoot of the meitheals is the idea of a seed meitheal - each member of a seed meitheal grows the contents of a packet of seeds in seed trays and then pots them up for sharing among other members.
Each member only has to take care of one type of seed and gets five other types of potted up plants in return. For example one member might sow 50 tomato plants and give away 40 of them to fellow meitheal members. In return they might get back courgette, peas, broadbeans, squashes etc. Once people get to know each other within a meitheal there is typically lots of other activity within the group - for example, mini-meitheals (two or three people might get together for a small job), seed packet swaps, information exchange etc. We are also interested in the idea of occasionally having a ‘meitheal mor’ - where a large group from the GIY gets together and does some food-production related charitable act, e.g. works on a vegetable garden for a school or old-folks home etc.