Two Midland men who knew each other through farming connections worked together to create a 5-acre, £ 2million eco-garden center, constructed from old steel shipping containers in an innovative concept that mixes garden, retail and food elements.
David Maher and John Carey are going against the trend by moving from a successful online business to physical premises just outside of Portarlington, County Laois, which received Leader funding. David Maher initially started an online electrical products business in 2010, followed by a gardening website two years later.
“I knew John because I came from a farming background, and his father owns a local grocery store and provided cattle truck service to the marts. I hired him as an employee and he later became my business partner, ”said David.
Eco-responsible garden center
The Solas Eco Garden Center, which features a 40-foot tower built from reconstructed steel and aimed to act as a beacon of regeneration, is modeled after a directional sustainable center in Amsterdam. All of the centre’s materials are recycled.
“I have always been on the lookout for sustainable projects that bring territories back to life. A few years ago I visited the Pllek development in Amsterdam and was overwhelmed by it, ”explained David.
“It paved the way in extending the life of materials that might otherwise have gone to landfill, with all the associated negative consequences for the environment.
“It was totally unlike anything I had seen before and I was determined to bring the concept to Ireland, with the aim of promoting a low-carbon economy and way of life. We hired an architectural firm, architect Taminiau BV in Amsterdam, to realize our vision and they certainly exceeded all of our expectations.
The duo used 40 old steel shipping containers to house their street cafe and market village.
“There is magic in 40 because we have 40. Besides being extremely durable, these 40ft containers also have a very precise wow factor,” David said.
“We have an eclectic mix of stalls, making up a vibrant eco-food community. Our street cafe and market village are currently home to 15 food and craft stalls, with plans to expand that number to 40, providing a showcase for local food and craft producers, both new and established.
“Our retail store and warehouse spans over 40,000 feet2 and it’s full of local crafts, ”he added.
“Our designs are energy efficient. We have permeable parking lots; our parking lot is the first 100% “green” parking lot in the country and we used an off-grid water supply for all non-potable water.
“We are ready for the outdoors and we are determined to make the Solas Eco Garden Center a beacon of sustainability and creativity. He buzzes with good will.
Given Portarlington’s geographic position, David believes the Solas Eco Garden Center will become a destination for people across the country, providing a much needed boost to Portarlington’s economy and the community at large.
“We are in a privileged geographical location with over 1.2 million people living within 50 minutes of our center. This will attract people to the city and other hard-working indigenous businesses will get a boost, ”he said.
“We’re all community driven here. Portarlington has a wonderful community spirit, but it has been marred by underinvestment and lack of local jobs.
“The site on which the Solas Ecological Garden Center is developed has a long and rich history and is a long-standing landmark in the city. As Butler Engineering’s steel yard, it has provided much needed jobs to generations of people over the years.
“Today is a milestone for sustainability, innovation and creativity as well as for employment. It’s a wonderful continuum and we are incredibly proud and excited.
Involve the community
Co-owner John Carey, who leads the on-site horticultural team, said he’s a strong advocate for people’s commitment and enthusiasm for the environment by involving them.
“When people are considered and feel part of something, they are much more likely to take ownership and responsibility for it and to help protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. “, he maintained.
“Like everything, it starts with young people, so we involve children in our lively, fun and interactive ‘eco-warrior garden’ workshops. These hour-long skills classes are fun, hands-on, and highly educational.
“They give young people the confidence they need to start planting and cultivating. Enlightening them that 80% of all waste in the world is caused by food waste is essential to help develop lifelong respect for the environment. These courses sow the seeds of a lifelong appreciation of the environment.
“People have developed a huge interest in gardening and learning how to do it will ensure that people continue this passion. we run “rustic hanging baskets” course which are delivered by expert horticulturalists on site here. All materials are provided and participants take their completed work home, ”said John.
“We also have classes on how to grow your own vegetables; composting; wild flowers and sustainable green energy. It’s all about knowledge and fun through education and commitment. We have many more projects and it will be a constantly evolving center, ”he concluded.
Solas ecological garden center is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A farmers’ market takes place there on Saturday morning, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.