GROWING CONNECTIONS, CHANGING LIVES Insights and Learning From Social Farming Across Ireland
A National Conference on Social Farming took place in the Emmaus Centre in Swords Co. Dublin last Friday, the 23rd of March. 140 attendees from all over Ireland learnt more about the development of s
First Network Trip an Outstanding Success.
Social Farming Across Borders Field Trip April 23rd 2013:
Our first trip to practicing social farms began at the Wetlands Centre Ballybay on a cool Tuesday morning in April 2013. The group who had travelled from across the 12 counties of our project region and from as far south as Kerry and Tipperary were welcomed and refreshed by Paul Flynn and staff at the Wetlands Centre.
A couple of miles down the road we were welcomed by Tom Horan to ‘Robb Farm’ Camphill Community Ballybay. Tom who has spent 43 years with Camphill Communities welcomed us and introduced us to the co-workers at Robb Farm. For the time of year, particularly given the very cold Spring there was a most impressive array of protected spring greens and salad crops evident along with the first signs of new growth in a fertile and well minded community kitchen garden. I feel Patrick Kavanagh would have been moved by the experience of community and would have been hard pushed to discover any ‘stony grey soil’. The livestock area which provides both milk from a small herd of Shorthorn cows and meat from their followers was well laid out and accessible for the co-workers who run the livestock enterprise. An impressive element under construction was a new purpose built ambient Barn Drier to enhance the quality and supply of winter forage.
We had an opportunity to visit the weaving shop, candle craft area and community bakery. Before departing Thomas and the community answered our questions in the comfort of their meeting hall supplemented by home baked refreshments.
Our second port of call was to the small holding farm and home of Vincent Coyle near Summerhill Co. Meath. For the last four years or so Vincent has welcomed a number of men from services in Co. Kildare to share days with him and his family on their farm. Vincent aims to be as close to being self-sufficient as possible in potatoes, vegetables, eggs and milk. Surplus of produce is shared or exchanges or left in trust at an ‘honesty box’ at the entrance to the farm. The men who visit Vincent vote with their feet in doing so. What began as a trial option has evolved into an experience of choice; one which would not easily be discontinued at this point. The experience has allowed each person to evolve his own interest and roles be it cutting the wood for the stove, caring for poultry or working with the livestock stock or the gardens. The change of seasons are celebrated as the year evolves, Vincent describes the kitchen table as being as important as the farm. Occasions for people, friends and family to prepare and share food, stories and song are at the heart of social farming for Vincent. This philosophy was well evidenced on the day with a most generous array of food prepared by Vincent, his men and his family was set out before us at the end of our visit. The most memorable aspect of this visit has to be the ‘ordinary way’ in which the men engage on the farm with Vincent and the sense one captures that this space has become as much part of their lives as it is part of Vincent’s.
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