It was exciting to meet the enthusiasm at the inaugural meeting of Talamh Beo, a grassroots organisation of farmers, growers and land-based workers on the island of Ireland. It aims to ensure a living landscape, where people and ecosystems thrive together.
Inspiration comes from the Landworkers’ Alliance (UK), which in the five years of its existence has become a voice for small food producers, farmers, growers and land-based workers (which also includes beekeepers, herbalists, foresters and flower farmers).
What we do at grassroots level in Ireland is of the utmost important as we confront a potential climate catastrophe, which we need to acknowledge as individuals and communities. No matter who we are in society, and what class we belong to, we all eat three times a day, and should be nourishing ourselves with good food, from a ground that is well taken care of.
We can farm in a far more sustainable way, beginning with our own gardens, and make conscientious food choices, avoiding plastic waste, and supporting local farmers.
This is crucial to our health and wellbeing, ‘Let the food be your medicine’, as Hippocrates put it; or as Darina Allen said on her ‘Foodture’ podcast: ‘Do your best to source chemical-free organic food, it’s really worth the investment … the less you spend on food the more you spend on medical care.’
If you think you can’t afford better food, consider where you now invest your money: how often do you go to the hairdresser, or drink a pint or choose to drive somewhere? There are priorities we have in terms of our time and money.
It is always a good time to start thinking about growing some of your own vegetables!
Ideally you should begin by building up soil nutrients from November onwards, but if you are starting now and feel you have missed the boat, don’t worry. We are adopting a No-dig method in our garden, which can begin at any time of the year. In this respect our inspiration is the legendary Charles Dowding, whose website and Instagram page offers plenty of excellent free advice.
If your space is limited you can use raised beds made from timber. Even a small concrete yard offers sufficient space. This type of raised bed is ideal for older people who might wish to avoid bending over.
The main ingredient of growing is good compost, which you can source from local farmers, and elsewhere. To start a bed we recommend gathering lots of cardboard, and spreading it straight onto the ground. Then spread a 10cm layer of compost over this. Beds should be approximately 1m wide, allowing 30cm for pathways between each one. Wood chips give a neat appearance to the pathways, and suppress weeds.
While your new beds are settling down, start propagating your favourite vegetable varieties in pots and trays of fine seed compost on your windowsills inside. You don’t generally need a rich compost to germinate seeds; heat and moisture are sufficient. You can multi-sow and do successional sowing to have a continuous supply of fresh ingredients throughout the year.
Those wishing to start an organic farming business, or a just develop partial self-sufficiency, should access networks of independent Irish growing organisations. We highly recommend linking up with an experienced farmer in your area to build a good relationship, and learn where the food you eat is coming from.
The Organic Growers of Ireland has created a Small Growers Network to help growers who have completed formal training or an internship with them. It is essentially a participatory network that is open to anyone who feels it would be useful. You don’t need much experience to be part of it; what you do need is the enthusiasm required to build up your strength on the farm.
The Network offers a forum for small farmers to highlight the specific needs of their holdings. It is organised by Jason Horner, founder of the OGI, and monthly meetings are happening in Cloughjordan, with farm walks providing different discussion topics, led by established organic growers.
Becoming a supporter of Irish Seedsavers helped us get involved in seed sharing and gave us access to workshops and events (including brilliant talks from Mary Raynolds). Apple-tasting days were a highlight. Seed saving is useful to anyone with an interest in biodiversity, increasing the variety of vegetables, and helping bees to pollinate by reducing monoculture.
The Flower Farmers of Ireland also promote the cultivation, marketing, sale and use of Irish-grown cut-flowers and foliage, and support and act as an advocate for growers.
We believe the Land belongs to us all. That is why we need to restore natural ecosystems, and put power back into the hands of small-scale producers. At the moment production is dominated by multinational supermarkets, which leads to waste and inequalities. It is time to get up and grow, or at least choose honestly grown local food.
Other useful links