I was very lucky last weekend to be invited along to a very special celebration for WWOOF Ireland... their launch as a limited not-for-profit company. This new development will help WWOOF to be more resilient to any future changes, and to set up structures for using surplus funds for the benefit of both wwoofers and hosts. (For those of you who don't know what wwoofing is, it's an opportunity for volunteers to stay at host farms to learn about organic growing and green lifestyles. Find out more about WWOOF Ireland on their website
The event was held at Glensallagh Gardens
, a beautiful holiday haven set among trees and rare plants lovingly tended by host Richard Speir. The "Tractor Shed" is a large apartment with kitchen and meeting room space and a stunning view!
Saturday morning got going with a talk from WWOOF founder Sue Coppard. Sue started the organisation in 1971 in the UK, and it has gone on to have thousands of members in countries all around the world. Not only does wwoofing offer superb learning and travel opportunities for people of all ages, but it also provides much needed help and support for hard-working farmers and growers.
Next came a discussion session on how to be a successful WWOOF host. Seasoned hosts Suzie Cahn and Wendy Nairn, both from Wicklow, had plenty of tales to tell about their successes and challenges, and soon we were all pitching into a lively discussion. While all of us had some less positive stories to share, the overwhelming feeling was that hosting wwoofers was a rewarding experience, that we enjoyed their company as much as their help, and that the feedback from wwoofers showed that they really benefitted from their placements and learned a lot about life as well as farming. 2 themes emerged very strongly;
Language. A lot of us had had problems with the language barrier, particularly when emails had been written in good English so we were not expecting communication problems. We all agreed that it would be easier if wwoofers warned us that their English was poor, but we also decided to set up a list on WWOOF Ireland of hosts with language skills who could help out in an emergency.
| | Irish Wwoofers.
We want more of them! While we all enjoy our international visitors, we would really love to see more young Irish people making use of this brilliant system to gain knowledge and experience. For students on organic and agricultural courses, or involved in social sciences, sustainable development, green business studies etc, there is no better way to gain a clearer understanding of how all the theories really work in context. So come on! Sign up at wwoof.ie
and plan a trip or two this summer.
I then got to talk about the new Irish Smallholders Association, and as most people in the room would class as smallholders I got some great feedback and suggestions on what they would need as members. While there was an existing association and website, this has fallen out of use and there is definitely a need for small producers to share information and advice, access resources, supplies and training and also get together and support each other. Watch this space, as the newly-revamped Smallholders Association will be up and running by May. There will be a new website with discussion forums, pages for ordering supplies and (by popular demand!) a page to explain all those pesky regulations with all your application forms in one place. We will also be running complete smallholders courses, and one day learning and networking events. More news coming soon, but in the meantime if you'd be interested in becoming a member please send me an email to sign up
for a special introductory rate.
Veg bags ready to go at Kinsale Green Growers.
After a lovely lunch, looking out over the hills to the sea, there were a number of tours on offer at local projects. I opted to visit Fiona Ashley's place, which she bought 6 years ago. It was amazing to see how much could be done in a short time... Fiona has built a house, established a great veggie garden and planted hundreds of trees among the gorse, all of which are already well established. Saturday was rounded off with a celebration dinner which I hear was fab... I'm afraid I missed it, as I was staying with an old friend and had serious whisky-drinking commitments! :)
The gathering finished up on Sunday morning with a panel discussion on CSA farming where I joined Sarah Fleming from Cloughjordan Community Farm
, John Dolan of Bantry CSA and Aimi Pinder of Kinsale Green Growers
to share our experiences on 3 of Ireland's pioneer projects. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a system of farming where a group of consumers become members of a farm enterprise and develop a close relationship with the farmer. Veg, milk and meat are paid for by regular subscriptions which are paid up-front, giving the farmer the means to produce the food.
It was very interesting to hear about the different ways that a scheme could operate... all 3 of these projects started at a similar time, but have very individual characters. In Cloughjordan, a wide range of food is produced all year round for a weekly fee, and members help themselves to what they need from a distribution point. In Bantry, shares are sold in a single bulk crop (potatoes) and the full price is paid at the start of the year. In Kinsale, a packed bag of vegetables is delivered weekly, for 30 weeks of the year.
All of us had experimented with oats and been frustrated by trying to proccess them! (See my previous blog on cereals
for all the details) Bantry and Kinsale have given up on oats for now, while Cloughjordan still grows them for animal feed. Some groups were led by consumers who had found a farmer to work with, others were led by a farmer who had advertised for members. We had all learned a lot aboutset-up costs, setting realistic goals, keeping our members satisfied and trying not to be overworked. Once again, students and wwoofers had proved to be a really valuable resource for all of us. Considering that the first Irish CSA is only 3 1/2 years old, we are doing pretty well... there are now 7 or 8 CSA projects around the country, with more on the way. To put that into perspective, CSA really got started in the USA 35 years ago, and now there are an estimated 3,000 projects in operation there. To reach the same saturation in Ireland, we would be looking at around 70 farms... and we still have another 30 years to get there! However, with small farmers facing ever greater challenges, I think that the supportive structure of CSA will appeal to many and that we will see the spread happen much faster than that. If you are a food producer, or a consumer, and you'd be interested in setting up a CSA in your area, you can get great advice and information from Cloughjordan CSA (link above), join the Facebook group CSA Ireland
, or get information packs from the Soil Association
. Go for it, and good luck!
Big thanks to Annie King and the team at WWOOF Ireland for putting together such a great event. Between chatting, learning, touring, eating (oh yes, and drinking) it was a really terrific weekend... nice work if you can get it!
From time to time, I’ll be featuring people from the world of farming and food projects who I think you’ll find interesting… I certainly do! For this post, I was happy to talk to Padraig Moran, a farmer from Borrisokane, Tipperary. Padraig raises sheep and suckler cows on his REPS demonstration farm. He runs educational tours for TY and agricultural students, and he’s also a bit of a local pioneer in direct selling.
LdS. Welcome Padraig. Tell us a little about yourself- how long have you been farming, and have you always produced lamb and beef?
PM I have been farming since I was 16, leaving school to work on the home farm with my parents. School was not my thing and I have always been passionate about farming and agriculture, never wanting to do anything else. On the home farm we were very much mixed farming producing milk, beef,malting barley,turnips for store sheep,sugar beet and a few drills of potatoes. When I inherited my own farm I started out producing calf to beef, later moving to Sucklers and sheep.
LdS Can you tell us a bit about the breeds of sheep you work with?
PM The main breed of ewe on the farm is Belclare crosses, which I breed myself. They are very prolific and good mothers. I put Charolais rams on these, as well as crossing some of them back to Belclare for replacements.
I really like the Charolais, they are a very hardy lamb, get up and suck their mothers. They also have excellent conformation and finish quickly.
LdS So when did you start selling your lamb direct? And what made you decide to give it a go?
PM I started selling lambs direct 3 years ago. The decision to sell direct came about because of the poor prices been received from the factories for lambs and new ways to improve returns had to be looked at.
LdS How have you been advertising the lamb up till now?
PM . I advertise on the local paper "The Nenagh Guardian" and word of mouth worked very well. I have just launched a new website for the farm and Coorevin lamb has a section on that too.
LdS Was it slow to get the direct sale going, or did customers come along fairly quickly?
PM Direct selling went very well from the start, customers firstly loved the taste of the lamb and secondly the value they were getting in buying direct.
The customers get great value, how about yourself? How much more do you make out of it? PM
Customers are getting good value and also they know where the meat is coming from. If it isnt right they won’t be repeat customers. And yes, there is a bigger margin for me the producer as I'm leaving out the middle man and adding value to what I produce. The margin is around €30 per lamb. LdS
Do you plan to expand into selling the beef direct too? PM
No plans as yet to sell beef direct but maybe in the future. LdS
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that! There is a lot more optimism in farming at the moment... how do you think things are going to go? PM
. Its about time that there is a return of optimism to farming. During the celtic tiger we were a waste of space, we were to sell sites or sell the farm because we werent needed. With growing populations food is in short supply. also water is going to be to big issue going forward which will restrict food growing in some parts of the world. That gives us an added advantage over alot of countries. I believe there is going to be a very good future for agriculture going forward. LdS
Good enough for your sons to stay in farming? PM
Yes, both of my sons very much followed the agriculture route. Ronan is employed with Arrabawn co-op. He started with them after graduating from GMIT. Eoin completed two years in Gurteen college and is now working full time with local farmers. LdS
Bord Bia are putting most of their emphasis on export for the future... what do you think about that? PM
We certainly need to have a vibrant export market because we wouldn't be able to consume all the food we produce here in Ireland. I think we export 80% of what we produce. Of course they should also be keeping an eye on the home market as well and also looking at the whole area of labelling because it’s misleading the way some products are labelled.
Thanks Padraig. Well, if you’re worried about labelling then you can’t do better than buy straight from a producer you know and trust! As Padraig mentioned, he now has a great new website, and you can order some excellent lamb there. You’ll also find details of other activities on the farm, including tours and some very unusual conference facilities. Take a look on www.coorevinfarm.com
Looking around me, I'm constantly blown away by just how much is going on! Arts events, food fairs, small festivals and community bashes are so plentiful it's hard to choose which ones to go to! If you don't believe me, check out Mark Graham's brilliant blog A Year of Festivals in Ireland.
Mark set himself the challenge of attending at least 3 festivals in Ireland every week for a year... and even through the winter, he's had no problem finding things to go to.
As an event organiser myself, I sometimes wonder if people realise what goes on behind the scenes. Because for every little event, there is a team of trusty sloggers (usually volunteers) who pull it all together. They book the bands, the stalls, the food. They sort out the venues, the advertising and the insurance. They pick up the litter afterwards! And of course, somehow, they find the money to make it all happen.
Organisations like the Arts Council and Failte Ireland give a huge amount of support in grant aid, and there are plenty of cracking good times that would never happen without them. But getting a grant doesn't mean that your worries are instantly over... because you have to spend the money up front BEFORE they give you the grant (and notta lotta people know that).
Up until a couple of years ago, no problem, because if you had a letter guaranteeing that you would be getting your grant, banks would happily give you a bridging loan to get the ball rolling. But in 'the current climate', that's all changed. Organisations are being turned away because guarantee or not, the banks aren't lending to ANYBODY. This isn't only affecting events, but community projects and small enterprises too. So if you want to make amazing things happen, but you don't happen to have a huge stash of cash in the bank, what are you going to do?
For a lot of projects, the answer has been CROWD-FUNDING. It's a relatively new idea, especially here in Ireland, but listen up because it's set to be the next big thing. So what exactly is crowd-funding? Also known as crowd financing or crowd sourced capital, it's a simple enough idea... instead of looking for a big donation from a single sponsor, you pull in lots of small donations from a wide network of sponsors. It has a long-standing tradition among charities... if you've ever put 20 cents into a donations box, then you've already been part of a crowd-funding campaign. But that's old school.
There are now lots of internet sites where you can launch your own funding campaign, most notably Kickstarter
and in Ireland FundIt
. Anyone can become a member of these sites, and setting up a campaign is simple... similar to setting up a Facebook page. You describe your project and your goals, set a fundraising target, and try to set up a good selection of rewards to encourage people to donate. You also need to set a closing date for donations. Once you have your campaign in place, the word is spread through your social networks... Facebook, Twitter etc. When people visit your campaign, they can make a secure donation (usually via Paypal) from as little as €5 to well, as much as you like! You set the limits.
Once you get to your deadline date, sites differ a little. Some, such as FundIt, have an all-or-nothing approach, so if you don't reach your target amount by your deadline date, then you get nothing. No money is taken from your sponsors, and you're back to the old drawing board. If you choose a site like this, it's really important to set a very achievable target.
Other sites let you keep whatever you raise, even if you don't reach your target. Sponsume runs this way, which is why I chose it for my latest campaign (why yes, of course you can make a donation, see my campaign HERE
). The only setback is that you are committed to delivering your rewards, even if you get nowhere near your target... so be careful what you offer.
Crowd-funding has helped to make arts, education, food and aid projects happen all around the world. Some people use it to fund entire projects, others as the first step. And of course, not every project makes it. Browse around the sites to see what works, because as government funding begins to dry up, this really is the future.
The Irish site, FundIt, is only 10 months old and has already drawn in half a million Euro in donations. If you could get your hands on a share of that, what would you do with it?
I got a query this week from a woman who's just got some goats... lucky lady! Goats really are among the nicest animals on the planet, and I must say I'm missing mine (she's on an extended holiday... more of that later).
Now, with these newly acquired goats, everything is working out fine, they're healthy and happy and seem to like the chickens... all good so far. But, they came without tags or papers, and the woman in question isn't sure how to get a herd number, or whether she has to.
So, the short answer is YES. If you want to keep cattle, sheep, goats or pigs and use the meat, sell the milk or sell off surplus young, you MUST have a herd number. You also need a flock number for poultry, if you have more than 50 birds. This is a good thing, because it's all about traceability, helping to prevent disease in animals and, sometimes, humans. It also allows the local vetrinary department to keep track of animals, and make certain that they are being kept in suitable conditions. It is illegal to buy or sell livestock without a herd number, you cannot sell meat or milk from an untagged animal, and no butcher will touch an untagged animal- they would lose their license if they did.
Goats are a tricky one, as it is only fairly recently (within the last 3 years) that they have had to be tagged, so people are used to being able to trade them as pets. There is also still a scattered population of wild goats. So while things are very clear-cut with cattle and sheep, goats are a bit of a grey area.
I came upon this myself last year, as I moved house (having worked on a farm) and brought my goats with me. I duly applied for a herd number, but when the inspector showed up he was very sorry, but he couldn't give me one as I didn't have enough land. You need more than an acre to qualify. There was, however, no mention of me getting rid of the goats... the inspector just went away and left me to it. They were now, essentially, pets.
That was all fine, until September came. I had parted with one nanny at that stage, but couldn't be without dear old Roux, who is one of my best friends. But in September, she started coming on heat and INSISTED that we do something about it! Now, I have a dilemma. Roux has gone on an extended 'dirty weekend' with the local Billy, but how can I take her back with kids on the way? I can't sell the milk, or the kids, or use the kids for meat. So for now, the honeymoon continues until I can find a solution!
So what ARE the criteria for getting a herd number. Well first, you'll need a 'recognised holding', and that will need to be more than an acre. You'll also need to show that you have separate housing and facilities from neighbouring herds. You can download the full list of requirements below. You will need to provide deeds to a holding that you own, or a leasing agreement if you're renting.
If you fulfill the criteria, you need to fill in a form ER1, which you can find HERE
The form is very simple, and you just send it in to your local District Veterinary Officer... you'll find a list of them on the same link. You'll then get a visit from the inspector, which is very simple too, and after that they'll send you your number and books of movement papers with instructions. You will need to fill in these papers if you move an animal off your holding, either to another farm or to the butcher... it's just a couple of lines.
And that's it. It's free of charge too. All added up, it's only about an hours work and you'll be free to relax and enjoy the company of your wonderful animals :)
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It's hard to believe that just 8 years ago I'd never used a computer... because these days, I'm never off the bloomin' thing! But despite it's ability to devour the hours, I love my laptop to bits, because right now I'd be nowhere without it.
As a single mum, finding time and/or money to get my projects off the ground is pretty tough. But, with my trusty computer to hand, I can work whenever and wherever it suits me, and I can do all my organising and advertising for free. And, although I was reluctant to "do the Facebook thing" at first, I have to say that these days the social media are the sharpest tools I have at my disposal. And I don't just use it for myself, but for all the small businesses, community groups and charities that I work with.
For some, sites like Facebook and Twitter can be hard to find your way around... so that's why I've started providing informal Social Media Training sessions. If you are running a community project, or starting a small enterprise on a low budget, then you really should consider using the social networks to promote your work.
If you've already tried looking at newspaper, magazine and radio advertising, you'll know that it's scarily expensive... it's sobering to realise just how much of government funding gets channelled through advertising budgets. And, the cost is always a risk, as they are broad platforms and you might not be reaching the right people.
Your social networks allow you to spread the word for free, to really develop a personality for your project, and to target people who will actually be interested in what you're doing! All you need is a few basic skills to learn how best to use your chosen networks, and a bit of mindful "Social Netiquette".
So learn to love your social networks.... come and join us for one of our twice-monthly sessions day at the excellent Sheelagh na Gig bookstore, Cloughjordan, and learn your way around them. You can even learn how to develop and publish your own websites for free, with no mindboggling computer language! Be sure to bring your laptop, buy a cup of delicious hot chocolate from Liz on your way in, and get ready to start networking! Sessions cost just €4.00 for 2 1/2 hrs, including free internet access.