Resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties. As an organic farmer growing vegetables in the West of Ireland being resilient then is something that you would think is second nature, hmmm???

Our farm may be a little more resilient than most by the virtue that it is smallish (40acres), organic, diverse (we grow loads of different varieties of vegetables) rich in biodiversity (hedgerows, trees, bees, wildflowers) and alive but it is still a constant challenge to make it all work.

In the short-term resilience costs, there is a cost to planting trees and hedgerows, there is a cost to leaving acres to go wild. There is a cost to growing many different crops and managing all the challenges that come with it, the cost of energy and time of training new people each year, the cost of keeping chaos at bay without the use of chemicals.

In the longer term, resilience in our food chain pays dividends, more bees to pollinate our plants, better soil structure reducing water logging and flooding, vibrant and healthy biodiversity that keeps pests in check. Ultimately resilience helps produce better, tastier, healthier food, so instead of focusing on producing things as cheaply as possible, we focus on producing things as sustainably as possible.

But a long-term approach to food production is not something that the major retailers seem to have any interest in. The short termism of the supermarkets may deliver cheap food but in the long run there will be a price to pay.

Endless machine repairs…

But a long-term approach to food production is not something that the major retailers seem to have any interest in. The short termism of the supermarkets may deliver cheap food but in the long run there will be a price to pay.

This is the question I keep returning to. We certainly do not have the deep pockets of the supermarkets and yet to an extent we are competing with them, they set the pricing, they devalue fresh food by loss leading. How can we compete and be sustainable and resilient at the same time? Well, the answer is we cannot, we cannot sell food for less than the value it takes to grow the food! There is no getting away from the fact that to protect our planet we need to produce different food and we need to do it sustainably; we need a fair and resilient food system.

So, I think in our little patch in the West of Ireland we will continue to plan to be more resilient. But this month on the farm a different form of resilience is being tested and we are being stretched to the limit. The weather has not been kind and it is putting us under a level of pressure that I don’t enjoy. Can you be resilient while falling behind with planting and weeding, never having enough resource, of the land being endlessly wet, of uncovering crops and finding 40% eaten by creatures. Endless setbacks bend your will, stretch your ability to stick with it, they make you want to quit, stop, turn back, and give up, but inside all of this messy stuff there is a deep-rooted commitment to keep going, a conviction (even if we can’t feel it) it will be better soon, it always is!

How easy it is to forget though? I am not new to this and after 15 years of farming in the West of Ireland wet ground and excessive rain in June should not be a shock. Maybe then it is just that I am older, and I wish things would be different. I know too in a month it will all look so different, but I find I must keep reminding myself of this. So that too is a form of resilience, to keep going even when you really do not feel like it.

Squashes being planted into bio-plastic, compostable weed suppressant

Here is to each of us being more resilient and to a more resilient food system!

Thank you.

Kenneth

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

This week we got a little card, and the timing could not have been better. 

The weeks when you are at your most desperate, when life seems to be throwing all sorts of everything at you, when it is relentless, those are the days when a little smile or a nod of appreciation can make all the difference. 

It is funny, you push, and you shove, and you try to make things the way you want them, but in the end, life goes its own way anyhow, there is nothing like farming to shatter theillusion that we have some modicum of control over externalevents.

We want things to be a certain way, to go a certain way, to meet our expectations, and it can be a struggle to let go and accept that we have very little control, it is so ingrained in us. We want to be in control.

As the farm has grown, every year springtime seems to bring an increased powerful pressure to get things done, our resilience is tested, the window is short, the weather is always looming in the background, the rain is never far away.

I am impatient to have more done, to have the ground ready, to have the plants in, to the have the seeds sown to have the tunnels full, but this year nature and events is just not accepting of my impatience. Mother nature has given me a rap on the knuckles, ‘all your rushing will achieve very little’ she whispers!

There has been broken machines, endless rain, cold, frost, delayed plants amongst some of the challenges. The more pressure you feel the harder it can be to see the wood for the trees and appreciate what you have, and it is exactly at times like this when you need to take stock the most.

The fields are saturated, the plants are slow, the slugs are abundant, the machines don’t like the wet soil and the soil does not like them. It does more damage that it is worth to bring a tractor onto a wet field. But sometimes you have no choice.

At the very same time, the hawthorn is in full flower and smells amazing, our local fox struts around the farm as if she owns the place. I am nearly sure this morning I had a full conversation with a starling, and maybe this wasn’t the first sign that I am finally losing the plot! What patches of blue sky we see highlight the beauty of the colds and make us appreciate the sun all the more when it finally does come out, and come it will!

Then there is a contented feeling of seeing the first tomatoes on the plants, of seeing the first baby cucumbers of harvesting our first outdoor crops of lettuce and chard and spinach. I guess we can also see more of what we look for. 

The very best moment though this week was receiving this lovely card/poem that was sent through from a family that are doing the Little Green Fingers course. 

This helped make everything worthwhile again, completely unlooked for and yet at the perfect time 😊

So, thank you Orlaith and Gus and thank you universe and thank you our customers.

Kenneth

Grabbing the Good Weather

One of the guys in the packing shed said to me yesterday, “you look cold and wet”. I was dressed in appropriate farm attire: dirty wet gear, but I responded that I was neither because I had about 12 layers of clothes on!

It has been dry and bright but biting cold over the last week. It takes resilience and strength of character to spend eight or more hours out in the fields in those conditions. The guys on the farm have been harvesting all week and it takes its toll not that they would ever say.

Even so our preference will always be for dry bright weather. It’s the rain and the muck of the west of Ireland that eventually grinds you down! We just get so much of it.

Chatting with Our tractor mechanic yesterday he commented how he never sees farm machines like we have on our farm here in the West of Ireland. The reason is pretty simple very few other farmers grow veg in this part of the world.

The weather and the stony ground contribute in equal parts to this fact. After all Cromwell did say “To hell or to Connaught” for a reason. But probably the biggest reason for the decline in local Irish food production lies with the supermarkets. The centralisation of our food supply and the constant obsession with the bottom line have decimated what was once a vibrant local food growing sector.

The breakdown of a key machine mid use is always a pain, but coupled with the added pressure the weather here in this part of the world puts on you it is doubly frustrating. Having a fantastic local tractor mechanic is nothing short of a miracle and I am constantly in awe of his skills and how he can make an untenable situation tenable again!

You have to grab the good weather, you have to make the most of it because you never know how long you will get here in the West and that is exactly what we did this week. We tilled the fields we prepared the ground and as I write this we have just finished preparing the beds for the new plants which are going in the week after next. Not only that but we have been so busy with harvest.

We have been clearing our swedes 1000’s of them to put them into cold store before they start regrowing and going to seed. Same with the lovely dirty parsnips you are getting in the boxes. The leeks and kale and cabbage and salad are all coming off our own fields too. So it has been a super busy week.

That’s the thing, that is the big difference between us and a supermarket: we actually grow your food, supermarkets don’t and they don’t care about the planet, they only care about price and uniformity. We know the woes and the highs of food production. We know that sustainable food production counts more than price, why? Because if we don’t produce our food sustainably, if it is always about the cheapest option, then in the end these choices will undermine the very system we rely on to feed ourselves.

Your choice to support us shows you too think differently and that you value knowing how your food is produced (sustainably) and where it comes from (local).

Thank you!

Kenneth

PS Our Build your own box is super-flexible, choose 13 items from a selection of more than 20 all for thirty euro.

A Fresh Start

Every year it happens, we are waiting and waiting and then bang out of the blue it all starts again. I guess life is like that sometimes, we push and we shove and want to change things, and then when we finally just accept the ways things are (often because what we were doing was making no difference anyway) and least expect it things fall into place.

So it was this morning with my first farm walk in two weeks. We have been struggling with rain and frost and snow for the past two months, and then this morning bright sunshine, singing birds, and growth were evident all around.

We have been busy planting trees and doing some essential maintenance on the tunnels, thinking we had all the time in the world and now suddenly we do not.  The crops need to have our focus again, they are flying. We are finally restarting kale harvest and leeks, and purple sprouting broccoli.

We need to get back into the fields and that starts today.

The first new kale harvest is an unusual one, as we wait for the regrowth, having carefully nurtured the plants over winter, cleaned them and fed them nothing seems to happen for an eternity and then suddenly there is the new kale.

Nature is very subtle, we are always on the watch for change, and somehow just suddenly it changes without you noticing. Like a seed germinating, one day it is a seed and the next it is a plant is has germinated, just like that, this is the miracle and power of nature. It is the same with the kale regrowing, it just happens when the time is right. Or the birds singing a spring morning chorus they just begin.

I get excited at this time of the year, the start of a new growing season and the challenges and opportunities it brings fill me with hope for the year.

It is a natural cycle and as we emerge from the dark winter months there is a sense, at least on the farm, of a new slate, a fresh start, a chance to begin the journey anew.

Nature is wonderful like that, and up until this period in man’s history it has been stable and consistent. I read this morning that the Gulf Stream which here in Northern Europe we rely on for our stable weather patterns is not in good shape. As a result of climate breakdown the ocean currents that power our climate are in turmoil.

These complex global climate regulation mechanisms are hard to understand I would imagine, but there are clear signs that climate stability all over our one and only beautiful home is being compromised.

I do admit to getting frustrated with the slow pace of change, it doesn’t make sense to me. There is a phenomenal opportunity now to take the risk and invest in Green Energy, to cut consumption and do so much more. We as a small farm have done it, and we as a small country can do it.

But maybe it is like the kale regrowing or the seed germinating, you can’t force the seed to grow faster or the kale to appear faster, but all of a sudden without even noticing it has changed.

Maybe that is happening now too with movement to cut consumption, power our lives with green energy, moving to more plant based diets, all these things are happening.

You are causing change by supporting us and as always we could not do what we do without you.

Thank you.

Kenneth

Sign up for a fruit and veg box subscription or build your own box. We deliver to every address in Ireland! Head to www.greenearthorganics.ie to place your order. Thank you.

A New, Better Green Revolution

Over a century ago the American investigative journalist Alfred Henry Lewis observed that there are only nine meals between humankind and anarchy. 

It is always there, the food on the supermarket shelves. It never runs out, but how tenuous is this link to our perceived food security?

Disruption to food production is a whole different level of vulnerability. Climate change is hitting agriculture hard. The frequency of drought, storms, extremes of temperature, are disrupting the very delicate balance in nature required to grow food.

As with business, in agriculture if you are running a system at maximum capacity it takes very little to upset the balance and cause the system to breakdown.  We are pushing our natural resources, we are concerned with ever more production.  We open-up pristine rain-forest land for massive soya plantations, we attempt to extract higher yields from our current systems. 

We are looking for a second “green revolution” we are looking to technology to help improve yields, to continue with business as normal.   

At the very same time where we require more food to feed a growing population, we are seeing variability in our weather systems never seen before, the hottest five years ever recorded all occurred since 2014.

It is such a privilege to be living during this period of prosperity in our Garden of Eden, should we not be doing everything we can to protect it, not destroy it.

The flow of food from field to fork is taken for granted. A major climatic shift could leave us very swiftly with food scarcity. I don’t know what real hunger feels like, but our ancestors in the 1840’s certainly did.

There is no greater or more urgent need than to deal with man-made climate change now.

Producing different food in more sustainable ways, eating differently, consuming less, using renewable energy there are the changes needed.  A transition starts with pushing the burden for the destruction of our planet back onto the companies that are responsible, oil companies and plastics companies, agribusiness and large-scale food business. These are the companies that now run the planet, they dictate what we do and how we do it.

There is so much we can do, our choices matter and we can start our own “Green revolution”

Kenneth

PS It is ironic that “the Green revolution” in the 1950’s was the term applied to the change in agriculture that embraced artificial fertiliser, consolation of farm land and the use of herbicides and pesticides.

Thank you for joining the new green revolution by supporting our farm over supermarkets. You can set up a convenient veg box subscription by emailing info@greenearthorganics.ie or place specific orders over on our website www.greenearthorganics.ie

Plans, Progress and Polytunnels

Our very first polytunnel going up in 2005. Expertly erected by Jenny, my dad and myself! The little stone shed is where my grandad used to bring in the sheep when it was lambing season.

When we set out 15 years ago to create a farm and a home delivery business, we didn’t think further than the next week or two. We were convinced that what we were doing was necessary, driven by a deep desire to take care of the planet. Most business advisers would not buy into that, no plan, no detailed analysis of figures, no projections, it was effectively a week to week operation.

Looking back, although there wasn’t a detailed plan, there was a definite direction. I think anybody who starts a business, if they are honest, will tell you things don’t always turn out the way you expect. We did not know what to expect and really had no idea what we were doing. I was not trained in business or organic farming; I was a trained scientist! The road to present day has been tough, the goal posts kept changing and the challenges changed sometimes daily. But our ideology kept us going (just!) and kept us on the right track. Our vision was always strong and the core belief to protect our planet meant we kept on ‘keeping on’, kept on showing up even and especially on the days when we really didn’t want to get out of bed, to face the reality of the tough choices and hard work ahead.

Today we do have detailed plans, figures and projections. All the necessary evils to keep a busy business and farm afloat. If the last fifteen years have been challenging, this year has been exceptional. It has been tough for so many, the virus has changed everything and even the best laid plans have been thrown out the window, it almost feels like being back at the start again. We have not known, week to week, what to expect and we have been the lucky ones! We have been very busy and we are eternally grateful to you for that.

The ups and downs and the challenges and anxieties of this year have kept many people up at night. Businesses that don’t know if they will ever open again, the jobs that may be lost, the fear and anxiety in society, but there is so much hope also. Never in my years of sea swimming have I seen so many people embrace the sea, never have I seen so many people out on bicycles and walking and running and being out in nature. This brings a remarkable positive energy, because if more people are happier then that will rub off on others too.

Our shopping habits have changed too, we have all had to embrace the inevitable move to online shopping, but can we do that online shopping a little more wisely? Can we support local while online rather than funnelling the funds into the pockets of a very large and extremely powerful retailer(s)? Can we again bring our support back behind small local businesses that will need it now more than ever?

We too are asking you for your support. Can you get your fruit, veg and sustainable groceries from us? Can you give the gift of a Christmas veg box or hamper to a friend or family member? Can you support other local businesses too? We have a helpful guide here where you can find a few ethical and local businesses that we recommend.

This year has brought us back into the uncertainty of operating day to day and week to week, but one thing that has never changed is our commitment to growing safe, sustainable food. We wouldn’t be here today without your support, thank you so much.

Kenneth

PS Our Christmas shop is open, get your orders in now!