The Rewards of Harvest

Lughnasa the Irish word for August represents the start of the harvest season and it is embedded in our culture and identity. It is a celebration of the harvest season, and both myself and Toby were having our own little festival in the field of clover here! 

By September we are celebrating the fruits of many months of labour in the fields it is the true month of harvest.

Growing and harvesting your own food can be so rewarding. Watching the small seedlings transform into robust healthy plants that provide food is truly one of the many miracles of nature. 

Sometimes, it seems that the food is an added bonus, and that the pleasure and the reward of working in the soil is enough. It feeds the soul.  Research has shown that putting your hands in soil can help ease depression and being outside cheers people up.

Rekindling that connection with our food and the land is something that is central to our identity.  

Our grand-parents knew what good food tasted like, they knew where their food came from and they knew how it was produced.

We have handed the control of our food to a handful of global corporations that run an efficient feeding machine, which has disconnected us from primary food production. Supermarkets have added a layer of separation that takes us another step further away from our food. In recent years they have seen the value in putting the smiling farmer on their walls in a weak attempt to give the impression that they are reconnecting us to our food.

We have relinquished not only this connection but the skills and ability to produce our own food.

We have become accustomed to the always available food culture, everything we ever need is always there on the supermarket shelves, plastic clad ready to be added to our shopping basket.

We have paid a high price for this choice and convenience.  

If you are honest, what do you know about the food you are eating today for dinner? Where was it produced? How was it produced? How were the people treated that grew it? Difficult questions and mostly ones that don’t cross our minds.

However, the answers to these questions will not only open our eyes, they are the key to a shift in what we eat and how we approach our food. They can also lead to a healthier you and crucially a healthier planet.

We are right in the middle of harvest season now and it is wonderful. If you ever wondered if you could manage to eat with the seasons, then now is your best shot. 

And if you don’t know why you might start eating seasonally here are the whys: 

  1. Reduce your carbon footprint massively.
  2. Get more nutritious food. Freshly harvested food has a higher nutrient content.
  3. Get an amazing taste experience “how food used to taste”
  4. Support real local jobs.
  5. Support the skills needed to grow our own food. 
  6. If it is organic you are supporting a system of food production that enhances biodiversity rather than degrades it.

So as with the traditional feast of Lughnasa why not get some good local food in, and celebrate the beautiful bounty of your gardens and our fields by a simple meal with family and friends. 

Kenneth

Get a beautiful box of organic veg delivered to your door here.

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

Food Waste

Hopefully we will all be doing what the carrots in this photo are doing soon!

Over the last 15 years we have seen a fair bit, and although generally things are never black and white, one thing stands out for me as being just that: food waste. Whatever way you look at it, it is wrong.

We work really hard here to reduce food waste, it is not always possible, but it is one of our core values. There are times when the quality just is not good enough and we will never ever compromise on the quality of what we send out in our boxes.

We grow our own food so we have a very good understanding of what is ok and what is not. We make sure we harvest as close to packing the boxes as possible, we work with other growers to ensure we have the freshest best produce. 

But there is one thing we never do, we never discriminate based on looks, on wonkiness. If a carrot is wrapped around another carrot will we grade it out? Absolutely not, we will CELEBRATE it, If a potato is showing a little cheekiness, well that is absolutely ok with us. In fact, we want vegetables like that.

This ‘WONKY’ food tastes the same, it has the same nutritional value, it looks the same on our plates it has been grown sustainably on organic land. It makes a lot of sense to us to NOT grade out vegetables like that. I guess we are pretty lucky that we do not have to conform to supermarket standards, that we set out own standards and we can do this because we know you our customers are ok with getting cheeky potatoes every now and again.

Ultimately, we appreciate this because we know how hard it is to grow food. Right now, as I write, this we are behind with our planting, the weather is not being very seasonal, it is to reach 2C tonight and the temperatures have been very disappointing for May and heading into June it is still wet and cold.

I hope we get a break soon, as we have plants backing up waiting to go into the wet fields, and the plants that are already in the fields are behind where they should be. It is hard not to feel a little anxious, will the weather ever give us a break? Every year it is has, and this year I hope will be no different, so, we wait and be patient, there really is very little else we can do.

So, as a farmer when you consider all the effort required to produce the food it would be extremely disheartening to think the end result might be your produce being dumped in a bin. We have designed a food storage fridge magnet flyer to help you in the first step to avoid food waste – correct storage and using your delicate fruit and veg first is key. It’ll be packed in all the boxes next week. We hope you find it useful! Read our blog about food waste here for more ideas on how to cut your food waste.

Many growers of course have these rules imposed on them by the people that hold the keys to the kingdom: the supermarkets. Food does get rejected based on appearance and this is something that gets under my skin, it is wrong for so many reasons.

Many growers of course have these rules imposed on them by the people that hold the keys to the kingdom: the supermarkets. Food does get rejected based on appearance and this is something that gets under my skin, it is wrong for so many reasons.

I believe we are promised warmth and full sun tomorrow and that is good, it means we can get on with the work of growing food, and that makes me happy. Our carrots when they come later in the season may not be perfectly perfect in shape, but they are prefect in every other way.

Thank you for supporting our farm and know that in doing so, not only are you contributing to reducing your carbon footprint, and reducing your waste burden on our planet, you are also contributing to reducing food waste and supporting these cheeky potatoes and loving carrots!

Thank you


Kenneth

Why Organic?

It was many moons ago, in a life that was never quite meant to be, that I finally realised what it was we needed to do with my grandad’s farm.

You see 20 years ago I was very comfortable working away for the biotech industry in the UK, working in a laboratory researching different chemicals for this and that.

I am a scientist turned organic farmer and I have a very healthy respect for science. But there is one thing I do not agree with, it just does not make any sense to me, and that is the whole scale blanket application of chemicals on our food.

Chemicals that are meant for a laboratory should stay there, and if they are toxic to some life then generally speaking, they will be toxic to other life, it isn’t even that chemicals are ‘bad’ it is the prevalence and ubiquity of them in our food chain and our environment that is harmful.

They are in our food and they are not good for us, and they are not good for life in the  countryside either, they really aren’t. Take a family of chemicals called the neonicotinoids, deemed safe for years, but then it was found that they do irreparable damage to bees and other insects. How, on any level, can using a chemical like that as a blanket spray across our countryside be justified? 

Many of these chemicals do not just sit on the outside of the plant, they are systemic by nature. That means they are absorbed into the plant and do their damage from the inside out, so unfortunately simply washing veg and fruit doesn’t remove them.

Some produce are more heavily sprayed than others and two that regularly feature in the ‘dirty dozen’ are kale and spinach – which is ironic as both grow very well in organic systems. Eating organic of course is one of the easiest and best ways to avoid this unhealthy exposure.

It is possible to grow great food without the use of chemicals, it is a little harder, it takes a little more attention and planning, it requires more labour but isn’t it worth it in the end?

Surely the production of food in a way that contributes to our health and the health of the planet, a way that enhances and protects biodiversity, a way that encourages working with nature rather than against it must be the best way to grow food?

Thank you for taking a good hard look at how your food is produced and choosing to       embrace and support organic – a healthier way of farming for us and our planet.

Kenneth

Have a look at our full range of organic fruit, veg and groceries here and why not consider making your life easy with a weekly fruit and veg box from us?

Wonderfully Wonky

Last year Joe my son found a potato and I don’t know if I should be alarmed or encouraged by the fact he wanted me to put it “online”. Joe is 7. He found this unusual potato and he wanted everybody to see it and funnily enough it tasted just as amazing as any other potato, but it certainly would not have made it onto supermarket shelves.

Finding unusual shaped vegetables for me is like a bonus, if we harvest carrots and find one that looks like it has two legs, or one like this potato we found last year, then we are delighted. They are funny and unusual and like nature are not uniform. Is there anything wrong with mishappen or “wonky” veg? Absolutely not, they taste the same, they were grown in the same sustainable way. Then why do supermarkets reject pallet loads of them because they do not meet “specifications” of “size” of “shape” or of “visual appearance”? They do, and it is a tragedy of modern times that we feel it is ok to dump food based on appearance.

A recent report on the factors that are most important to consumers when it comes to deciding on whether they will buy fresh produce or not is how it looks. I fault not a single person for this, it is hard not to be conditioned in this manner with our current supermarket led food chain.

A very involved and complex system has been developed to give us picture perfect produce at the lowest possible price. The look of the produce, no blemishes, straight carrots, no knobbly bits, shiny apples, picture perfect tomatoes is one of their major criteria when deciding whether to accept or reject a batch.

The reality of working with nature and growing food of course is that it comes in many shapes and sizes. There is so much beauty to be found in producing food, and not just on the surface, certainly Joe’s potato makes the cut every time in my book.

What is more important? How something was grown, or how something looks?

Here is the thing then, supermarkets make a massive deal about selling wonky veg, eliminating food waste etc but in reality they do very little! There should be “no wonky” veg, no grading out based on how something looks, knobbly bits and all. But that is not the way things are. If all we ever see is clean shiny picture-perfect produce, how will we react when we see something that is different, will we think possibly there is something wrong?

What about dirty veg? We send out our carrots, potatoes and parsnips with dirt on the roots. It makes sense, it keeps the produce fresh and therefore requires less packaging, because we have you, we can do it, we like it, and we get the impression you just might like it too! Please tell us if you do or if you do not!

As always thank you for your support, the wonky veg say thank you too!

Kenneth

Lots of Small Changes

Do small changes make a difference?

When I was younger, I believed that by convincing my parents to recycle glass bottles and joining Green Peace that we would make a difference, I was utterly convinced, I never doubted it for a second, I knew the planet was precious and that our changes made a difference.

All young children have a connection with nature and they believe they can do anything, so what happens as we grow up? Why do we lose that sense of value for the natural world that we had as children?

When we started the farm, I believed growing sustainable food would change the planet, and that all we needed was a tractor, some seeds and we would have a successful farm. When we expanded into Dublin, I believed we would finally be able to reach enough people to get the farm and the business running smoothly and start to make a real difference to what and how people eat. At times on this journey, I became disillusioned. The pressure and stress, the financial hardships, the decisions, the fighting to do the right thing when it seemed it was all going against us made me question why we were doing what we were doing. But ultimately, we stayed the course and stuck to our principles.

I am not sure how long it normally takes, but it took (and continues to take) a long time to realise  that no one change in isolation changes anything. Real change and success is built on lots and lots of little things done consistently over time. This is as true for building a new habit as for fixing the planet.

Maybe one by one and little by little all our changes taken together can effect real change. Maybe your choice to plant a tree, to avoid weed killer, or to tell you kids about biodiversity and educate them in the beauty and preciousness of nature contribute to real positive change.

By buying from us you are effecting real change, you are choosing a different way to eat and are supporting serious changes behind the scenes.

On the farm we produce some of our electricity by a 11kW solar panel array on the roof of our packing shed. We farm organically, we grow trees, and hedges and flowers and food. We use paper and compostable plant-based bags, we reuse our boxes, we aspire to zero waste and being carbon neutral.

Your choice to support us means you are one of a community that are choosing a new and better way to eat, you are supporting farming and food for a better planet.

Does it matter? Does it matter that you support a zero-waste circular economy, a sustainable means of growing food and a better food future, does that matter?

Well in my book that does matter, it matters a lot.

Thank you for your support.

Kenneth

PS. Get your orders in for next week here. Fruit and veg boxes, groceries, treats and more – all organic and carefully sourced from sustainable businesses when not home grown.

Our Choices Matter

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

At the fork, which path will you take?

I remember as a child picking peas in my Grandad’s garden. He had apple trees, he grew his own veg. I remember sitting on his lap drinking a mug of turnip juice, (I cannot imagine trying to get my kids to do that today!) most of the food was grown on his farm. Things have changed so much in a generation…

When was the last time you tasted a freshly harvested carrot, can you remember what it should taste like? There can be such pleasure in the simple foods, and there are of course remarkable ways to cook these amazing seasonal gems.

November is still a month of local seasonal plenty. It is now that the real Irish vegetables come into their own, leeks, parsnips, swedes, kales, winter cabbage, carrots, beetroot, broccoli, romanesco and cauliflower.

As an organic farmer, the arrival of November allows a sigh of relief. The relentless pressure of the summer is finally winding down and we are settling into a routine of harvest.

The trees are turning, the wild-flowers have gone to seed, the hedgerows are full of berries, the bees are getting ready to hibernate, even the birds are relaxing a little, everything seems to slow down. Something we could all do a little bit more of.

November too can be a time for reflection. As a farmer the simple things like tree planting, growing hedgerows and leaving wild patches can give immense pleasure. This is easy stuff that pays the most amazing dividends for the person and the planet, but in modern food systems it is often dismissed as nonsensical and left to one side in favour of production. The irony of course is that food production is facilitated and improved by all these positive things.

The impact of our food choices has far reaching and sometimes unimagined consequences.

Imagine clearance of pristine forests (by burning) to facilitate increased cropping land to produce GM (genetically modified) soya destined for the global animal feed supply chain that will end up on Irish consumers plates. This is a sad reflection of our times.

 Cheap food has a price and a story. The real stories are hidden behind the glitzy shiny wrappers, there is always a story and usually not a good one.

The truth ironically can be hard to swallow, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

There are amazing and positive alternatives. Our parents chose well, they ate seasonally and locally, they ate less meat. Who doesn’t remember cabbage and turnip and the endless ways to cook potatoes!

Maybe what we eat deserves a little more consideration because our food choices matter a lot and without the planet and the food none of the other stuff matters.

We have more power than we realise, which path will you choose?

As always thanks for your support, we really appreciate it. Stay safe and look after each other.  

Kenneth & Jenny 

PS We cannot wait to tell you all about our Christmas delivery schedule and our new gifting options – stay tuned!

Support us by signing up for a regular veg box delivery here.