Thursday, July 9, 2015

Eco-farming in Cork

I continue to be inspired by small farmers, including ones I worked with during my travels through County Cork. (Yes, I am technically on vacation, but that's hardly going to keep me from seeking out cool food producers in Ireland.) When he collected me from the bus stop in the small town of Carrigaline last Thursday, I had no idea yet what an amazingly kind person and thoughtful farmer Eoin was -- all I knew then was that he farmed about an acre of organic vegetables and had some great pics on Instagram.

Over the course of a couple of days, I worked alongside this young farmer to harvest and deliver produce for his box scheme operation -- kind of a variation on a CSA, where clients get a list of what will be available for the week and opt for whichever items strike their fancy, which that week ranged from freshly dug potatoes and carrots to all kinds of greens and alliums. Plus a few special requests from long-time customers or family friends for beets and the season's very first cherry tomatoes. (Well, the pint of sungolds I managed not to eat while digging up the nearby garlic, that is.) Next season, they may be treated to some new varieties, including an Ark of Taste lettuce that I am growing myself back home. I'm sure the heads growing here will be larger and more lush, as everything seems to be in these parts. Is it the soil? The rainfall? The gentle souls of the land stewards? My garlic and carrots pale in comparison....

As we worked and cooked up meals together -- including beet burgers, inspired by one of his customers who'd made them three times with Eoin's beets the previous week (recipe to come later) -- Eoin shared a bit of his story. Here was yet another example of someone who never expected to become a farmer, but is damn good at it. Part way through a PhD program in ecology, Eoin had become disillusioned with the research process. While finishing up a Master's degree and publishing a paper on the discovery of a rare water beetle, he stumbled upon a certification program in permaculture. He and his then girlfriend happened upon Moloney's Cottage not long afterwards, and now, less than 3 years later, he raises laying hens and vegetables enough on the 1-acre leased plot to support himself and a couple dozen customers. Like many farmers, he supplements his income, in this case with teaching at the nearby college in Kinsale. If his formal classes are as thoughtful and practical as his conversations were with me, those are some lucky students. Though I'd think local restaurants would be just as lucky if Eoin devoted himself fully to farming so he could supply a few of them. I'll be interested to see where things go...perhaps when I return for a visit in coming years.

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