by Majella Flynn
Five award-winning farm families in West Cork are opening their farm gates to visitors under a newly-launched initiative.
West Cork Farm Tours provides visitors with first-hand experience of rural life, farming practices and sustainable food production. It is targeting tourists who may have never stepped on to a farm, and farmers and study groups keen to see how other farms are run.
Allshire. Picture: George Maguire
The five farm families are Avril and Willie Allshire, Rosscarbery; Michael and Marguerite Crowley, Skibbereen; Tommy Moyles, Ardfield; John Joe O’Sullivan, Rosscarbery; and Denis and Collette O’Donovan, who farm between Rosscarbery and Glandore.
All five aim to share stories about their farms, their farming lives, the quality food they produce, and how they produce it, and to share their extensive knowledge of the surrounding localities.
Launching the initiative at the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said: “This initiative is entrepreneurial, it’s visionary, it’s of its time.”
He added: “Storytelling is at the heart of this initiative. The farmers here are storytellers, they each have a fascinating and different story to tell.”
Dairy farmer Marguerite Crowley says tourists often don’t hear the local story, and don’t get to meet the locals, and she says West Cork Farm Tours can change that.
She and her husband Michael and their five children live near Skibbereen, and visitors to their farm will hear about their lives and the history of the farm, and get a tractor-and-trailer tour to see the herd of cows and how the farm operates. They will also have the opportunity to enjoy tea, coffee and scones with the family.
In 2016, the Crowleys were named West Cork Dairy Farmer of the Year, won the Carbery Milk Quality Award, and were recently named as the Best Percentage Solids category winner in the National Dairy Council/Kerrygold Milk Quality Awards.
Third-generation farmer Michael says: “Visitors will see our attention to detail and the work we do to produce the quality of our milk. They’ll see the passion we have for farming; we’ll educate people that we’re farming in an environmentally friendly way, that our cows are stress-free, are being fed on grass, and breathe the salt air from the Atlantic Ocean.”
He sees the importance of chatting with the visitors and showing hospitality: “They’ll thank you for giving them the time.”
Another dairy farm involved in the West Cork Farm Tours initiative is that of John Joe O’Sullivan and family in Rosscarbery. They have won the Carbery Milk Quality Award twice, and won the Origin Green Sustainability Award in 2016.
“We rear all the stock as well,” says John Joe’s son Andrew. “Visitors will get a tour of the farm and see the calves, the one-year-olds, the two-year-olds, and the cows.”
John Joe adds: “We also do bee keeping, and there’s a lot of biodiversity on the farm because all of the original fences are still there. There’s a lot of history on the farm.”
Andrew makes the point also that the farm tours will benefit farmers socially, by having people coming on to the farms.
Denis and Collette O’Donovan and their son Eoghan farm on the Wild Atlantic Way between Rosscarbery and Glandore, producing high-quality milk from grass grazed by their Friesian Jersey crossbred herd.
“90% Ninety per cent of the world’s milk is produced from grain, we [in Ireland] are the 10% doing it from grass. This is our unique selling point,” says Denis, adding that the West Cork Farm Tours are making the link between the food producer and the top-quality product that the consumer buys from a retailer.
“That’s what we’re doing with the tea and the scones for visitors to our farm, giving them samples of the cheese and the milk,” says Collette.
Visitors can also expect a tour of the spectacular scenery in which the O’Donovan farm is located. “We take visitors on the tractor and trailer down to Drombeg Stone Circle, and they’re blown away with it,” says Denis.
As well as seeing dairy farms, tourists taking the West Cork Farm Tours have the opportunity of visiting award-winning pork and beef farms.
Avril and Willie Allshire and their sons William and Maurice produce Caherbeg free-range pork and, through the Rosscarbery Recipes brand, produce international award-winning black and white pudding. Maurice has launched a new product, Irish Biltong, which won a silver medal in the Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards.
Avril says the farmers involved in the tours initiative met as five strangers, adding: “Every one of us have a different story to tell, yet what binds us is our pride in our families, our farms, in what we’ve done with what we’ve got. And we love talking about it… we’re very proud of where we’re from.”
She says that the family has plans to add to the visitor experience: “We are planning to build a 50-seater café demo unit as well. I’ll be doing cooking demos, using our products, and Willie will come in and talk people through what we do, how we do it.”
Beef farmer Tommy Moyles is interested in showing visitors around his farm as well as offering them an insight into what West Cork has to offer. He is the fifth generation of his family to farm near Sandescove beach, Ardfield, Clonakilty. A Nuffield Ireland farming scholar, he runs a herd of Simmental cows, producing beef from grass.
“We’re looking forward to showing visitors the standards we produce our food at, and how we convert our grass into various forms of protein,” says Tommy. “Depending on what time of year people call, they’ll see livestock at different stages, grass at different stages.”
He adds: “Our dwelling house is 400 metres from the Atlantic, another part of our farm has a view of all of West Cork. My grandfather used to run tours, so I’ll be using his knowledge bank of local history as well. It’s about showing what West Cork is about.”
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