Network of farmers who aim to improve the natural health of our countryside

Network of farmers who aim to improve the natural health of our countryside

By Carina McNally

Could hemp be the crop that reduces farmers’ over-dependence on beef production, which has left them protesting at factory gates?

Members of the Hemp Co-operative hope the answer is yes. Many of them are beef farmers searching for a rewarding alternative source of farm income, which is so hard to find in Ireland.

Hemp Co-op member Kate Carmody is also part of the Hemp Working Group, and she grows hemp on her land at the Beal Organic Farm, Asdee, on the north Kerry coast.

For her hard work in highlighting all matters environmental, and promoting change from highly processed foods back to organic, she has been named one of the nominees to become a 2019 Farming for Nature Ambassador.

This means she joins a network of ‘farmers for nature’ across Ireland.

The 39 nominees will be shortlisted down to five in September, and the public will be invited to vote for their No 1, to find the National Farming for Nature overall award winner.

Kate Carmody says the hemp crop can yield up to €2,500 per acre, and growing it helps in the fight against climate change.

All parts of the hemp plant, which thrives in wet, marginal ground, can be used.

Probably the most high-profile 2019 Farming for Nature nominee is Darina Allen, who runs a world-famous cookery school on her 100-acre organic farm in Shanagarry in east Cork.

Talking to the Irish Examiner, Darina says the Farming for Nature initiative is “incredibly important, particularly at this time when so many farmers are under siege. It is time for them to feel part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”

Farming for Nature is an independent, not-for-profit initiative established in 2018, to support high nature value farming in Ireland.

It acknowledges and supports farmers all over Ireland who farm, or wish to farm, in a way that will improve the natural health of our countryside.

The main purpose of the annual Farming for Nature award is to unearth and share stories of farmers across Ireland who are making a positive difference to nature on their farms and their wider communities.

People like Kate Carmody and Darina Allen.

Darina says, “Quietly, in our own way, we have been working towards making the farm more sustainable and diverse.

“We feel especially strongly about the importance of the fertility of the soil, and rebuilding and enhancing the quality of the soil on this patch of land that we were fortunate enough to inherit.”

She has been organic for 25 years, which encompasses everything from planting edible hedge rows to providing areas for beneficial insects.

Darina is passionate about farming without chemicals. She says, “What bothers me now is that so many farmers think they cannot farm without chemicals, that they cannot get the yields.

I see it with my own eyes, without chemicals, the soil actually gets more and more fertile. We actually have less and less problem with disease, and therefore, beautiful, healthy crops.

Through her internationally renowned cookery school, Darina is delighted to be able to show students who come to her cookery school how you can successfully farm for nature and not against it.

She is passing on her farming without chemicals knowledge and ethos daily to people all over the world.

“We are teaching this to the students all the time, because as the cookery school is in the middle of a working farm, they can go out to the gardeners in the morning, see how the food is produced naturally, help to harvest and sow vegetables and fruit, feed the pigs, and so on.”

She quotes Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the Soil Association, regarding the importance of healthy soil and the responsibility to pass this on.

‘The healthier the soil, the healthier the plants, the healthier the animals, the healthier the humans.’

Darina says, “Organic farming ticks all the boxes, looking after the planet, animal welfare and human health. It’s a win-win situation.”

In Munster, other shortlisted 2019 Farming for Nature nominees include Thomas and Claire O’Connor in the Gleann na nGealt valley near Camp, Co Kerry; Tom Moloney, Adare, Co Limerick; Joe Condon, Ballymacarbry, who farms the Knockmealdown Mountains; Michael Hickey, New Inn, Co Tipperary, New Inn, Co Tipperary, a pioneer of organic farming in Ireland; and Mark Armitage, who practices conservation agriculture in Co Tipperary.

Five shortlisted as 2019 Farming For Nature Ambassadors

“With properly targeted funding and good technical support, farmers can do an awful lot to help our threatened habitats and species and benefit themselves as a result.”

So says one of the organisers of the Farming for Nature initiative, Brendan Dunford of the Burren Programme.

Another organiser, James Moran of the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology notes that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy increasingly recognises farmers as guardians of the countryside as well as food producers.

Farming for Nature is designed to encourage farmers to feel that they are part of the solution for a cleaner environment, not just the cause of the problem.

Set up by scientists and farmers, it endeavours to show that farmers are a part of nature and that farming with nature is agriculturally, economically and socially progressive.

Farming for Nature Awards are specifically for those who make a significant contribution to protection or enhancement of nature on their farm or locality, and share their passion with others either through education, walks or local media.

This month, a public vote will select who, out of a shortlist of five 2019 Farming For Nature Ambassadors, gets an overall award.

The inaugural award in 2018 went to the Calvey family from Keel, Co Mayo, Achill Island farmers for seven generations.

Their 150 Mayo blackhead ewes are perfectly adapted to grazing the island’s protected habitats.

The Calveys sell the trade-marked, award-winning Achill Mountain Lamb.

Sponsored by Bord Bia and supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the National Parks and Wildlife Service; IFA; and Teagasc, the Farming For Nature initiative includes the making of a video to show how each award nominee promotes nature.

All those nominated are invited to a Farming for Nature field trip, workshop and networking event in the Burren on Saturday, October 26, as part of the Burren Winterage Weekend.

Farmers are nominated by heritage specialists across Ireland and are chosen because they do great things for nature; they that farm in a manner that is environmentally progressive and are willing to share their story with others.

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