Oliver Moore: Community idea starts to snowball

One of Ireland’s newer community supported agriculture initiatives is Derrybeg farm in Co Kildare.

The initiatives involve a greater level of commitment from the consumer than any other model of distribution.

This can mean paying up front for a year or, crucially, taking less produce if less is produced, while paying the same amount of money.

Derrybeg community supported agriculture is in the Maynooth, Leixlip Celbridge triangle, closest to Celbridge, on the 67 bus route. The idea started in 2012, and involves producer Nathan Jackson, a planning group/ steering committee, and the members.

I spoke with Roisin Nic Coil of the planning group.

Tell me about how Derrybeg community supported agriculture came about Roisin?

We started in summer 2012 as Cultivate Celbridge. Previous to that, there was a transition’s town group in Maynooth that some of us were involved in. Also Nathan Jackson really wanted to produce food for his community. So in a way, the community came together to create a job for someone who wanted to become a farmer.

Where did you get the land?

We got land from the county council, they leased us an acre of an 8-acre site. We had initially checked with farmers in the area too, but this option worked well. We put together a business plan and got it.

How did it pan out?

We initially ran a small pilot project in 2013. Nathan produced for a handful of people from his own garden plot. But in this time we got our plans together, developed our website, designed and printed a brochure.

We signed the lease in November 2013 for the one acre from the council. Nathan grew for the 2014 season, with 33 households on board.

What’s involved from the householder?

In 2014, a commitment to pay the full annual sub in advance. We needed this for the first year especially. It meant we could pay wages from an early point in the year. Nathan was paid €14,000 for the nine months. A full household share cost €600 for a household of 4-6 people.

There was also a medium share — €450 — and a small share — €300. For 2015, some are paying monthly, and we’re running 52 weeks. So the large share is €800, medium €600 and small €400.

There is a weekly delivery to collection points, which are decided among members — often a member’s home. We also have a caravan on site, which some members now pick up from.

Is this really a shared risk in community supported agriculture? Or is it just a box scheme?

When you sign up you agree to share risks with the farmer. We did have something of a crop failure — in the hot summer our leeks suffered, and we didn’t have irrigation organised, so production was down.

Members just had to take less. Some may not have fully grasped, yet, what this shared risk idea means, but many do fully understand it.

How has being a member of Derrybeg community supported agriculture made a difference to you Roisin?

Knowing there’s an abundance of produce nearly any time of year — even now. I’m definitely getting an amount of veg in every week that I have to get through. Previously carrots might have been there for three weeks, waiting to be eaten.

I know there’s a weekly supply so it makes me eat what’s there. I’m involved with organising and planning, so the farm is a social outlet. Unemployment has been a low point for me, so getting involved has all been helpful for me.

* For more see www.derrybegfarm.ie 

The Feeding Ourselves event in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, on April 11, will explore community supported agriculture and other community food initiatives.


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