Last week two distinct study trips came to the place I live and work, Cloughjordan. The first was citizen science, the second a media moment.
First to visit was a Cork native who now resides in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, on the Caerhys organic farm.
Dave Beecher is an expert compost builder on Caerhys, but he also has taken to the microscope.
Being as he is, very concerned about soil health, he travels to farms and other places with his presentation on soil health.
The relationship between the sun, plants, bacteria, protozoa, amoebas, nematodes and back to plants takes up a core part of this, as does the negative impact of tilling, fertiliser and pesticides on soil fertility.
I took Dave around the eco village site to visit Bruce Darrell’s RED — research, education, demonstration - gardens, and to the Cloughjordan community owned farm (CCF).
The RED gardens are gardens based on some of the leading organic growing methodologies. Each has proponents and adherents. They are extensive, intensive, polycrop, no dig, perennial and polytunnel.
Each is given an equal sized plot, and each has a different labour, time, compost and amendments’ input, as well as yield.
Indeed the yield is as much flavour as quantity: his extensive gardens may look extravagantly wasteful, with their neat rows of widely spaced vegetables, but they produce incredibly flavourful yet huge vegetables.
Beecher also got samples from others on site, including sourdough baker Joe Fitzmaurice, who provided a sourdough yeast starter to analyse; Dave also collected compost samples from both RED and CCF growing sites.
We invited interested residents, growers and farm volunteers around to a bring-and-share meal, brimming full of their own produce, and then spend hours analysing the different soils under the microscope.
At a resolution of 400x, we watched bacteria wiggle, we encountered protozoa, the occasional amoeba and hunted down the more elusive nematodes.
While the soils were interesting, the compost and sourdough starter were a riot of activity, positively bulging with, as it were, life, the universe and everything.
This may not be everybody’s idea of a fun Saturday night out, but those under the microscope are not the only strange creatures in this part of Tipperary.
Then, Monday morning saw another visit, this one timed to coincide with the train’s arrival and departure into and out of Cloughjordan (10.50am to 6.09pm).
The group was the Irish Food Writers’ Guild, and the visit was bookended with the train timetable because it was their sustainable production visit.
Many aspects of food from the town were represented - the above, plus the Night Orchard, as well as the Middle Country Community Co-op, where the fantastic local food was served.
Along with these, regional winners of the Food Guild’s most recent awards were also present – the supremely knowledgeable Sharon Green from Wild Irish foragers was present, as were staff from Templemore’s White Gypsy brewery, while Ralph Haslam’s Mossfield milk was an ingredient in what was a superb Middle Country quiche.
We traipsed the length and breadth of the 67-acre site, encountering everything from an apple tree walk of 65 native trees from the Irish Seed Savers, to a community apiary.
Indeed it was this group who did the taste test with Bruce Darrell, when the extensive veg turned out to be so flavourful. A big beetroot from the extensive garden trumped a smaller, younger one from the polytunnel.
Even for this group, the results were a surprise – no one seeks out big beetroot as it’s typically stringy and tough. And polytunnels supposedly always do the business.
There were so many highlights: the extraordinary size contrast between Samson, CCF’s really enormous Iron Age Boar, and the tiny little new born piglets he sired; the farm’s freshly treshed thatch.
On October 8, many of the above elements will again show their wares, as Cloughjordan celebrates an apple day, and runs another talks, food and entertainment evening. Well worth a visit.
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