The family that composts together stays together

Christy Collard and Robin O’Donovan are parents to six children, but sustainability is still a cornerstone of their busy lives in west Cork.

The family that composts together stays together

Christy Collard and Robin O’Donovan are parents to six children, but sustainability is still a cornerstone of their busy lives in west Cork.

Christy creates eco-structures and stages for festivals, including Body & Soul and a new world music area, called Global Roots, at All Together Now.

He built garden designer Mary Reynolds’ gold medal-winning wild garden at Chelsea Flower Show, contributes to the family business,Future Forests nursery, in Kealkil, and has worked in Ethiopia on reforestation projects. Robin is a dance-fitness instructor and masseuse.

It’s a composite household. Robin and Christy have six children, three from Robin’s first marriage (Ciarán, 21, Tristan, 16, and Isabella, 14) and two from Christy’s previous relationship (Saira, 12, and Naoise, 10). Together, they have toddler Oscar, who is two.

Christy: “My parents moved to Ireland in ’71, having dropped out ofOxford college and driven to the west of Ireland on a motorbike and sidecar. We were raised in a house on the Cork and Kerry border, in a dead-end valley, in a house with no electricity or running water, with mules, pigs, chickens, goats, cats. We used to go to Mass on a donkey and cart.

"The thing my parents wanted to prove was that a family could live honestly and happily on an acre of land, without it affecting any other human being on the planet. That’s what drove them to develop the way of living that they did.”

“If we utilise what nature provides, we have everything we need for a harmonious co-existence on the planet. The work I do at festivals demonstrates green-build techniques and uses trees that are either wind-blown, or need thinning for management purposes.

“The main stage in Electric Picnic’s Body & Soul area is 16 this year. So, in terms of demonstrating sustainable, green-build infrastructure for having fun, I think that’s pretty good. That’s 16 years that metal structures haven’t been erected and taken down and moved in and out with lorries and all the rest of it.”

Robin says: “I moved over with my first-born and was volunteering on organic farms when I met my first husband. Christy and I would have met through being part of the same community here in west Cork, but we both had other partners. We reconnected about five years ago, when both of our previous relationships had ended.”

“Half our kids have been in cloth nappies, but Oscar isn’t. As the family has grown, it’s gotten harder to keep up with things like washing. We changed over the heating system a couple of years ago, so now our house is heated by the offcuts from Christy’s work, which is great.”

Christy: “I grow vegetables, which we supplement our food with, and we shop a combination of Lidl shopping and markets for organic stuff, but the main thing is trying to keep our waste down. We do clothes swaps with other families and shop a lot in charity shops.”

Robin: “My eldest has been a vegan for two years; he’s into powerlifting. At first, he didn’t think he’d be able to combine the weight training with being a vegetarian, but he’s become really passionate about being vegan for animal rights, as well as the environment.”

Robin: “All three of mine have become vegetarian, without anyinfluence from us. I’m not strict vegetarian, but I don’t eat a lot of meat.

Christy: “We take the kids on regular hill walks — on a Sunday, we might go to Glengarriff National Park — and we talk to them a lot about nature. We’ve encouraged all these things, but it’s interesting that the influence that’s been most powerful has been external, coming from school and from Greta Thunberg.

"For Isabella, the ‘Greta effect’ has been enormous. You can see the impact: there’s the conviction that that generation has, that all this stuff is quite obvious, that’s amazing to watch.”

Robin: “Tristan has been working with the YMCA this summer and he got to go to the Marine Institute in Galway to make a podcast about the health of the oceans, and he was at the Ocean Summit in Cork, too.”

“Oscar helps me plant seeds. We go out and water the herbs and the tomatoes and gherkins; we go out and pick the slugs in the evening and he’s entertained by it, and he’s already really caring towards the plants.”

Christy: “My biggest thing is fuel consumption; for the jeep, for the digger. I bought a battery-powered chainsaw last year and I love it. No fumes, no noise, and it only costs a few cents to recharge. I feel like technology is slowly catching up. My lifestyle is quite fossil-fuel dependent and that’s not ideal.”

Robin: “Isabella said to me, ‘what’s the climate going to be like when I grow up?’ I can see the worry and anxiety it’s creating for her. I think people feel powerless, and while it’s true we need everyone to participate for this to work, it doesn’t mean that each person can’t make a difference themselves.

"Trying to get young people to understand that what they do really does matter, and that even small changes have a big impact, is important.”

Christy: “I see Robin’s work as something really vital to be involved in. It’s really important to know that our health and wellness as individuals is the beginning of any change.

"For the healthy development of children, it’s imperative that we involve them in lots of activities. You need a broad, balanced perspective of what is healthy.”

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