DONAL Chambers is course co-ordinator on Kinsale College’s Sustainability and Permaculture course and the chair of Transition Towns Kinsale. His partner Máiread Cronin trained as a veterinary nurse and now combines care of the couple’s children with volunteering with St Vincent De Paul and training as a Roots of Empathy instructor.
Donal and Máiread are parents to Éala, 8, and Ría, 6. Two years ago they moved to a cottage on three quarters of an acre in Dunderrow, near Kinsale, and have been renovating the house and designing their own permaculture garden since.
Donal said: “We were living in an estate in Kinsale until I got a permanent job here. We’re still developing this land; our garden is only two years old, but we have nut trees and fruit trees, fruit bushes and raised beds for vegetables. We do seed-sowing with the girls and they love helping with weeding and harvesting. We have a tiny house, only five rooms, but the kitchen is brilliant. Máiread had the idea to make a kitchen from recycled pallets and she put an ad on Gumtree and this amazing carpenter from Meath came down and stayed with us and built our kitchen.
“We want a dog and chickens, but first I need the money for fencing, so at the moment we’re focusing on plastering the girls’ bedrooms. It’s one thing at a time. Hopefully, it’ll be polytunnel and chickens next year. Food is the main thing we focus on with the girls. They eat whatever comes out of the garden. If they don’t like something, we get them to taste it; we read this article about how French parents continue to get their kids to taste things. Apparently, it can take 15 tastes for them to get used to something. It’s ok if they want to spit it out or they don’t want to eat it, because eventually, they’ll get the taste.
Eating healthy food instead of crap processed stuff comes with a lot of other environmental benefits as well. Growing and preparing food are so critical for the planet.
“Éala comes home and runs over to the fennel plants and picks them as a treat; I grew up on Miwadi and sweets, so I think that’s great. They were out eating mange tout peas yesterday. We don’t feel like they need a ‘treat.’ They might get an ice-cream on holidays or in the summer, and we make stuff at home. People will say, ‘ah, why won’t you give them a treat?’ I was given these things that were supposed to be treats when I was a kid and I turned into a total sugar addict and I still fight things like chocolate cravings.
“We’re really lucky that one of us can stay home. We consume less and are more frugal because we only have one income.
“Another way we’re lucky is that the girls walk to school, which is one of the reasons we bought here. There’s a laneway with no cars, and it’s about five minutes’ walk. In the Spring, I try to teach them about the plant species that grow on the laneway. We teach them about biodiversity: trees and plants and shrubs and what you can eat and what’s poisonous. Máiread and I come at things from different angles, but we inform and inspire each other. She’s better at cooking and preparing food, but I get up with them and I make lunches. I think we’re very much on the same path. She’s definitely educated me a lot about things like animal testing and we teach the girls to look out for the little rabbit symbol on things. Our consumption is minimal. They’re just not brought to shops at all. We’re lucky they have lots of older cousins and they have masses of hand-me-downs.
“We have two cars, unfortunately; an electric car and an old petrol car. I’m still not sure about electric cars. Longer term, I plan to get solar panels so at least the electricity I’m using to charge the car is renewable for seven or eight months of the year. We’d love to have no car and be able to cycle, but I’m not sure my muscles would stand the trip in and out of Kinsale every day. We’re going to get electric bikes so that we can avoid the petrol car: I can cycle to work and if Máiread is bringing the girls to classes in Bandon or something, she can use the electric car.
“We’ve travelled all over the world, but we’re thinking of not flying anymore and just getting the boat to France for holidays. For me it’s about practising what you preach. I’ve been involved in environmental movements for 20 years, so I think it’s time to look at travel too.
“I know it’s an unusual upbringing: we don’t have TV and they have no screen time apart from a cartoon on the laptop every second week. Everyone says, ‘oh, wait until the girls are teenagers, you won’t be able to control them.’ But we’re not trying to control them. We’ll just continue having healthy food at home; they’ll need their pocket money and their freedom. I don’t think that far ahead that often: We’re just enjoying this phase of their childhoods."