Basically, I’ve been a commercial grower myself and have spent ten years battling with hybrid varieties, trying to make sense of growing food and the battle of producing food. Irish Seed Savers have opened my eyes. They are here collecting all these varieties. Why would they bother their hat?
How long does it take to prove a legal variety? Fifteen years!…go back fifteen years and you look at the varieties that you were working with and then you’re thinking about biodiversity. What is biodiversity about? Basically biodiversity is about looking into the future. Fifteen years ago farming was quite different. The techno paths have grabbed a lot of the older varieties that were with us for hundreds of years. Steven Marsh talks about potatoes going back to the 17 and 1800’s.
The techno-paths were looking for high inputs and high outputs, but unfortunately are we any better off? This is where biodiversity steps in. Biodiversity is a view into the future, it’s looking at the balance and if you’re looking at high inputs and high outputs, something has to give along the way. You know, Steven was talking about the blight and controlling blight with copper sulphite – the blue stone, and how it’s looking like we cannot use it any more, because copper is a heavy metal and it may come back… back through the crop. He (Steven) didn’t get to mention ………… about all the strong chemicals that are used on potatoes to make them clean, so there’s no doubt that you can get ten tonne to the acre.
Talking about wheat varieties – In Ireland we have the heaviest tonnage per acre in the world. We can get four to five tonnes per acre, but what is the quality of this wheat? You certainly won’t be baking bread with it. That’s the emphasis – you can think back fifteen, twenty years ago and maybe go back fifty years – most of the crop we were producing then was for human consumption, whereas 90% is going into animal consumption now and fattening up cattle. We’re in a quandary now because we as humans are looking at making bread, and having food for ourselves, but in most of the plant breeding- we find that the emphasis is on making beer and animal food stuffs. Without the work that Irish Seed Savers have done and other organisations like them I really don’t know where we’d be.
Today I’m talking about the first eco village in Cloughjordan. It’s an attempt at the first eco village in Ireland. What are we about, and why would we get together to attempt such a thing? I suppose we’re all coming in with the same ethos. Sustainable building, sustainable farming, and trying to get a balance about our lives. So we have sixty seven acres there. It’s one hundred and thirty families coming together, and we’re looking at coming together, producing a certain amount of our own food, and we feel responsible at making an attempt at that. The land is clay loam… … I think Seed Savers will be envious of that!
The land they are working with here is good quality, but there’s only a small amount of it.
So we have sixty seven acres … how do we attempt to grow our own food? Where do we get the seed? You go into a garden centre and it’s mostly hybrid seeds you pick up. Does anybody know the difference between a hybrid and an open pollinated seed? Basically hybrid vigour is where they inbreed the varieties and select different qualities for example; if you wanted a nice tomato, you might go for a red tomato and you might go for a good size. Then they inbreed them for about three generations and bring them together to get hybrid vigour, but the thing about it is that it’s not sustainable. You may save some seeds from any hybrid tomato and the following year you won’t get the same tomato because it will revert back.
Now Seed Savers here, what they are trying to do is to produce varieties of food crops that are sustainable, and the open pollinated variety basically is, as it says on the packet. It has a small genetic pool. What’s a genetic pool? Basically all us here have got different faces, we’re all different, that’s a genetic pool. Crops have that broad genetic pool, some of which are open pollinated. The crops that we’re working with here have that diverse pool, and after years, will adapt to their environment. Some of these when you open them out will give you a good average crop. Sometimes we select and in that the cross is made. We select varieties that have a particular ability. Some of them are open pollinated and when you grow them out; they will give you a very average crop. They will not give you hybrid vigour – you won’t get a massive cabbage although some of them are exceptional. They are sustainable and as the years go on they will produce a reasonably sustainable crop.
They are all the time adapting to the environment, and of course are grown organically. That’s the ‘in word’ now – “organic”, but fifty years ago every thing was grown organically. They didn’t have chemicals before and were probably better off without them. Now we have this dependency and it’s all gone very narrow. In Cloughjordan now, we have sixty seven acres and 130 families with a similar ethos. If they want to live sustainably and want to grow their own food, their own cereal and have their own animals to achieve that as an individual, it is a very difficult thing to do. There are so many things to look after… so there’s definitely a bit of backing. I’m the co-ordinator of the land – use group/the farming end of it anyway.
What acreage is needed to be sustainable? Five acres, that’s five acres multiplied by 130 families with a similar ethos; that’s up to 700 to 800 acres to be sustainable.
It’s accepted within the EU, that it takes a half an acre per person to have enough land to be sustainable. That’s 1 – 1 and half per household, we’re already half of the land short. In Cloughjordan we’re looking at giving a third to housing, a third to woodland and a third to farming. The idea that it’s in balance and that we’ll be able to have a biodiversity that is sustainable. It’s a challenge as we haven’t enough land.
We’re looking at having seven to eight Kerry cows with a high quality milk yield that will also be used for making cheese. We are also looking at one to two acres of vegetables, that’s if you have a rotation going. We are also looking at cereals for human consumption – a new thing. Presently, seed is coming from Central Europe. We’re looking at becoming sustainable, saving seeds and looking at different farming methods. One we came up with is biodynamic. This looks at outputs and inputs on a farm in a closed circle: – we need to have fertility, that’s where the cow comes in, then calves and cereal production.
Where do you get seed for that? All of the cereal produced now is for animal feed. Seed Savers have done a lot of work with cereals through Michael Miklis over in Piltown. Cereals are grown here now in Seed Savers, and they have tried to collect various samples e.g. from Canada and the Vavlov Institute – at least the future bones for growing grains are here. They would have been sent samples from scientists.
They produce a tonne and a half per acre maximum, and of a much higher quality grain. This grain is not dependant on surface feeding. For example the modern varieties are shorter; barley, which is a foot off the ground. A short plant has very little resistance to drought. The taller varieties have deeper roots, and will bring up more micro nutrients and minerals, so the nutritional value is gone way up. The modern varieties depend on surface feeding, for example NPK which is in abundance now.
In Ireland we don’t produce fertilizer any more. In real terms to be sustainable – it’s important to work with the older varieties. At Seed Savers they have twenty varieties of Oats/ they have a deeper root system. They have a greater resistance to disease. These grains get all the viruses, for example; mosaic but they grow out through it. The height of the grains, allows the air movement through them, but the shorter varieties won’t get the same movement and in turn are not so successful.
Along with having a balanced farm in Cloughjordan; I’ve been working here for the past five to six years, and the next step is to have a community assisted farm. To me that’s an attempt at sustainable development, hopefully it will catch on and hopefully it’s not the individual farmer that will take the hit if grain prices were to fall, or the price of cattle isn’t great.
Veba here is a Biodynamic farmer and is here to give a little talk on growing bio dynamically and the spirituality attached to it.
VEBA: Hello everybody! I’m from Holland and from an ordinary farming family. It was in the late 80’s that I came into organic farming.
To get a feel for it… just think about the difference between organic and biodynamic! Organics is a healthy approach to growing food; a concern that we shouldn’t damage the earth any more and those we also want healthy food. That’s two reasons to grow organic and another reason could be, to be in the market with something which is … … It is also to do with money. If Ireland goes in the direction of biodynamic then we need to consider the basis for our food. Let’s say where we stand on the whole being, where we live on is to be considered to be a living being. Now if you grow organic you say that you don’t want to damage the earth anymore, so you already think of it as a living being. Now in biodynamic ‘this being’ a living being, has to be considered much, much more widely and I tend to take it away from the earth to get a feel for what it could mean.
By just looking at a cow, and when this cow calves… the calf is born…the cow will lick it clean. You see an intimate connection between the cow and the calf and now something very soon happens, the calf gets up and the first thing it does is to turn to the udder of the cow and starts drinking, and then a very intimate thing takes place. The calf doesn’t think…it’s totally in tune with nature and it drinks from the milk that the mother has produced before it was born. The milk is a very rich, nutritious substance and at this very moment the mother licks and sniffs the calf’s back. We might have all seen this but we don’t know what magic is going on. For others nature has so much good, if you just tune in… … what happens there is that in this little cycle of calf and mother is the first drinking of the calf… the mother tunes in to the needs of the calf by sniffing on the back, so that’s the outcome. The calf takes in from the front… the mother already gets in tune with the needs of the calf. What happens now is the next milk produced from that moment on, will be brought in tune by the needs of the calf. Now this is a balance… an absolute miracle. If you let that be and let the cow be healthy so that she can also adapt, then we will see a very high yield cycle.
We must be in touch with the earth and from this we must acknowledge the earth for what it is, and we must let it know what we need. Now that doesn’t happen by just thinking about it or complaining about the weather, it just happens by being in tune and by touch. Its an amazing thing that ‘I don’t know if its an Irish thing but in Germany and Central Europe the best fertilizer for the land is the working of the farm and in doing so trying to get the reaction from the earth, starting up and becoming like a carbon copy … cycle where health comes in… because its not all for us… there’s people who want healthy food. It’s for the earth as well and that’s what is needed to be recognised… you can see already that something needs to start it.
Now the reason that biodynamic came about was that in the year of 1923 farmers came together because of a concern that the earth didn’t react anymore. Now it’s very hard to imagine how they could know this but in those years it was possible to recognise that the earth didn’t react to what we gave it. So it was then that the farmers contacted Rudolph Steiner because they knew that he would have the answers. Steiner gave these farmers lectures which were taken down and printed. Steiner said that the earth can adapt, and wants to adapt because it is there for us, and we have to make a decision about that.
Now the damage has been done to the earth and it does need medicine/repair. Now this medicine is taken out of nature and is homeopathic. It is from plants and most of the plants go through a process of half a year of either being buried in the earth, or being hung up in the sun. Most of this medicine is then encapsulate in animal organs, either the bladder of a deer or the stomach of a cow. It’s still a mystery to us how it works, but it works. This is something that was passed on to us as a homeopathic medicine which we apply. What it does is awaken in the earth and is restored, it responds again for us and what we have again is the cycle like the mother and the baby calf.
If the earth responds we see that it is in tune with the people in nature. One very important criterion in getting this going is not to let … … into your environment. Let the earth be … …. So then you have the seeds and every generation of seeds will be close to the environment that it is produced for the need of the people. Not only the physical health of the person is increased but so is the spiritual health.
Pat Malone: That is the essence of what we are trying to do – to sensitise the earth and to produce crops of whole nutrition that in turn, brings about good health. The biodiversity that is collected here is not an awful lot of good, unless we, as individuals don’t run with it and develop it.
In Cloughjordan it’s an attempt to develop biodiversity that has being built up here (Seed Savers), into a living community, develop the crops to tend our needs, and to build our nutrition. Our first step is this forty acre of farm that we’re going to set up, but we know it’s not enough to tend our needs. We will start in a small way of sound footing hopefully and that we’ll have not just forty acres of vegetables because it’s unsustainable, so we need to think sustainably. Again we’re looking at seven or eight cows and maybe 7-8 acres of cereals, 2-3 acres of vegetables. Then we have the allotments, every member of the Cloughjordan Eco Village is entitled to an allotment of land. Primarily to encourage people to have a hands on touch, and to learn that sensitivity to the earth and what it’s about. It will also be an integral part of our food production, but particularly our seed saving. The allotments would hopefully be able to tune themselves into saving seeds of particular varieties that we need to carry on for next year.
We also see ourselves working with Seed Savers here, satellite growers, growing out varieties that are promising and bulking them up for other growers to take on, and the cereal end of it will definitely be a major focus. We already have 2-3 varieties of oats that we feel will adapt to human needs. They are old varieties dating back thirty to forty years that were used then. We have grown them out in the last five to six years and already it’s easy to see the quality of these. As I said before it takes about fifteen years to prove a variety. All the old varieties are there and we can work with them.
Presume consumption … now that’s a whole new emphasis. 99% of what is grown out there is for animal consumption. We have great grass in Ireland, and it’s no wonder that we specialise in animals as it’s one of our greatest exports, but we also rely on imports especially our seed. We don’t produce seed on any level at all in this country. This leaves us very vulnerable as a country. So the eco village is definitely looking at sustainable development and working with the biodiversity that we have out there, and as Veba say’s … We have to save our own seed to adapt to our own environment in the midlands. It’s quite different to the wild West here with the wind and the rain. The great thing about Seed Savers is that their talk about the apples is that … They don’t grow West of the Shannon, but there’s no doubt about it… it’s well proven here above in the orchards that you have 160 varieties of apples.
Anyway that’s an example of what we are doing this year, we are just starting out, and we don’t have the houses built yet. There are a few places left yet for those of you who fancy joining the team. We have about forty or so vacancies left but we have the critical mass to move on.
We have eighty five families that have committed themselves to the Eco Village. This year we bought seventy different varieties of apples from Seed Savers, planted side by side and from them we have propagated 750 apple trees … a craft that I learned from Tommy and the team here. It just goes to show you how nature is so bountiful but we have to work with it, and maybe look back and see what people had before / what is sustainable. 750 apple trees that will give us four acres of orchards. That will be a combination of cider, juicing and eating apples. Another thing we have is another seventeen acres around the houses. We are going to create a … …landscape. So our criteria is that every bit of land will offer something to the community, be it a nut or whatever. So we are setting up a nursery there and we’re only 130 houses, so we are a little bio diverse group and we’re procreating as fast as we can, so good genes are grown out there as well. Our little Beth came this year and we’re hoping that she may have a little partner in the future. The Eco Village in Cloughjordan has a close association with Seed Savers and we’re going to have a close association with the Biodynamic Association. As I said we’re renting a twenty eight acre farm with a ten year lease on it. This gives us long enough …the idea being is that we can look at sustainable development and sustainable living.
Questions and Answers
Do people in the community have other incomes?
Answer: Basically, I think that a lot of people will live off each other a bit, that we will be sustainable and that our overhead will be lower. Cloughjordan was chosen because it has a railway station there. You can get along without a car and still have a full life in Cloughjordan in a sense that it is well linked up. The IT sector is very strong. The farming is very miniscule in that only two or three of us have much experience in it, but they are coming with an ethos and wanting to make a living together. I’d say that there will be a fair bit of commuting for a while. Cloughjordan has embraced us quite well, but there’s a fair influx of outsiders into one spot. They can see that Cloughjordan has taken a bit of a lift. So there are a lot of people working in the area, and a few people have opened businesses in the village. I would say we have 130 families renting including ourselves – wanting to build. So all of us are making a living in that, but it’s say that within a couple of years the houses should be built. We have the infrastructure there. In the near future we hope to have a lot more people working and living in the area but at the moment there is a fair bit of commuting.