Who needs supermarkets?
Panic buying in the face of the COVID 19 Pandemic has proven that many feel extremely vulnerable by their dependency on the shops. On the positive side, by supporting and encouraging a diversified range of Irish farming and horticultural activities we provide ourselves with an important cushion during any crisis: a resilient local food supply that is independent of long distance international haulage. And since many of these farmers are doing things in a more sustainable future friendly way it’s win-win-win till the cows come home!
About Tirloch O’Brien
One such farmer, grower and visionary is Tirloch O’Brien who has started up a vegetable growing business (The Patch) near the shores of Loch Gowna, a few miles south of Cavan Town. Tirloch invited a group of interested growers to see his operation and one of those attendees, Dermot McNally gives a brief overview on the set up and the vision.
Firstly about Tirloch – he took the brave step of quiting a pensionable, well paid office job in the pharmaceutical patent office in Dublin. “The work was dreary and unrewarding,” he recalls. He reached a point where career advancement and the next promotion didn’t excite or motivate him. “I realised that it’s not about the money. And here I am,” he says grinning and waving his arms at the long polytunnel to his right. But it wasn’t just time for the wellies yet…
Time to Learn:
The graduate of micro-biology had (at least) one small problem. He didn’t come from a farming background. “For all my interest in gardening I had no training so I headed to the Organic Centre in Rossinver for a year where I learned a massive amount on the subject of vegetable growing. The next stage in my apprenticeship was carrying out a season of living and working alongside Jim Cronin of Killaloe, Co Clare.” Jim is one of Ireland’s foremost organic growers and regularly gives seminars on a range of topics.
Fast forward to the mammoth polytunnel (a repurposed mushroom house) in a 3 acre field. And inside, despite the February winds, were a range of winter salads. Tirloch focuses on a selection of cut, and come again salads: taking three or four leaves from the lettuce while allowing the plant to continue to grow. Several such harvests occur before the plant dies back. Spinach and kale are also popular veg. Once cut, he washes and packs the veg (into compostable bags) in his adapted shipping container before delivery to restaurants and shops.
A second polytunnel acts as a potting shed and is fitted with heated mats to allow him to start off seeds in the colder months. There’s lots to learn here: for instance: calendula grows alongside the kale. Why? “The aphids that eat the kale are attracted to the calendula, they’re sticky, they get stuck, they stay over there.” No insecticides: just smart, holistic growing. And the wildflower section? “For the birds and the bees” he smiles. There’s room for everyone here.
Regenerative Approach and Storing Carbon
Tirloch farms regeneratively, i.e. ‘farming principles and practices that increase biodiversity, enrich soils, improve watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services’ whilst still producing food and hence income. Regenerative farming is hugely successful in storing carbon – a massive plus in the era of climate change.”
Building Soil Fertility
Unlike many conventional farmer, Tirloch never spreads nitrogen. Instead he plans his farming to allow plants to accumulate nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil. Indeed before planting a single vegetable to harvest he spent a year building and improving the soil on the site. He spread 25 tonnes of organic mushroom compost and then set about planting varieties of crops to “mine nutrients”, including phosphorus, and which would also restrict weeds. In just nine months he was ready to roll (and dig).
Though Tirloch is a vegetarian he isn’t against livestock farming per se. “The cows aren’t the problem, its the way we farm with them”. Livestock are central to a regenerative system. Tirloch is enthused by Irish farmers moving into silvopasture – mixing livestock and trees and names White Oaks farm in the USA as an exemplary case study: this farm has 10,000 animals and sequesters more carbon than it releases.
But back to Cavan. It’s been a tough learning curve, blood, sweat and stress. But Tirloch is enthused after his winter break and has reinvested in equipment to make operations more efficient. These include a broadfork, a tilther, second hand ribbed concrete roller, and a gridder. Interested in finding out more about what these tools do? Then type “The Patch Cavan” into your Facebook search engine and Tirlochs business should appear. He hopes to post videos in the coming weeks. In the meantime, stay safe and SUPPORT LOCAL.