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Community Supported Agriculture in Dublin


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The new season is here!

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Here you can find the breakdown of our costs and how the shares are calculated for the new season:

Dublin CSA Budget for 2017-2018

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Share calculation for 30 members, which is the maximum we can sign-up:

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With a full share you pick up your veg bag every week, with a half share you pick up every second week. A bag of veg is suitable to provide up to 2 people with enough veg for a week.

Please let us know if you have any questions! csadublin@gmail.com

Here you can find all documents for signing up to the new season: membership

We’re looking forward to see you! 🙂

 

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What is a farmer?

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Having visited Romania for a European Food Sovereignty event and seen how people in the villages there live, it raised questions for me as to what the role of a farmer should be.

Coming from Ireland there are a number of different interpretations of what a farmer actually is. One view is somewhat romantic. It holds that a farmer spends their time in touch with the elements, animals and the soil. Farmers seen in this light are like those you might imagine in landscape paintings – working with simple tools and engaged in their community in every sense.

Another view of a farmer in Ireland is more hard-nosed. This stands the farmer on the same ground as a businessman – it’s just the means employed to return a profit that is different. Under this scenario – and it is a view that is quite realistic if the farming press and bodies such as Bord Bia are to be believed – farmers are the backbone of the country. Through their work they not only provide a living for themselves but produce products that are the raw materials for the Agri-food industry. The farmers of Ireland are like soldiers – they go beyond the call of duty and work tirelessly to maximise the production of their enterprises for the benefit of wider society.

There is huge variation in farmers up and down the country. However, farmers in Ireland in my opinion fall somewhere between the romantic and the business worlds. While they are often in the fields they are now increasingly in a vehicle or on machinery. Although they are trying to make a living from their farm they are increasingly dependent on payments from Europe to top up their income. In-fact, an alarming number of farms would not be profitable if it wasn’t for the cheque from Brussels.

On reflection of the visit to a Romanian village it was apparent how self-sufficient the people there were. The people there grew all of their own food; there was a real local economy – they even produced their own alcohol, cheese and bread in the village. It was I believe, like Ireland was maybe fifty years ago. That is, most of the agricultural communities in the country fifty years ago knew where their food was from and, importantly, where it was going. Nowadays, the farmer is generally more isolated from their community – their transactions are more likely to be business based and more often than not they do not know the identity of the end consumer of their produce. The people drinking the milk from a farm in Tipperary are now as likely to be babies drinking milk formula in China as to be from the local village for example.

While such changes have been seen as advancements generally, as the standard of living here has improved alongside these changes – some of the things that have been lost as a result of the modernisation of agriculture are perhaps too important to see go without some reluctance. Considering what a farmer is then, can we still say that they are in touch with the soil if they only look out on it from a 4×4? Are we still farmers if our only motivation for our work is profit? Is the villager in Romania making any less of a contribution to society if their chief activity is making a few bottles of palinka (/poteen) than a so called farmer in Ireland drawing down payments in the tens of thousands from Europe?

Personally, I think it is important for myself in the down-time of winter to look back on the year that was. It is an opportunity to reconnect with myself and a chance to lay down plans for the year ahead. This year I have the honesty and integrity of the villagers in Romania at the forefront of my thoughts. Far from the speed and urgency of modern agriculture in Ireland that I find myself alongside – I can happily say that next year, if all I do is make a few bottles of alcohol or a few blocks of cheese for my local community to share – then it will have been a good year.

 

Image: Farmer With A Pitchfork by Winslow Homer source: commons.wikimedia.org

 


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FarmDay #2, 2016: Lots of Laughs in the Liffey Valley

 

October 8th, the second official Farm Day of 2016, saw us bussing and biking beyond the boundaries of Dublin and into Celbridge, to join Seamus for a day of learning, planting, mulching, and feasting. The day was especially glorious for cycling, and the Liffey valley had plenty of treats in store for Bianca and I, first-timers on the bicycle route to the farm. Between leaf-strewn laneways, Lucan looking lovely, and luxuriously landscaped parklands at Castletown House, Declan gave us a 90 minute tour of the county’s finest scenery, and in no time we arrived at the farm, eager to join Sean and get our hands dirty! Our first task was to taste some of Seamus’s delicious veggie soup, and rehydrate with some tea, after which the hard work of learning began. Seamus gave us a comprehensive tour of the hard-working courgette and tomato plants (still producing!), the forests of kale that are just beginning to be harvested, rows of gorgeous pumpkins, peppers, and purple cabbages, and the highly efficient chickens making short shrift of any grass patches and former vegetable beds that come within their mobile coop and yard. We busied ourselves with selecting the finest, fattest garlic bulbs from those Seamus had saved, and planted those out in the former bean beds. Declan and Seamus mulched up the artichokes with more woodchip, on top of beds of cardboard, ensuring they stay cosy and happy in the chilly weeks ahead.

While hunger is a great spice, it seems that frequent tasting might be a great teaching tool. Both our minds and our tastebuds were kept sharp, with fresh produce (mostly) straight from the stalk – blackberries, perpetual cabbage, delicious garlic, recently ripened seedheads of flax, and the intense ale taste of hops (not all from Seamus’s farm, however, so probably not coming to a CSA veggie bag near you). In any case, we got great insights from Seamus into his crop rotations, the sustainability spectrum of organic weed control, seed saving, dealing with hungry visitors (rabbits), and the valuable work of the quacking and clucking farm help.

The next Farm Day is planned for the 12th of November, with hopefully more seasonal surprises, and continued sunshine, or clear skies at least. Either way, it’ll probably be a bit of craic, with decent company and lots of tea, and we’re all invited – YAY!


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Farming from a Distance

A reflection by one of the Dublin CSA’s growers, Seamus:

This is written on reflection of a recent trip to New Zealand. Firstly it is on the opposite side of the world and so is in the opposite season to here. When I arrived it was the end of January, coming out of our northern winter but over there – just coming to the end of the summer. Not that it felt like it – the daily temperature was usually in the twenties. This made for a Mediterranean like climate and although there was quite a variation between the top of the north Island (tropical) and bottom of the south Island (more like Ireland) New Zealand has a climate very suitable for growing plants and animals.

Travelling by bus down the North Island from Auckland the thing that struck me initially was the sheer devastation imposed on the landscape as a result of modern industrial, commercial agriculture. Yes, the land was green for the most part but this was a monoculture of grass which grazed monocultures of sheep or cows with very little in the way of native vegetation evident. Even where animals were replaced by trees – these again were monocultures on an industrial scale for the most part. It was clear that Europeans settlers have left a lasting legacy on both the character of the landscape and also on the mentality of their descendants – that land is of value when it can provide financial return to people.

I travelled to the Hawkes Bay area where I was to spend a week and a half working in exchange for bed and board WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). The area I was in – close to the town of Hastings – was renowned for its orchards. The farm I was to work with was quite unique locally and indeed within New Zealand – growing a wide variety of crops mainly for the domestic market. http://www.epicureansupplies.co.nz/

The farm comprised some 20 hectares (50 acres) although not all in the one block. This was big coming from half an acre plot. Being big meant a lot of labour, a good deal of efficiency and quite a bit of mechanisation. There was a seeding machine for planting up modules – a nifty bit of kit but quite excessive unless you were on this kind of scale. Many crops were direct seeded – i.e. planted directly into the soil without being raised to seedling stage. These included turnips, coriander, dill, some salad, radish and surprisingly pumpkin – with the seeds being dropped using a potato planter. Many crops were raised to the seedling stage and for this there was one employee seeding module trays more or less full-time.

In terms of variety of crops there was nothing that I hadn’t at least heard of but many that I had much less success growing. This was down to the weather with tomatoes, peppers (capsicums), aubergines (egg plants) and basil all growing happily outside. With the good weather came the need to water and this was carried out using a drilled well and industrial pump; quite a task given that standard beds were 100m long! The heat was also an issue when out harvesting – especially in the midday sun. I was lucky enough not to be sent to any of the 100m long basil beds which were planted through plastic – meaning heat from above and below.

Another interesting aspect to the farm was the growing of herbs. This was novel as it showed that perennial plants could also be profitable enterprises with sage, oregano, thyme and rosemary planted in beds that were harvested to order daily. Rosemary in particular really excelled in the hot climate and harvesting stems from rosemary hedges above head height meant wearing sunglasses at work was not just to look cool.
In a technical growing sense I learned a lot there. From the size of modules used, to the preparation of beds for planting I gained some hints and tips. The need for machinery once a farm goes beyond a certain size was clearly apparent with several tractors employed there to do a variety of jobs from rotavating, seeding, ridging up (leeks/pumpkins), and pulping crop residues.
The need for labour given the size of the farm was also clear from the outset. There were probably a dozen full-time staff. When I arrived there were 9 woofers. By the end of my first week there were only 4 as some were moving on – some having spent several months there, others several weeks. The loss of this many workers placed a burden on Clyde, the owner of the business, having to re-jig work hours to fit in all the essential tasks. At this point it was clear to me that wwoofers were intrinsic to the successful operation of this farm and showed how volatile dependency on this cheap source of labour could be. That said, wwoofers seemed happy to do the work and get some pay for work over the basic three and a half days to cover their bed and board for the week.

Overall, my experience on this farm was positive – meeting other wwoofers and workers and learning about vegetable growing in the southern hemisphere. Although still an enterprise geared for profit – it provided a respite from industrial farming generally and showed that a massive amount can be grown on a relatively small area.

In a more general sense I was struck by the price of vegetables in New Zealand. Vegetables in supermarkets were generally more expensive than in Ireland. It was also surprising that vegetables were actually less expensive at farmer’s markets than in supermarkets. As I understood, much of the land in New Zealand is used for producing food for export – generally on quite industrial scales. Those people growing vegetables to sell at farmer’s markets were by-in-large the exception and did not have ready access to the export market. They were happy to sell their food at markets rather than being stuck with it or selling it for very little to wholesale buyers. This was good news for me and others who were able to avail of the bounty of produce available at this time of year but raised questions as to the suitability of people of land to the industrial food model.

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Thoughts from our farmer – What is the road ahead for Organic Growing?

I recently attended a conference on organic growing and was impressed that there were speakers there from around Ireland and the UK. When they one after the other got up and talked about productivity, finance, market share and the bottom line maybe I was the only one attending who felt a sense of numbness descend.

Of course, no matter what line of work we are in we should aim to do it well. In terms of organic growing therefore we might take this to mean taking care of the soil, building up organic matter levels or helping improve biodiversity. There was brief mention of these practices but as a general rule economics was a central theme. Not only did speakers present charts comparing the ‘productivity’ of particular crops but they went on to talk of the year on year return possible from growing and selling vegetables.

“What is wrong with this?” I hear you ask. Surely those same people are just trying to make a living. There are several things wrong in my opinion. Firstly, food should not be viewed as a commodity. Unfortunately much of the Irish countryside is now dedicated to the production of products for ‘markets’ that are explicitly unaccountable with no human interest. Take the example of milk. When milk was produced for local consumption it was something that was traded locally, valued locally and often a valuable source of income for rural families. With industrialisation came the possibility of producing larger volumes of milk which although still a source of income for families, was often now destined to have value added and be exported to foreign markets. The price paid to the farmer was not now what the locals would pay for their pint of milk but what an external market decided it was worth. What had happened was that milk was no longer a local product for locals – it had become a commodity – something tradable on a market; now no more esteemed than a car tyre or a piece of plastic junk.

We hear farmers complain about the price they are paid for their milk while at the same time they have been central in their own downfall. Asked where their milk ends up a farmer may tell you it goes to a certain creamery. Beyond that the milk can end up in anything from baby formula to whey supplements to butter. This presents another problem – a distinct lack of control. The creamery has discretion to do as it will with the milk. It can also charge what it wants for the secondary products it decides to make. The degree of separation between the farmer and the eventual destination of their milk means that they are price takers. If the creamery decides to pay 5c less per litre then that is what the farmer must put up with.

To get back to vegetables then – organic vegetables let’s say – if we want to follow the trend set by viewing agricultural products as commodities then the fate of organic growers is sealed. We will end up on the payroll of a supermarket or an anonymous consortia of businesses and take whatever price they decide our products are worth. By focusing on the ends and not the means we will lose sight of what is important. It is the growing that is important – to remain connected to the land, to value the intrinsic beauty of being out in and at one with nature. If we start down the path of totalling what it is possible to earn from growing vegetables rather than the innate physical, emotional and spiritual rewards it offers we have already hit a dead end.

The separation between many conventional farmers and the very bones of their work is complete when they become so called ‘farm managers.’ Where farmers have removed themselves to this extent from the production of crops or animals and they must merely total the cash flow columns on computers, it is doubtful if they should even be allowed to be called farmers. Having and maintaining an intimate connection to the land must remain central to organic growing. While some have moved away from the land and can now earn an income from organic vegetables by importing and selling them – often supported by their MBA – their role in society is not one now of a primary producer, but a trader, whose mantra is buy low and sell high. Interestingly, I would also contend that for organic growers to focus primarily on maximum financial gain from the crops they grow is a step towards becoming a trader. On entering into these waters it is quick the water gets deep. Before we know it we are playing to the tune of supermarkets and big business where the product offered is incidental to the end game – making more money. To maintain integrity in organic growing surely it is more important to focus on the many other benefits it offers society and those involved on the ground.

Growing vegetables organically is something that can earn us an income. To see it in these terms primarily is to join in a game whose rules are not decided by us. We are at a crossroads. We must decide for ourselves whether we wish to partake in a never ending cycle of boom and bust and subject our lives to the same; or whether we wish to retain control of one of the things central in maintenance of the heath or ourselves and the health of our planet.

To try and put a price tag on the intricate art of food growing is to not only side with those offering farmers demeaning prices for their hard labour but it also worryingly equates this knowledge with a service no more valuable than an eyelash extension. To try to bracket our food – our wellbeing – into a simple excel file is to demean our very lives. Having not placed enough value on our nourishment to-date has been central in leading to many of the chronic diseases present in our modern society. Now is the time to stand up and be different from the crowd. We must decide how important organic growing is to us and on that basis take steps to defend its integrity not based on market dictates.

-Seamus-


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Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society

In mid-September, Daniele from the Dublin CSA spoke at the Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society conference in Rome. The conference covers ideas and developments in efforts to reconnect agriculture and food supplies with urbanising societies. Daniele’s paper used the Dublin CSA group as a central example. To give an impression of what Daniele covered, here’s his abstract:

Short food supply chains and “grow-it-yourself” initiatives are constantly growing in Ireland in a context of a factory-oriented agri-food industry. Alarming food scares have brought insecurity to the current food system. This paper will describe the first urban CSA group in Ireland and explore its relationship with other alternative initiatives, like rural CSA’s and urban community gardens.

This CSA initiative is described from the community building aspect, the group strengthening techniques and the application of the “consensus method” which contribute to making this a viable model. The effectiveness of a urban CSA comes from its focus on reducing food miles and its ability to attract the right target of people who seek an alternative to an “industry-minded” food production.