Irish ‘eco-village’ Cloughjordan grows its own vegetables and herbs for all villagers

RED Gardens is also located in the eco-village, in the middle of Ireland. Initiator Bruce Darrell wondered about the best way to grow food. The question stems from his belief that it is essential for people to grow their own food in order to cope with the climate crisis. He lists the benefits: it improves health, food quality, biodiversity, mental health and it reduces food miles, waste, emissions and dependence on logistics systems.

To answer his main question, the Canadian-born created six gardens of 100 square meters, each with its own basic principle. Any garden is big enough to feed a family.

The 6 different basic principles

1) No digging – Always add compost that slowly mixes with the soil.

2) Intensive – Highest possible production, which in practice means a lot of spading.

3) Comprehensive – Emphasis on the highest nutritional value in vegetables, among other things through good space for the plants, and through testing to keep the soil quality and minerals optimal.

4) Polyculture – Integration instead of segregation. It goes a step further than strip cultivation. As many crops as possible are planted together to reduce crop diseases.

5) Simple – For those with limited time: how can you have a garden where you have to do as little work as possible?

6) Greenhouse – extend the growing season in a microclimate.

This allows Bruce Darrell to compare which method works best. He sees that every garden has advantages and disadvantages, and that you can produce good food with all methods. According to him, the question is not: which method is best, but which method is best for you? And the answer has to do with your personal circumstances, the climate and the purpose of your garden.

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Bruce Darrell explores the best way to grow food in six gardens, each with a different tenet. – Photo: Gerrit Post

The YouTube channel finances the garden

He shares his experiences and conclusions with visitors to the ecovillage and on his YouTube channel, which has 108,000 followers and largely funds his garden. A small part of his income comes through the refrigerator in the village where he offers his products. Customers can decide for themselves what they pay for his vegetables.

More than 40 crops

One of the growers growing crops in the garden is Pat Malone. He grew lettuce and spring onions commercially for twelve years. Together with farmer Torben Marl and six European volunteers, he now grows more than 40 crops for the village’s residents. They grow potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers. And on a smaller scale include pumpkin, zucchini, string beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and various herbs such as basil and parsley.

The organic farm covers 2.5 hectares and is owned by its 70 members, around 40 households. Two thirds of these come from the ecovillage and one third from the original village against which the ecovillage was built. The focus is on producing as much quality food as possible for members, improving soil quality and building an Irish seed bank. They are teaming up with Irish Seed Savers. This is an initiative to select (rare) fruit and vegetable varieties and to preserve the varieties that thrive in the Irish climate.

The vegetable seed they use at Cloughjordan also comes as much as possible from their own company. One of the farm’s most successful proprietary seeds is the Clough Onion, a proprietary cross of several onion varieties.

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More than 40 crops are grown for the residents of the village.  Harvesting takes place twice a week.  - Photo: Eoin O'Conaill/Gerrit Post
More than 40 crops are grown for the residents of the village. Harvesting takes place twice a week. – Photo: Eoin O’Conaill/Gerrit Post

Older proven agricultural methods

Organic farming goes back to age-old proven methods such as leaving the land fallow, crop rotation, use of green manure, plowing as little as possible and no use of plant protection agents and fertilizers.

A team of two farmers and six volunteers harvest twice a week and bring the profits to the ‘wagon house’ at the beginning of the village. Pat Malone used to spend a third of his time packing his vegetables. That headache is over. The harvest is now offered to members in green boxes. Everyone can take what they need.

The members themselves are responsible for ensuring that no one falls short. But this month is not necessary, it is the time of abundance. On the tables are tomatoes, cucumbers, purple and green basil, courgettes, potatoes and much more.

Weekly harvest newsletter

The originally American Tamara Macinty coordinates the distribution. She sends out the weekly harvest newsletter detailing what is available. The organic communal farm was an important reason why she settled in the eco-village. She loves to cook and sends tips for recipes and methods to, for example, preserve the abundance of tomatoes this year in bad times.

Macinty and Malone make up the farm’s steering committee, which handles the day-to-day business. In addition, the farm has a board and a coordination group.

The board exists for the economy and the legal form. The coordination group includes the education arm of the ecovillage, the online sales platform where the farm occasionally sells a surplus of the harvest, and the coordinators of the European volunteers to discuss the long term.

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The Irish eco-village Cloughjordan, in the middle of Ireland.  The organic farm is owned by its 70 members, around 40 households.  - Eoin O'Conaill/Gerrit Post
The Irish eco-village Cloughjordan, in the middle of Ireland. The organic farm is owned by its 70 members, around 40 households. – Eoin O’Conaill/Gerrit Post

Ecovillage as an initiative against the climate crisis

The farm is officially a private company that leases the land from the ecovillage. That village started in 1999 as an initiative to do something about the climate crisis itself. It takes almost ten years to buy land and build infrastructure before the first residents move into their homes. From the start, the idea has been to set aside a third of the village’s land for a farm, a third for an ‘edible forest’ and a third for housing. Each member is also entitled to their own kitchen garden and the space between the houses is landscaped as an edible forest with hundreds of Irish apple trees, currant bushes, hazelnut trees and more.

Despite farmer Pat Malone’s invitation to the members to roll up their sleeves, in practice most only come if there is a big job, such as harvesting potatoes or sowing onions. However, the members are indispensable in everything that needs to be arranged around the farm. From distribution to finances, everything is done by members. This allows Malone to fully focus on what he loves most: growing vegetables. He calls it a dream.

Volunteers

However, without the European volunteers, the farmer would not be able to do it. In the past, volunteers working for food and drink helped with this until they discovered the European Solidarity Corps. This is an EU initiative where young people can work for a year in another European country. As a result, there are six volunteers each year from March to March. Pat calls them one of the main “crops” he grows on the farm. “Every year one or two have a life-changing experience.” In addition, all volunteers leave with a wealth of experience about vegetable growing.

Maria Kaposi (30) is one of the volunteers. She has land in her native Hungary, but wants to learn how to cultivate it properly. She summarizes what she learns: how to decide what to prioritize, how to treat sick plants, how to manage a team, how to win seeds, how to use green manure? And she is excited to live with the other European volunteers in the eco-village.

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Lali Cervera, European volunteer from Catalonia, harvests tomatoes.  Every year, six volunteers from different EU countries work there.  - Photo: Eoin O'Conaill/Gerrit Post
Lali Cervera, European volunteer from Catalonia, harvests tomatoes. Every year, six volunteers from different EU countries work there. – Photo: Eoin O’Conaill/Gerrit Post

To produce good, healthy food

Unlike Malone, fellow farmer Torben Marl has a livestock farming background. His family has a large dairy goat farm. After a lot of traveling and a two-year gardening course, he ended up on the community farm. In his view, the mission is: to produce good, healthy food to have healthy happy people in the village.

Is the business financially viable? According to Torben Marl, the farm exists by the grace of the community, who want to grow their own food and pay for it, and the farmers who believe in the project. Other functions of the farm are education, the seeds being collected and reconnecting people with food production.

He is happy that he does not just drive a tractor, but works for a community. Torben Marl gets paid 25 hours a week for six months. Pat Malone is employed 15 hours a week this year. The volunteers help for 26 hours a week. Salary and investments are paid by members who pay €16 per adult per week. In return, they get the food that is produced here.

Pat Malone is happy: “It gives me quality of life. I have a stable salary, a fixed market, no financial worries, everything is eaten by customers who appreciate it, I don’t have to pack anything, and I can grow 40 crops instead of two, which I started to find boring. “

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