CSA AND CONFERENCE TOUR
An overview of our 14 day road trip from the Green Party convention in Dublin to England and Wales. Visiting 8 organic farms, the organic producers conference, giving three talks in, having a surf on the seven bore and getting a mountain of knowledge.
(please click the hyperlinks to get more information on the farms, talks, and terminology)
Green Party Convention // Dublin
From West Clare to the middle of a political convention, you would think they were opposing ways to spend the day but as soon as we walked through the doors I understood that I was in the right place, a place where the common vision was to make a positive impact, that the truth was being spoken and I’m sure Fergal left feeling we were with the right people. A massive part of the day was meeting Grace O’Sullivan. A wonderful woman who's work I have admired for years and great to finally meet her, she was more inspiring in real life and I hope to see her for many years. At the end of the day Eamon Ryan gave a speech to the other members of the green party, and hats off to him, he is in this game for the right reasons. He even included how positive the effects of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) were and how we should be encouraging young people to work the land.
Coming from a surfing background it teaches you that nature will always be in control, we are very good at going with whatever comes at us and with a free day on day 2 we opened google and found ourselves with the lovely members of Flintshare CSA in North Wales, their glorious farm works only on work shares and is a perfect example of a grower-only CSA. They gave us some advice about who to do to next, we also saw a old hydro-mill powering their house, it was already becoming an inspirational trip.
Camping in the old town of Clapham, we arrived early in the night and walked into town to have a local ale, the people we so welcoming. As we got to know the locals, we asked about the farm in the area that we had come to visit. They knew of the farm but had never been there and didn't support it. We have to remember to support our local communities, why should we go got the local pub, enjoy the local ale and then buy our food from the other side of the planet. Growing with Grace was very much a consumer led box-scheme where they grew mostly expensive leafs to fill there box-scheme members and farm shop. They grew only in tunnels and they passed on so much advice about growing under glass and how to keep a business afloat, and ensured to recommend we visited Canelside CSA.
We arrived here the night before we had arranged a visit and the moment we drove down the drive we felt that this was huge, this place is what we had all seen in our dreams and how already they were doing so many things we believed in. They had a forest school class going on in the woods, there were a few people potting around growing, six tunnels full of winter salads and eight acres of outside crop. We were blown away before talking to anyone. There was a community shed and a childrens play area. The next day we met Will, the lead grower and Ben, who works for a share of food (they have this option open to six of their members). They filled us in on all of the logistics of their successful CSA. They have a core of eight decisions makes, 150 CSA members and a work share where if you work 3h you get a £10 box of veg. The two growers are paid a very reasonable wage and some part time staff are employed. They use 100% of their own produce. Things just kept getting better and they were in the process of looking to buy the land they were farming on. Ben was wonderful with us and passed on any questions that we had. Farms work in so many different ways and we were so inspired by how this community successfully supported its agriculture.
Prof. Martin Woolfe is one of the worlds leading researchers on ally cropping, and as we live on such a windy hill and are going to grow there for the next forever years, Martin was one of the main reasons we came on this journey to the UK. You can read all about ally cropping here . Martin was a man full of life and passion and I really feel honoured to have had some time with him on his farm in the middle of nowhere. It was great to hear his advice and reassurance that we are doing the right things, and to be able to meet with the researchers. We believe in them that they are doing all of this the for the good of the planet. On a leaving note Martin said to us “12,000 years ago when we started agriculture there were four million people and 6000000000000 trees, that’s 1.5 million trees per person. Now that number is 400 trees per person and falling.” Martin was a positive man and full of energy and wasn't meaning to bring the vibes down but it made us realise that planting trees has the upmost importance. Another note, he kept telling us to remember biodiversity, always remember biodiversity.
With both myself and Fergal being Finisterre Ambassadors, we took this opportunity for Fergal to give a talk to some of London’s surfing community about why he is running for the Green Party, about surfing giant waves on the West Coast of Ireland and about how we can all be part of the solution. It was a great evening filled with so much positive every and we left London feeling better about the big city and with a bag of London Organic Honey from a kind man called Steve Banks.
Day 7 AM
Iain and his wife are considered some of the best Organic Growers in Europe and it was also on the top of our list for coming to the UK. Iain wrote a book called Growing Green that is about organics but also about stock free farming where no animal products are used. He is leading in green manuring and organic compost. The tour with Tolly took us from the packing shed, all around his farm, from the beginning of his project to now, and every hill and mound in-between. It was invaluable to our tour and we will have shaved years of hard work and failure by listening to his wisdom and advice. It was also great to see ally cropping being used by him and that he also has had first hand experience in it being successful and producing higher yields. Tolhurst left us with a great one liner, “At the end of the day we are ‘Happy Dirt Farmers.’”
Day 7 PM
St Agnes // Cornwall
We are people that often cannot say no so we decided to do another talk to the surfing community in the quaint fishing village of St. Agnes in West Cornwall. The 400 year old pub was full of environmentally friendly people, Fergal spoke from the heart without holding back and had the full support of the crowd. It was and is a total inspiration to see so many young people that crave a chance for their voices to be heard.
St.Ives // Cornwall
A day off eating Cornish pasties and surfing at Porthmeor.
This farm we didn't know too much about but we were very interested in going as they also have co-housing aspect and a successful farmer named Sean (the modern salad grower) who kindly inspired us for a lifetime of growing and gave some valuable advice. I took so much away from Keverel farm and I think some of it I will not understand for years to come. Sean, like most of the other growers, told us that this had to work and financially sustain itself for you to become a successful farm and we are starting to realise the importance of that. For me the lessons Sean taught us were the ones about giving together in a community, about not holding onto control and about letting everybody be creative in their own way, to try and support their decisions wholeheartedly.
As we drove through the Devonshire hills looking for a farm that every other CSA in the county advised us to go to, we got lost, but when we found Ed the search was worth it. He had just over an hour for us as he was meeting his new working horses, I don’t think I have ever absorbed so much information in 60 minutes before. Ed talked us through the farm he set up and was the leading grower of, he talked us through ever corner and stone, a true inspiration, a young farmer with a passion for the environment and working with animals. A few key points that inspired us were that they offer a CSA share for low-income families at 60% of the standard rate and that this is decided at the AGM where all of the members support the decisions of the core group.
Surfingand Stroud CSA // River Severn Bore
As we were driving the van up to Stroud CSA, Mitch saw the moon was full and told us the Seven Bore River Wave would be able to be surfed the next day at 8am, and of course nature decided to give us an opportunity to go surfing. Kindly Phil Williams from Christian Surfers UK and Pete, veteran bore surfers came along for the ride that turned out to be one of the best waves we have ever ridden. Four times a month on the biggest tides the flooding of the river creates a wave that travels miles up the Seven that is surfed by often land-locked surfers. Later that day we jumped back in the van and drove to Stroud. This is one of the longest running CSA in the UK, they have been established for about 15 years and are now working on 48 acres where they supply their members with milk, meat and dairy along with a veg share. Another inspirational place full of community spirit, to meet them and be told how they worked the system was worth the trip from West Clare alone. The structuring was something else with some serious admin work but it works so successfully that they now they have 220 members all taking almost 100% of their household food home per week.
Days 12 and 13
Organic Producers Convention and Spoke and stringer Surf Shop // Bristol
The timing of our trip was centered around this convention where producers, consumers and researchers of Organic produce meet to thrash out how to make the system operate better. Over 200 people were there for the full two days of meetings, talks and discussions. You can read more about the outcome here. A personal note, don’t underestimate how important looking after our soil is, never mind about packaging or selling, never mind changing peoples mindsets; our focus should be on the soil. On the first evening of the convention we decided to again use our place in the surfing community to get a room full of people and Fergal gave his best talk yet, so inspiring to see him leading so well.
St. David’s CSA // West Wales
After a big loop around the UK we had one farm to stop and see on the way home, and as it turns out maybe the most relevant farm we visited. They too are on the coast on a windy hill and live in a rural area, they too have the dreams of community and support we have, and they too are thinking about the community and the environment before making it work for money. Gerald is considered the grandfather of the UK CSA movement and as he walks out of his humble home you can see why, he is the grandfather you want to lead you in to these changing times, in his words comes an honest desire to reunite a community with the agriculture that surrounds them. He and so many of the other wonderful people we met on our journey around research centres, CSA farms and community projects, are the beating heart of their communities and if you have the chance, pop in.