Posted on Leave a comment

The cost of innovation in agriculture | No. 4

Hard to believe it is already November. The days have become similar to nearly six months ago when we arrived in France and within two weeks began our first lockdown. Ireland is now amidst its second lockdown and we have found ourselves in the same position again: Arrive, begin looking for a new place to call home, get locked down (large sigh).

A stop sign that is the only thing stopping cars from plunging into the Atlantic at the end of the Mizen Peninsula in west Cork, Ireland. A suitable feeling metaphor for modern times.
A stop sign that is the only thing stopping cars from plunging into the Atlantic at the end of the Mizen Peninsula in west Cork, Ireland. A suitable feeling metaphor for modern times.

The picnic bench outside our sliding door holds water on the bowed, overly stained planks that make its top. You can watch the rain fall. Tiny balls of tense water spread across the surface from the epicenter of the drop, slowing and then disappearing suddenly. This morning I woke around 7:30 and came downstairs for coffee. I sat and read another chapter from Eating Scenery: West Cork, The People & The Place by Alannah Hopkin. It is serving as a bit of an outlet for my angst that is building from not being allowed to freely explore this new place.

The second chapter of Hopkin’s book is titled ‘Farmers and Food Producers’ and dives into detail about the recent history of food production in this part of rural Ireland, from hundreds of years ago to the post-EU modern agriculture. One thing that becomes clear from fingering through the chapter, as well as standing atop mountainous peninsulas looking down on the rural landscapes of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, is what John McKenna points out in his opening address to the 2007 A Taste of West Cork Food Festival, that the ‘culture’ has been stripped from ‘agriculture.’

“I was watching a combine harvester yesterday,” Hopkin quotes Frank O’Keeffe, a local-born veterinary surgeon, “working out in a 45-acre field—a brand-new combine, cutting a swathe about 25 feet wide, one man sitting up on it, and another man driving alongside him with a trailer, and the grain was pumped from an arm on the harvester into the trailer. They never stopped to talk, they just kept going.

Then a guy came in with a baler and baled all the straw. Three silent men were doing the work that used to be done by a whole crowd of people, in a wonderful festive atmosphere.” My emphasis.

Organic layers (chickens) looking for food at Ancient Organics Farm in Rosscarbery, Co. Cork, Ireland.
Organic layers (chickens) looking for food at Ancient Organics Farm in Rosscarbery, Co. Cork, Ireland.

It would be rude and presumptive of me to move to a place and within less than two months write a newsletter stating that the agriculture of a whole place is dying a sad death by industrialization. It would also ignore the local people like Adam Afoullouss of Ancient Organics Farm who are trying to save local agriculture by incorporating permaculture principles into market gardening, in order to create a sustainable future for agriculture. But my comments are more general than west Cork, not only of this place. Having spent a lot of time in eastern Washington, USA, an agricultural heavyweight, and some time driving across rural France where the dead, golden monocrop fields stretch farther than the eye can see, I have seen enough to say that we’ve come in a very lonely, one-unhealthy-farmer-in-an-air-conditioned-tractor direction when compared to the stories I’ve heard and tales I’ve read of agricultural times past.

The Ancient Organics Farm stand selling local, organic, and sustainably grown produce at Skibbereen Farmers Market.
The Ancient Organics Farm stand selling local, organic, and sustainably grown produce at Skibbereen Farmers Market.

The irony that I am writing about the pitfalls of ‘modernization,’ or rather automation, of agriculture while also sipping coffee made from beans likely grown industrially in South or Central America, is not lost on me. I do not believe that we should have no global trade of produce. However, I do believe that we should stop buying in things that we can, and do, make and grow locally. It is ridiculous to go to a supermarket in rural Ireland and find cucumbers grown in Denmark. This is an island nation. Those cucumbers had to be either flown or ferried in, for no reason other than that people expect to see a cucumber on the supermarket shelf all-year round. Somebody at some time in the past thought they could, or did, make a profit from bringing in food that was out of season, and as a result we have completely lost any sort of knowledge of the seasonality of the food we eat. Cucumbers do not grown all-year round! Not unless you live near the equator where the Cucurbitaceae family originates.

But seasonality is only one of the many parts of food culture we have lost. Take the coffee I am drinking as an example, because it came from so far away I can only be somewhat certain of its origin and its claims of being sustainably grown. Because I cannot hop on a plane and fly to Guatemala or the Sidama region of Ethiopia to verify these claims, I have to trust the importer, who trusted the cooperative, who trusted the farmer. That’s four steps removed from the person who grew the beans, and that’s only because I chose to buy “good” coffee that had claims of being ethically grown and sourced directly from the farmers. Had I not chosen to buy, or more notably, not been able to afford, coffee sourced this way (let’s be real, only a tiny fraction of it is) then there would probably have been five more steps in that supply chain separating me from the farmer who grew it.

Barren, deforested hills near Healey Pass on the Beara Peninsula. You can see in the darker square patch where farmers of the past would have grown food or grazed livestock in a (somewhat) more sustainable way. But also the soil erosion from the deforestation of hilltops over thousands of years.
Barren, deforested hills near Healey Pass on the Beara Peninsula. You can see in the darker square patch where farmers of the past would have grown food or grazed livestock in a (somewhat) more sustainable way.

That is not normal, at least not on today’s scale. It has only become normal with the unhinged consumption of fossil fuels and the unchecked capitalism that has led to structures like the World Trade Organization (WTO), which keep strong the modern capitalistic belief of ‘free-trade’—that all people have the right to buy something for the cheapest amount from the country that best exploits their people’s labor and their soil’s health. It’s a difficult and complex problem, one that I’m sure I don’t fully grasp, but one thing that is plain and simple to see is the decrease in nutrient density, increase in obesity, and destruction of rural farming communities that has resulted from these policies.

Galley Head Lighthouse from Red Strand Beach. One of the many beacons of Ireland's past (and present) which make you feel an equal beacon of hope for the future.
Galley Head Lighthouse from Red Strand Beach. One of the many beacons of Ireland’s past (and present) which make you feel an equal beacon of hope for the future.

Alas, the world changes at a snails pace, and it will likely be an entire generation or more before we see real change in the agricultural industry. Though, there is some hope that it could change a lot faster. Since global food production makes up a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, world leaders are putting huge emphasis on changing what we eat and how we grow it. But I firmly believe that we shouldn’t wait around for someone to solve our problems for us. Instead, we should do the little things we can afford to do every day that lead toward a better future for our communities, for the planet, and for our health. Little things like shopping at your local farmers market and buying organic when you can afford it—though organic alone is not the answer, it is “intensive” farming we must address with solutions like regenerative organic practices.

You’ve made it through the existentialism, now for some spoons and life updates.

Something I made recently

The past month has been full of emotions. I have a lot of deeply ingrained stress relating to making money, and since quitting my high paying job in advertising, I have been thinking and feeling all manner of things about my self worth. Carving has been something of a creative outlet, but also one of the few activities that allows me to turn my brain off and focus on the tactility of what is in front of me. A small, non-comprehensive list of other activities:

  • Paragliding
  • Cycling
  • Coffee-drinking
  • Reading
  • Standing motionless in a hot shower
  • Staring at mountains
Walking among giant cliffs and seascapes at Three Castle Head, Ireland.
Walking among giant cliffs and seascapes at Three Castle Head, Ireland.

Those emotions have at times gotten the better of me over the past year. Going from a job that society romanticizes on television and one that would likely appear on most listicles of “10 High Paying Jobs That Don’t Require A University Degree,” to no job, and subsequently starting a small woodcarving business, is not an easy psychological transition. But I am fortunate enough to have a partner that supports me (emotionally and financially) in all areas I decide to explore, and two sets of family that have, and would continue to, undoubtedly support us if anything went drastically awry.

For now, I keep carving and we keep moving toward a possible mortgage on a small farm in west Cork, Ireland, and our future, quiet home.

A possible future with a name that appropriately translates from Irish to English as, "The Roost."
A possible future with a name that appropriately translates from Irish to English as, “The Roost.”

On top of carving, I have been making an ongoing list of ethical online and physical shops where I would like to see my work sold in the coming months. Two of those stores have already accepted my work and can be found on our stockists page. I’ve also applied for a part-time job working with a tree surgery company based out of Glengarriff, and have my first day of work coming soon. I’ll be able to use some of the wood that we cut to produce new work, while also keeping the local community free of possibly hazardous falling trees and branches. To be honest though, I’m most excited about the prospect of just climbing really tall trees.

My carving has been a bit sporadic, which is why I’m not listing any specific items in this month’s newsletter, but here is at least a photo of some upcoming items. They should be available in the shop within a few days. They just need to be branded, sanded, oiled, and photographed. Then you can take them home.

A pile of recently carved large cooking spoons and spatulas, waiting for branding, sanding, and finishing.
A pile of recently carved large cooking spoons and spatulas, waiting for branding, sanding, and finishing.

Small, sustainable business of the week

I spoke previously about Adam from Ancient Organics Farm. I met him and his co-worker, Kisora (pronounced key-shore) at the Skibbereen Farmer’s Market and we instantly began an in-depth discussion about the adopting of permaculture practices into market gardening. Adam is an expert on permaculture and market gardening, having been trained, and spent much time working with, Geoff Lawton, he now runs Ancient Organics Farm based in Rosscarbery, Ireland.

He and his team currently operate a 7-acre farm but have hopes of managing an even larger farm in the future. I won’t be surprised if Ancient Organics becomes a well-known name in Ireland in the coming future, and especially in the world of regenerative agriculture. Adam has an incredible amount of passion for feeding his local community with nutrient-dense, high-quality organic fruit, vegetables, and organic eggs.

A close up of one of the healthy layers (chickens) at Ancient Organics Farm.
A close up of one of the healthy layers (chickens) at Ancient Organics Farm.

If you live in Cork, you must head to their website and get on their email list so that you can place a weekly order with them. They do veg boxes and a few farmer’s markets, and they also have plans to upgrade their website in the near future to allow for online orders (I should know, I’m building it for them)!

Some good news/journalism (because there never seems to be any)

I won’t elaborate too much, but the two best pieces of news I’ve had in four years came only a few days ago. Firstly, that the United States of America has elected the first woman (and the first woman of color) to become Vice President of the United States. Only a few-hundred years too late! Secondly, regardless of your political beliefs, I think most of us can be very happy that we will no longer have a racist, sexist, xenophobic, borderline (or not) narcissistic psychopath in one of the most powerful positions on the planet.

I celebrate contrasting beliefs, however I do not accept beliefs that result in the deaths of black people in the hands of police at much higher rates than any other group of people, nor do I accept beliefs that threaten (and are currently causing) the destruction of global ecosystems and the displacement of millions of people. I’m ready for change.

My little piece of encouragement for last minute voters.
My little piece of encouragement for last minute voters.

Thank you for reading

I’ll include more work in next month’s newsletter, maybe even some bowls if I have success in this new tree surgery career! If you would like to support our small, sustainable business, you can buy one of our unique, handmade products or sign up for our monthly newsletter!

I hope you enjoy hearing from us, and don’t forget to talk to your friends about how to live a more sustainable and local life.

—Nick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *