Postcards from the Edge: Aisling Wheeler – ‘We must re-learn the skills to grow our own food’

Postcards from the Edge: Aisling Wheeler – ‘We must re-learn the skills to grow our own food’

Postcards from the Edge: ‘We must re-learn the skills to grow our own food’

In our continuing ‘Postcards from the Edge’ series, Aisling Wheeler, a small food producer in Kilfenora, hopes that a silver lining to the coronavirus cloud will be a realisation that Ireland has a food security problem, and hopes the new enthusiasm for gardening will translate into more community farms, fewer imports, more biodiverse agriculture and more people skilled in how to produce food.

I started learning how to grow my own food 16 years ago, mainly because I was concerned about climate change and food security. I was aware of how, as a society, we were losing our basic food production skills and I wanted to be one of the people passing on those skills. In 2011 my partner and I bought a small-holding near Kilfenora with the intention of meeting some of our own food needs and starting some kind of food business.

We have planted hundreds of trees, including apple, cherry, plum and nut trees. We keep poultry for meat and eggs and grow many of our own vegetables. Everything is done by hand, with no machinery, fossil fuels or synthetic fertiliser, and no herbicides or pesticides. Recently I have started experimenting with grain-growing.

In 2015 I started ‘Clare Farm to Fork’ to sell our surplus fruit, vegetables, eggs and plants at markets, through farm-gate sales and online. Small-scale production is uncompetitive and ill-suited to the food retail system, so our focus has been on high nutrition and environmental standards, with the intention of being ready to scale up if food imports were disrupted.

The reasons I had in mind were more climate related – droughts in Spain or flooding in China could lead to higher prices and less availability worldwide. I hadn’t anticipated a global pandemic, but the same principle applies – when things go wrong, the best kind of food supply chain is a short one.

The vital skills we have lost
It’s not so long since food production in Clare was almost entirely local. A typical Clare person born before 1960 could kill and pluck a chicken; grow, harvest and store vegetables, milk a cow and make butter; and grind grain to make bread. A smaller, but significant number could kill and butcher a medium-sized animal such as a pig or goat and, crucially, select and save seed for next year’s crop. If they couldn’t do these things themselves, everyone certainly knew dozens of people who could. These days, most people wouldn’t know where to start.

Irish agriculture is, of course, still an important part of our economy and way of life. However, it is so specialised now, that most farmers produce only meat or milk, and mixed farming is a thing of the past. Between 1916 and 2010, the area used to produce potatoes and oats in Ireland dropped by 90%. The skills and knowledge required to produce those crops, and many others, were built up over many generations, and lost in just two.

I really hope this pandemic makes more people realise we need mixed farming to be the farming of the future too. Roughly 80% of the meat and milk produced on Irish farms is exported, and pretty much everything else we eat is imported. Whereas 50 years ago Irish wheat was milled and baked to make our bread, today our wheat and barley is used almost exclusively for animal feed, and all our flour is imported. It is rare to see Irish fruit and vegetables for sale. We spend €100 million on apples each year, 95 per cent of which are imported.

Since the pandemic took hold in February I have been inundated with calls, emails and texts from friends asking for advice on growing vegetables or keeping chickens at home. I have posted seeds out to about 60 people around the country who weren’t able to buy seeds online, as seed suppliers were inundated with orders. It has brought home to me how fragile our food supply system is and how deskilled we have become.

My good friend Eanna Byrt has just set up a new company, Clare Local Delivery, a sort of online farmers’ market – local produce is delivered to your door every Friday. We’re selling our eggs, vegetables and plants this way, and it’s a lot more convenient than doing a market, as we only need to harvest what is ordered, resulting in less waste. They are delivering in North Clare, with the intention of expanding it countywide.

The scramble for seeds 
Disconnected from our food supply, disempowered by lack of practical skills, disenfranchised by lack of access to affordable land and housing, we are more and more dependent on a handful of corporations for our basic sustenance. Covid-19 has thrown this into sharp relief, hence the scramble for seeds.

Ability to generate profits – not necessarily profits for farmers – is the only criterion successive governments have applied to our agricultural system. But what about food security, local employment and basic skills?

I’m hoping the silver lining to the coronavirus cloud will be the realisation that we have a national food security problem, and that the current enthusiasm for gardening will translate into more community farms, less imported food, more biodiverse agricultural systems and more people skilled in the basics of food production.

Government policy must focus on food security and soil fertility. This will also benefit human health and biodiversity. This year it’s a global pandemic, but undoubtedly the future will bring climate-related disasters that will affect our food supply. Let’s hope we’re ready.

Aisling Wheeler has a small-holding near Kilfenora and is an environmental campaigner. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of all of Clare PPN.

We’d like to hear from you! Back to normal or time for radical change? We’re asking people for their views (in less than 350 words) on how to move forward together in Clare in the wake of Covid-19. You can win a €50 restaurant/take-away voucher. Details of how to submit here: http://clareppn.ie/what-do-we-want/

Want to help run Clare PPN? 4 Vacancies on our Secretariat

March 27th 2019 Notice of elections for four roles on Clare PPN Secretariat

Nominations are open for four positions on the Secretariat. The secretariat is a group of people elected from community and voluntary groups in Clare who manage the Public Participation Network between plenary meetings of its members. Four of our current secretariat members are due to step down and so we are opening nominations for their replacements. They have been brilliant and have brought Clare PPN from an idea to a network with 280 member groups, 2 staff and its own premises.  We are looking for nominees to carry on their work of building Clare PPN into a thriving network which is inclusive and has the capacity to engage with all local government and national decision making bodies that affect the wellbeing of people’s lives in County Clare.

Only groups who were members of Clare PPN on March 27th 2019 are eligible to vote in these elections.

The secretariat must keep to the following composition:

One representative for each municipal district in the County – there are currently four municipal districts in the County – West Clare, Ennis, Killaloe & Shannon.  2 X representatives from each ‘college’ of the Clare PPN – there are three colleges in the PPN – Environmental, Social Inclusion and Community & Voluntary. Each of are member groups is a member of one of these colleges.

What are the vacancies we have at present: 

Election 1:
2 Community and Voluntary Secretariat seats are open for the Community and Voluntary College member groups from every area of Clare to nominate and elect-. If your group is a member of the Community and Voluntary College you can nominate and vote for both of these positions.  Nominees must be members of a community and voluntary group that is a member of Clare PPN and must be nominated by a Community and Voluntary group that is a member of Clare PPN.  People can nominate themselves so long as that decision is agreed by their group.  Every C&V member of Clare PPN can nominate one candidate for each of these two positions which means that this time C&V groups can make two nominations.

Election 2:
1 Environmental Secretariat seat is open only for member groups of the Environmental College to nominate and elect. Nominees for this position must be members of an Environmental member group of Clare PPN and must be nominated by an Environmental member group of Clare PPN. Each environmental member group of Clare PPN can nominate one person for this role.

Election 3:
1 Municipal District Seat is open to all member groups from the Shannon Municipal District to elect whatever college they are in.  Nominees for this position must be a member of a Clare PPN member group from any college that has an address in the Shannon Municipal District. They must be nominated by a member group of Clare PPN with an address in the Shannon MD. Every member group of Clare PPN with an address in the Shannon MD can nominate and vote in this election.

Nominations will open March 27th and close on April 8th

How to nominate a candidate:

Groups wishing to nominate a candidate must seek their consent first and then must send us an email to admin@clareppn.ie with the following information on or before Monday April 8th at 5.00 pm:

-Name of Community Group.
-Position number for which they are nominating a candidate.
-Name of proposed nominee(s).
-Contact details of proposed nominee- phone and email.
-A short paragraph (up to 200 words) detailing the nominees’ suitability and experience for the role- this will be shared on social media and on our website in advance of voting.
-A photo of your nominee which we may share with our members and social media followers.
-Clare PPN will confirm receipt of nominations by email.

Elections will then be held by survey with voting open until April 17th. These surveys will be circulated to all eligible groups via our mailing list. 

*Please note that irrespective of how many groups a person is a member of, no individual may vote more than once for any single position. No individual can hold more than one secretariat position.

What is involved?
A minimum of six meetings per year held usually in Ennis
Email or phone contact for decisions in between meetings
Willingness to be a director of Clare PPN (company)
Attendance at other PPN events depending on availability and interests.
Willingness to work in a ‘flat structure’ with decisions taken by consensus or by vote
Possibility of being part of financial subgroup or staff liaison sub group

What are the benefits?
Opportunity to be a part of a growing positive movement in Clare.
Opportunity to help grow participation and civic engagement in Clare.
Opportunity to help provide valuable support to the community and voluntary sector.
Out of pocket expenses paid.
Training opportunities.

Diversity: Clare PPN is committed to working to represent all communities in Clare and as such we would especially welcome nominations to our secretariat from communities who feel under represented. We particularly welcome nominations of young and older people for any of the above roles (the majority of our representatives are between 35 and 65), members of the Travelling Community, those who might themselves experience social inclusion, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, and ethnic minority groups. All nominees who step forward will be subject to election by the relevant PPN member groups.

Clare PPN Submissions to the Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy

Clare PPN Submissions to the Draft Regional Spatial Economic Strategy, March 8th 2019

Clare PPN made one general submission to the Draft Regional Economic and Spatial Strategy and one which was drafted by our member Clare Women’s Network which dealt specifically with the position of women in relation to the Draft Strategy.

You can read both submissions here:

RSES Submission from Clare PPN March 2019

Clare PPN Clare Women’s Network Submission for Draft RSES

We wish to thank all of those who provided input to our submissions. We’ll keep an eye out for any updates and keep you posted on them.

 

 

 

Clare PPN report from the Briefing on the Urban and Rural Regeneration Funds Wed, 5th September 2018

Report on briefing session on the Urban and Rural Regeneration Funds September 2018

Clare PPN Staff member Sarah Ferrigan attended a workshop last Wednesday 5th September aimed at organisations who intend to apply for funding under either the Urban or Rural Regeneration Funds.  Read her report below and see also the attached PDFS which were provided at the session.

Background: The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (DHPLG) together with Department of Rural and Community Development (DRCD) held a joint regional briefing in respect of both the Urban and Rural Regeneration Funds that were launched in July as part of Project Ireland 2040.  The briefing was intended to assist and inform bodies that may be considering making a bid for funding to either or both Funds, particularly now as bids are being formulated and questions arise.

Provision is made in the National Development Plan (NDP) for €2bn to 2027 for the urban fund and €1bn to 2027 for the rural fund, to support implementation of the National Planning Framework (NPF).

PDFs from the briefing:

Project Ireland 2040 and the URDF

Urban Regeneration & Development Funds 2018

Sarah’s report:

Report on Southern Regional Assembly Meeting, 5 September, Silver Springs Cork.

4 billion over 10 years for transformational projects

  • Urban Regional Development Fund (URDF) – 2 billion
  • Rural Regional Development Fund (RRDF) – 1 billion
  • Climate action fund – €500k
  • Disruptive Technologies fund – €500k

Category 1 – No minimum bid, shovel ready for 2019, consents & planning in place. Collaboration with bodies/organisations used to government funding as reporting and auditing requirement onerous.

Category 2 – €500,000 minimum bid, pipeline projects or project development with clear potential possibly leading to Category 1 bid in following year.

Urban Regional Development Fund (URDF)

  • Urban centres with population greater than 10,000
  • Towns with population between 2,500 and 10,000
  • administered by Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government
  • 2 billion to 2027
  • Supports National Planning Framework (NPF) and National Development Plan (NDP)
  • Ideally local authority led but with partners (community/private sectors)
  • Planning must be in place or in progress by the end of January 2019
  • Category 1 and 2 can be clustered to get to 10m.
  • 75% funding with matched of 25%

Rural Regional Development Fund (RRDF)

  • Rural town with population less than 2,500
  • Towns with population between 2,500 and 10,000
  • Administered by Department of Community & Rural Development
  • 1 billion to 2027 (initial €315 million 2019-2022)
  • Supports National Planning Framework (NPF)
  • Encourages collaboration ( with regard to capacity of partners)
  • Has a social and economic impact
  • Planning permission must be in place at time of contract
  • Towns can cluster projects into one application
  • Avoid duplication but can develop an existing project only if it could not have been done in another way
  • Land valuation can be used as matched funding
  • Up to 80% funding with at least 20% matched

*NOTE: A decision has yet to be made as to whether LEADER funding can be used as matched funding

Timeline:

Closing dates:

  • RRDF 27th September
  • URDF 28th September

Followed by approvals in November and project commencement in January 2019.  Next call in mid – 2019

Q&A

High degree of competition locally? Organisations should work together to make a submission for their town and utilise each other’s expertise

Are closing dates flexible? This is a multi-year programme.   If you miss this round get ready for the next one.  They do not want to reallocate money from a project whose application was rushed and therefore unsustainable

Organisations often have no control over delays in planning/CPO’s/legal matters.  What happens if it drags on? As above it is a multi-year programme however if progress is being made by January 2019 it will be assessed.

Can applications be made for area based programmes within a city? Yes as long as it is a project that would not have occurred otherwise and must be concentrated in an area of the city that needs it the most.

What about housing? Can some projects be mixed use to include social housing? The fund is not for housing but to provide the infrastructure and amenities to be ready for new housing.

Can it be used to join up greenways? The greenway fund is separate and geographical areas need to come together to decide the viability of joining up greenways.

If an organisation has unspent money from funds awarded in 2017 can it be utilised as matched funding? It depends on who awarded the funding, what its purpose was and if you have permission.

Can land acquisition be part of expenditure? Yes

RRDF guidelines say that the project should be replicable? Great if easily replicable but not the be all and end all

Are funds already spent on a project allowed as expenditure in application? No, sunk cost are not allowed in application.

Join us for Rural Rejigs in Corofin Community Hall Saturday 9th December

Clare Public Participation Network and Clare Local Development Company invite you to Rural Rejigs- a day of ideas and discussions on how our communities can thrive. 

Clare PPN Rural Rejig

When: Saturday December 9th 2017

Where: Corofin Community Hall

What time: 09.30 – 5.00 pm

Tickets are free and you can register at this link: 

https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/rural-rejigs-tickets-39708599490?aff=efbeventtix

Please note that children are most welcome and there will be childcare and activities for children during the day but please book a child ticket at the link above for each child. This venue is wheelchair accessible.

Clare Public Participation Network and Clare Local Development Company are holding a community think- in this Saturday December 9th in Corofin Community Hall.  The day which is free of charge and open to the public will provide an opportunity for people from all over Clare to discuss and learn from each other’s efforts in building vibrant thriving communities. There will also be invited guest speakers from organisations such as award winning start up social enterprise FoodCloud, Social Farming Ireland, Loop Head Tourism, Wild Kitchen, Feasta, Clare County Council, the Leader Programme in Clare and others.

The day’s events will be chaired by Clare based journalist and author Michael McCaughan, who during his time as the Latin American Correspondent for the Irish Times and Guardian Newspapers reported extensively on communities’ efforts to organise themselves in places such as Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico. There will also be music from internationally renowned Palestinian percussionist Raed Said who will discuss the role of art and culture in communities under pressure.

Speaking on the plans for the day Clare PPN Coordinator Sarah Clancy said;

‘Very often people involved in community development don’t get a chance to get together to think or plan, we have to keep reacting, keep chasing funding and deadlines and trying to provide services on a shoestring.  Even though community groups and activists are vital to the survival of all that is good about rural Ireland they are under a lot of pressure now and Clare PPN wants this day to be a break from that- a day at the end of the year to regroup, to think, and to imagine what is possible for us to achieve working together in County Clare.

Clare PPN and Clare Local Development Company invite everyone with an interest in building sustainable thriving and inclusive communities to come and join us in Corofin on Saturday. The only request we have is that attendees come with open minds and a willingness to share their experiences and to listen to others.

Lovely vegetarian lunch will be provided by Moonbear Catering and childcare and activities will be available.

Guest speakers joining us include: 

  • Micheal McCaughan, Journalist and author
  • Stephanie Jaeger of Social Farming Ireland
  • Dr Mark Garavan, Applied Social Care Lecturer GMIT
  • Oonagh O’Dwyer – Wild Kitchen
  • Eoin MacCuirc Founding Director of award winning social enterprise FoodCloud
  • Cillian Murphy, Loop Head Tourism
  • Raed Said- Master Percussionist from Palestine
  • Leonard Cleary- Acting Director of Rural Development Clare County Council
  • Gloria Callinan, Clare Local Development Company

Programme for the day: