Meet Noel, the coordinator of the OGI’s Future Grower horticulture internship. Noel is a part time farmer himself, managing free range pigs, chicken and growing vegetables on a half acre plot in Monaghan. The Organic Gowers Ireland (OGI), Future Grower internship is one of a kind! Interns gain invaluable insights to the sector, direct farm experience and can build lasting relationships with growers ‘new & old’. This year we’ll be introducing you to some of the future growers (see last weeks post here) who will be sharing their growers journey with us all.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’m 38 years old, from Co. Monaghan but currently living in Dublin while part time farming with a friend in Monaghan. We keep some free range pigs, hens and broilers and have a small 0.5 ac veg garden. We are experimenting with different fodder crops this years for winter feed.
What led you to where you are today as an OGI co-ordinator?
I had worked in the landscaping and horticulture sector for approx 12 years both at home and abroad and when I returned home permanently started working on an organic farm in Monaghan. I then attended the MSc course in Organic Horticulture in UCC where I learned a lot and met some great folk. One of those was Paula Pender, who teaches some modules on the internship program. She mentioned that the role of coordinator was available so I applied and here we are.
How did the internship come about?
Towards the end of 2013 OGI heard that there may be some funding available as the DAFM were not going to run with their Organic September promotion which they had been running for a number of years. It was decided to look for funding to run a series of workshops that we had planned and then we decided to put in a speculative proposal for an Internship. Fast forward to March 2014 and we got the go ahead and decided to go for it. A few of the committee worked on setting up how the program would work and Jason Horner was appointed coordinator. By the end of April we had five interns starting on five farms and it went from there.
What challenges have the OGI faced in creating, operating the internship?
The challenges were many in that first year but we managed to make it work and improve the program in subsequent years. One of the main challenges is getting a good caliber of applicants especially in the first instance when we had no track record. Now I think interest is building through word of mouth and this year some new farms came on board as well.
How successful has it been to date? Any success stories of previous interns?
It has been very successful better than we could have hoped back in 2013. We have had great uptake of interns going into the sector either as workers on existing farms, volunteers or starting their own enterprise. Of the interns I am currently in touch with there are 7 who have started or are starting their own enterprise. 10 are working on other farms. 2 have gone traveling but will more than likely take up work in the sector when they return. One is working in Organic retail in the UK and there are a couple of them who are trying to save enough to start their own business. Out of 24 interns in 4 years I think this is a great return for the program.
At foodture we refer only to us all as food citizens; What does it mean for you to be a food citizen instead of being a consumer?
I must say I like the term! It does give you a sense of both the moral and economic importance of your choices. Whilst I am in no way perfect and still visit the supermarket regularly I find that the decision as to where I buy my fresh veg and occasional meat/fish allows me to feel proud to help local conscientious farmers while also getting the freshest, healthiest and high welfare produce. Whilst my aim as a part time farmer at present is to feed my family all surplus’s are sold to friends and local families and it gives me great joy in getting such positive feedback about the quality.
When it comes to food how do you choose what to buy?
If its meat/fish it is always is it Irish, free range and then which part of Ireland. I tend to get mine from a local butcher in Monaghan. Vegetables used to be always from an organic farm I worked on but since I gave that up to take on the coordinator role I’m trying to grow most myself and when I cant do that I use a local greengrocers in Monaghan or sometimes from the supermarket where I will always look for Irish grown. Fruit from the greengrocers is Irish when in season but imported after that. I will always look for Irish produce and try to eat according with the seasons but the larder will also be stocked with some pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes and pulses etc which are all imported.
Can you recommend any book /movie/podcast that inspired you on your journey?
I was very inspired by the permaculture design process so anything by David Holmgren or Bill Mollison is great. “Teaming with Microbes” is a fantastic book on the soil science that is very accessible and funny in places without being over scientific. ‘The Farmer to Farmer Podcast’ is from the US but I find it very informative and inspirational in terms of what different approaches and markets are out there.
Is there any advice you could give to others who are starting their journey as a food citizen, grower, farmer, intern?
Start now! Visit a local farm, farmers market, GIY event. Anything! Get talking with people and you will open up new relationships to get the tastiest food and support the local economy. Also start to grow. Anywhere you can. Big or small. Plants some seeds in a window box and watch the magic happen! A simple salad sandwich with your own freshly harvested greens is a true triumph!
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