Memories of that previous life are still vivid in my head as if it was yesterday, although not in cinematographic ochre and amber but all shades of green. Ireland is high on the list of many tourists who wish to visit it for its scenery, folklore, and the “Million Welcomes” of its people. It is also the country many Americans trace their roots back to and longingly dream of. Farming is a life style and never ending work. Farming can be somebody’s dream –as it was for my ex− and the nightmare of others.
Interested in farming, producing your own produce and foods, and an alternative lifestyle? This column of an ex- farmer’s wife (or is it farmer’s ex wife?) can shine some light on life on the farm through anecdotes of her previous experience introducing organic farming to rural Ireland.
We’re talking Irish farms here, not American multi thousand acre agricultural operations. We’re talking self-sufficiency. Ours had 127 acres. (For city dwellers: 1 acre=4,840 sq. yd.) For Irish and organic farming standards this is a big chunk of land.
How does one get into it? Either you inherit it or dream of living “the good life”. With the current recession, job losses, and stock and property markets crash investment advisors these days recommend to invest into gold and diamonds – or farming. At least grow your own vegetables.
In my case it was the danger of another environmental disaster after Chernobyl in 1986, and the nuclear threat was motivation enough for us to opt out of the rat race and get started. After Chernobyl, in Germany fall out levels were dangerously high. The government discouraged people to feed milk to their children, and our new Geiger counter measured excessive radiation levels in our children’s sandbox. Ireland had escaped almost unscathed due to the prevailing weather pattern in the 2 weeks after the disaster in Ukraine. That was it for us. If some of this sounds vaguely familiar to you and resonates with current developments in an increasingly environmentally challenged and endangered world, you may want to read on.
Another driving factor was a book that topped the bestseller list in Germany in 1980: John Seymour, Self-sufficiency on the Farm: The classic guide for realists and dreamers. It became our bible. My ex had no background in farming. He learned what he needed to know from this story-book look-alike that contains specific instructions and cute drawings. Invaluable advice also came from a friendly elderly neighbor, a life-long farm laborer who scratched his head watching our humble attempts at farming.
So here’s what you need: a little nest egg, or preferably a biggish pocket book, or better still an inheritance to buy yourself into farming , Seymour’s book maybe, and enthusiasm; in fact tons of it. Throw in a dose of practical realism with your dreams and you can farm away.
According to this bible, you need about 5 acres. Small is not only beautiful but is also viable. If you can still lay your hands on a copy: (New-Complete-Book-Self-Sufficiency). Also see Seymour’s Killowen Smallholding project at http://www.self-sufficiency.net).
With farming you step back in time; something that a shopper at popular farmers’ markets doesn’t necessarily realize. A life close to nature awaits you. You work with your hands, are exposed to the elements, and you bond with your animals, as well as your neighbors whose help and advice you’ll learn to cherish. You synchronize your life with the sun −some even with the moon (http://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html). You will experience life and death from close up and will value clement weather and the peace that surrounds you. Coming from Western Germany, the sticks of Ireland were a huge change and culture shock for me. In spite of recent the mega changes occurring in Ireland commercially, also known as the heydays of the Celtic Tiger, rural Ireland remains widely untouched.
Farming keeps you on your toes around the clock –literally. We only achieved part of Seymour’s self-sufficiency (and skipped the tool and furniture making): We farmed, grew our own vegetables −more than we could eat. You can grow everything yourself, weather and climate permitting. Having previously cut our meat consumption to a minimum whilst living in the city, we raised our own meat. Organic food in the early 80s was still in its infancy and buying it not really an option. On the farm we had chickens, geese, pigs, and cows. Naturally organic. Otherwise we couldn’t be bothered and it is the more viable option to make the enterprise profitable. I baked our own bread and cakes- after grinding the wheat.
For almost 10 years, we nearly killed ourselves producing healthy food.