Review – Future Growers Conference 2018

Review by Jennifer Byrne

Organic Growers of Ireland (OGI) held the annual Future Growers Conference in Tullamore on 27th November 2018. There was a record turnout for this year’s event, which came in the days following the announcement of the re-opening of the OFS, with an emphasis on organic horticulture. The event was supported and coordinated in conjunction with NOTS.

This event focuses on the unique internship programme run annually by OGI and funded by DAFM. Two interns gave presentations on their experiences on their respective host farms: the difference in their stories illustrating the broad appeal of the programme. One intern had been a cruise ship pilot, while the other a hardware shop employee. Their commonality was in their search for a way to get their feet on the soil again. Both are now fully trained (to FETAC Level 5) and are working for their host farms while setting up their own businesses.

Chair of the OGI, Una Wycherley, gave a presentation on the innovative Small Growers Network; the way it provides networking and support for small growers and farmers and can be particularly helpful to those finishing the internship and moving on to the establishment of their own enterprises. The group enjoys a series of farm walks or farm schools during the year on a variety of different farm types throughout the country, facilitated by coordinator Jason Horner. All farm types, from the well-established to the newcomer, from biodynamic to no dig to community-based are of interest to the Network members, and all have something unique to teach.

Chris Walsh from The Kindling Trust gave an inspiring insight into this organisation and how they operate a number of different models which supply the Manchester market. One of their programmes involves the cooperation of a group of local farmers who jointly liaise with Manchester University to supply some of the veg needed to run their restaurants. They negotiate a price in advance, which gives the farmer financial assurance and a guaranteed market before investing in growing the crop. The farmers decide who is growing what each year and carefully rotate crops from farm to farm on an annual basis, in keeping with best practice. The Kindling Trust also has a care farming pilot scheme wherein farming is prescribed by doctors and financially supported by the NHS. The Trust is currently recording data on the types of patients presenting for care farming, objective and outcomes. Lots more information can be found on https://kindling.org.uk/

Other speakers on the day included Sinead and Natalie from Foodture, who have created wonderful work in 2018 in bringing their ‘fair food’ message to a wider audience via their pod-casts, expanding social media presence and so on. See more of what this forward-thinking social initiative is about on https://foodture.ie/ Janet from Gorse Farm in Bunclody, Co Wexford, followed with a presentation on how she and her partner Jenny have turned their ½ acre smallholding into a thriving organic business: extremely pertinent to the many small-scale growers in attendance on the day https://www.gorsefarm.ie/ Veteran grower and organic innovator, Jim Cronin, rounded out the proceedings with a talk on the importance of feeding our soils with good biology.

The final segment of the day was given to Andrew Doyle TD, Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture. The Minister gave a thoughtful address and reinforced his ongoing support for the organic sector. He gave a generous amount of time to answer questions from the floor, displaying a strong understanding of the needs of small farmers and growers.

Since the conference, OGI has announced its list of host farms for the 2019 internship programme. Full details on the host farms and the application process can be found on http://www.organicgrowersireland.ie/farm-profiles

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