Mayo farmers of the future guide the way

Living

Claremorris teens create info hub for local farmers who want to become more sustainable

Michael Gallagher

Two teenage students in Mount St Michael, Claremorris, are currently developing a one-stop-shop website and app to help make farming more sustainable. Fifteen year olds Orlaith Heaney and Elizabeth Byrne are passionate about the subject and the believe that simple changes can enhance the eco-friendly aspect of farming locally in Mayo.
As a nation, Ireland has many natural advantages when it comes to sustainable food production. The climate makes a long, grass-growing season possible. It gives farmers plenty of rainwater. The grass-based system is more efficient and environmentally sustainable than intensive indoor animal feeding systems, and this makes it an ideal environment for sustainability.
However, Orlaith and Elizabeth found that it was sometimes difficult to access simple straight-forward information online, and they decided to do something about it.
They set about developing a website and worked hard to come up with their Goodness Guide initiative. Their website, thegoodnessguide.weebly.com, was then entered at SciFest 2021, a national competition promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Explaining their project Orlaith and Elizabeth, who both coming from farming backgrounds, said:
“Our project is a website that will help farmers make their farm more sustainable without the hassle of going through loads of other websites and documents. We wanted to get the information out there, but in a simple, straight-forward manner.
“As part of our project, we surveyed ten farmers in Mayo. We found that farmers do care about climate change, but that it is hard to find reliable information in one place, and with busy lives and little time, it was important to provide something like a one stop shop, which we believe the Goodness Guide to be.
“In doing this project we found there are many ways to improve sustainability in farming – from simple changes like collecting rainwater, to more complicated changes like installing wind turbines or solar panels to power a farm.”

Mentoring
In order to learn how to develop a website from scratch, Elizabeth and Orlaith worked with Teen-Turn’s Project Squad. Teen-Turn is a national organisation aiming to provide teen girls, particularly those from underserved areas, the opportunity to gain hands-on STEM experience so that they can visualise themselves in those kinds of careers and therefore make third-level course choices accordingly.
Through after-school activities, work placements, mentoring, alumnae networking and career development programming, Teen-Turn now supports more than 1,000 girls from Junior Cert to the job market.
Orlaith and Elizabeth worked on the Project Squad, which is a 12-week after school programme that partners girls with a mentor, who supports them in bringing their science idea to life. Before working with Teen-Turn, Elizabeth and Orlaith had never created a website and had no idea how to go about getting started.
“We wanted to show farmers that they could access quality information and ideas on sustainability with just a few clicks of their mouse. We provide sustainable ideas in three aspects – dairy farming, livestock farming and arable farming,” Orlaith explained to The Mayo News.
“Simple but effective ideas such as solar panels can be used to power almost anything on the farm, for example lighting and heat pumps. There are many grants available to get so farmers here in Mayo can have solar panels on their farm.
“Rainwater harvesting is another simple idea and can be done in many ways; it will also minimise environmental impact and reduce the amount of water in your slurry tank by 30 percent. The water harvested can also be used to feed animals, wash vehicles and wash sheds. This is quite easy to do, as you can set up a tank under a gutter to collect the water.
“Another idea is polycultural production where more than one species of crop is produced. This will improve sustainability because polycultural production decreases the chance of pests which decreases the amount of pesticides you will need to use.”
App on the way
Orlaith and Elizabeth have worked hard to develop their Goodness Guide, and it was one of 27 projects competing in Teen-Turn’s SciFest 2021.
The Mount St Michael duo would encourage other girls to get involved in Teen-Turn to learn about STEM and to get the chance to take part in SciFest.
“We gained a great understanding of how to build a website and learned that research is a very important part of any project. Hard work pays off,” Elizabeth stated.
The dynamic duo are still working with Teen-Turn and are now developing an app for their Goodness Guide. Their ability to merge STEM, farming and sustainability seems to be a winning combination.

For more information on Teen-Turn activities and the supports they provide to girls, visit www.teen-turn.com.