Organic September


LOCAL GOODNESS  Aoife and Joe Reilly of Glasraí Farm, Hollymount. Pic: Trish Forde.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

September is a big month for themes, so this week we will highlight ‘Organic September’. The goal, of course, is to help educate people about organic agriculture and its importance for food and other products.
I have to disclose from the offset that two of my best friends and their partners are organic farmers, so doing my part to appreciate and support the kind of work that they do is important to me, even if I am not close enough to buy their produce on a regular basis. Conversations with them have greatly influenced my own business.
The key point about organic agriculture is that it’s not a new invention; all agriculture was organic (using compost, animal manure and green manures as inputs) before the advent and large scale commercial production of synthetic fertilisers (to add concentrated amounts of nitrogen to the soil) and pesticides in the early 1900s, which rapidly expanded after World War II.
The modern organic and biodynamic approaches to agriculture were developed to offer an alternative to the application of synthetic chemicals, and are now recognised by certifying bodies that require certain standards to be met (The Organic Trust and Irish Organic Association operate in Ireland).
So what’s so special about organic farming? There are few to no chemical inputs, requiring a lower amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels overall. Natural inputs are far less likely to be toxic to soil, other plants, animals, waterways and human health. Additionally, organic systems promote practices that are designed to build soil health over time, including crop rotation, inter-cropping and the use of cover crops instead monoculture planting, and minimal tillage to reduce soil erosion and retain more carbon in the soil.
Recent meta studies of scientific literature, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, have confirmed that organic agriculture preserves biodiversity better than other farming systems.
As an avid consumer of food, I know that the vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and more that I am eating on a regular basis have not been sprayed with chemicals, irradiated or genetically modified.
The thing I love most about supporting organic farmers is that they grow more interesting food; they grow more heritage varieties that are at risk of being lost as major supermarkets and food companies offer a narrow range of foods that have been developed for their shelf life than for flavour and nutrition.
Organisations doing amazing work to promote organic growing and knowledge in Ireland include Irish Seed Savers and Brown Envelope Seeds, which stock organic seeds (and trees) so everyone can choose from a variety of great food to grow at home. Irish Seed Savers in Co Clare and the Organic Centre in Co Leitrim offer courses on growing organic food and other related skills.
A number of local farms sell organic food across Mayo, including Glasraí Farm (vegetables and fruit), Gleann Buí Farm (raw milk), WesternShore Organic Farm (meat and eggs), Sinéad’s Orchard (apples and vegetables), Enniscoe Organic Garden, Blackshell Farm (mussels), Clarkes’ Salmon Smokery and Achill Island Sea Salt.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.