Organic Farming at Highbank Orchard, Co. Kilkenny

          Three years ago I was lucky enough to go to Costa Rica for two months for volunteer work, part of which took place way up in the mountains in a little farming village.

This was an incredible experience in more ways than I can count but one of the most unexpected was that I gained a new appreciation for horticulture. I came home with crazy visions of upping sticks and moving to some empty field in Mayo to grow potatoes and live off the land. It was a beautiful dream at the time, unfortunately city life took hold and it was not to be. It a vision that has never quite left me though, and it is a feeling that was brought accutely back to me last week when we visited Highbank Orchard.

Orla and Nicola enjoying our ride in the back of a Quad bike trailer.
One of the many private reservoirs.
One of the landscaped gardens on the farm.

           When we arrived, admittedly quite late, we were greeted by Rod and Julie, owners and operators of Highbank Orchard. We started out with a tour around the 55 acre orchard in the back of a quad bike and trailer.

Rod showed us through field after field of trees and horse rings, he told us how he has an empty field and will be growing barley soon for his own whiskey, he has two private reservoirs to ensure the water supply is clean, he keeps a row of greenhouses for all manner of exotic lettuces and herbs. This man clearly puts a lot of time and effort into this beautiful piece of land.

A forest path leading to an old wooden caravan
Organically grown Kale
Onion Hanking
The train they use for tours during the busy harvest season

As we roamed through field after field of ethically grown crops and wild geese and barns and poly-tunnels I realised that no matter what I say I will always have a deep yearning to grow my own food. I have no idea where this really comes from in me but I know it’s there. Being a food loving person has an inherent ethical code to search out the best produce. Be that free range chickens or wild salmon or the most incredible organic apples in Ireland. We, as people who are in love with food, need to be champions for the best production of that food possible. I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you all of the reasons why we as a society need to move back towards organic foods. The research is there for you if you would like to read it. What I want to show you is that it just makes so much sense.

In the 1940’s  the world experienced the greatest conflict that it has ever, and hopefully will ever,  witness. With this brought the development of lethal chemical weapons. At the end of the Second World War all of the companies that developed these chemicals found themselves going out of business. They then had a master-stoke of an idea, sell the chemicals that had, only years before, been used as lethal weapons as pesticides. The idea took off and the agricultural industry has never been the same since. I guarantee you that any biological product you buy that doesn’t have the word Organic printed on it, contains more pesticides, fungicides and chemicals than you, or anyone, would care to know. We are all, on a daily basis, ingesting materials whose original formulas were meant to end human life. I know this is an extreme view, I just hope that they may change your view even slightly.

I still don’t buy organic. I still eat normal food every day. I didn’t go home and throw out all the products in my kitchen. I would like to but it just is not practical. I know this, I also know that there are solutions out there. The solutions are farmers like Rod and Julie. Farmers who dedicate their entire lives to organically growing outstanding quality products for us. We as a people, as Irish people, need to support these heroic individuals. If we all start to buy more and more organic foods, there will be an increased demand and slowly but surely we can start to turn the tide on this area of public health which is being glazed over all too often.

Sorry for the rant.

Here’s a picture of a cute dog statue riding a bike.

~ Mark O’Brien

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