A visit to Northern Ireland's First CSA - Jubilee

6/30/2019

Hello everyone,

Sorry it has been so long since I lasted posted on the blog - we have been spending a lot of time reflecting on how best to move the magazine forward - more exciting news on that later!

Since we interviewed Fergal Smith at Moyhill for Issue Two: The Outdoors, I've kept up to date with what is going on with the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in Ireland.

If you aren't familiar with what that is - Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between a group of people and a farmer. The members receive a share in the CSA when they commit to pay an agreed fee to the farmer for the duration of a season, and in return they get healthy, local food produced in an agroecological way. This partnership allows everyone to share both the rewards and also the challenges that our independent farmers face every year. It's more than a model to feed you with healthy, local and organic food; it is a commitment, and encourages learning and community engagement. Although CSAs are a relatively new concept in Ireland, they have been thriving in other parts of the world for many years. For more information you can read the report: Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe.

To my knowledge, there are nine CSA farms on the island, however all of them are based in the Republic - three around Dublin, two in the South and three to the West, but none in Ulster. So when I saw a social media post from Dublin City CSA promoting the opening of a new CSA in Northern Ireland I was really excited - Larne is only 15 minutes away from where Rachel lives.

The farm is called Jubilee and sits in the Antrim countryside just outside of Larne. After using a temporary site in 2018, the team decided to raise £300,000 via community share offer to buy a 13.5 acres of land, a farmhouse and to bring their ambitious plans to fruition - with pigs, poultry, goats and vegetables, plus an internship programme on offer. To open up the farm, they had a 24-hour 'Bioblitz' programme of walks, talks and activities to show people around the farm - including a market where Rachel was asked to sell some of her art (I tagged along!)

Rachel at our stall

We set up and started chatting to the other stall holders around us - right next to us was the Ballygally Biodiversity community Group that volunteered to protect local biodiversity, especially the red squirrel. They volunteer in their spare time to go out and set up cameras to track how various species are doing, and put in place measures to protect and encourage wildlife to settle in their area. We also spoke to Julie who is about to set up Purple Earth, a sustainable living shop in Whitehead that will offer food and household product refills, something that people are increasingly developing an appetite for as we realise just how unnecessary a lot of food packaging can be. You can check her out and support her project here -> https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/purpleearthni

Happy Pigs

After a talk on the farming history of Larne, I took the chance to wander around the farm to take some pictures on my old canon 35mm. I was using some new ISA200 Kodak Portra which I was keen not to mess up. The natural setting of the farm is beautiful, set up in the Antrim Hills, and Jubilee's plot of land lies mostly on the hillside which sweeps down to Larne Lough. The farm runs a pig club - producing free range native breed pork, and it's hard to imagine pigs having a happier life than the ones we saw at the farm that day. They will be offering veg boxes too, available to pick up from local spots in and around Larne. I know a few people who get veg from local farms like Helen's Bay Organic, and love getting their weekly delivery of seasonal veg - it's a good challenge to cook delicious food when you don't know whats going to be delivered. It's local, fresh and great.

There was a really good turn out for the opening - and it couldn't have been better weather. In between activities, families lay around the farm in long grass enjoying the sunshine. Everyone was super friendly and open with one another and we spoke to almost everyone we encountered about who they are and their story. A man fascinated by my camera spoke to me at length about his appreciation of French Street Photographer Henri Bresson, while people constantly asked Rachel about how she created her paintings and drawings. We met Dr. Jonny Hanson, in charge of running Jubilee and the rest of their team. It's early days for the farm, but there was definitely a present sense of optimism that what the team were doing there was really positive, special and needed in Northern Ireland.

Sketching

There is still a chance to invest in the farm, as they are trying to raise an additional £30,000 to equip the farm with polytunnels, equipment and some more livestock. Or you can sign up to volunteer days and get your hands dirty - https://www.jubilee.coop/

It's funny in our society how we tend to pay people best for things that aren't absolutely necessary - accountants, lawyers, tech wizards and the like while we pay little attention to where that primal need for food actually comes from. Investing money and time in this kind of project feels like a small step in the wholesale change we realistically need as a society to live sustainably with our planet. We really enjoyed our day out up there and are looking to see how the farm, and its community grow and thrive in the future. All the very best to the team at Jubilee!