The Skerries Community Harvest Group got off to a flying start on Saturday morning, at 11am at the Farmers Market by Skerries Mills! The vegetables boxes were all beautifully presented, thanks to our organic farmer, local man Paddy Byrne – all his hard work had paid off! There was a great buzz in the air, members sharing a tea / coffee and eating some of Ger & Debbie’s fabulous homemade scones – a real sense of community being formed. It all started in August 2010 when Paddy Byrne was willing to take the risk when he was approached by Sustainable Skerries to start together our very own Skerries community supported agriculture scheme. It was an exciting prospect. For Paddy it involved extending the breadth and volume of vegetables he grew on his farm and trusting that Sustainable Skerries would find enough members who would be willing to commit to him for a whole season. There was no need to worry. 30 families in Skerries were happy to commit upfront to paying Paddy a monthly fee for a weekly vegetable box and loved the prospect of giving Paddy certainty of his customer base and getting fresh, seasonal, organic vegetables with no food miles in return. May 7th was to be the First Vegetable Box Collection Day!

This all led to a group of volunteers arriving at Paddy’s farm on Friday evening to get instructions about where to pick and what to pack. Paddy patiently guided us in our endeavours! Our job was to fill the blue vegetable boxes donated very kindly by IOFGA ( Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association) and have them ready for members the following morning. [A special mention to Grace Maher from IOFGA who personally collected our donated boxes and delivered them safely to the farm, thank you Grace for that and all your support to the Skerries Community Harvest Group! ]. We picked beautiful fresh organic spinach, parsley, white and golden turnips, three varieties of lettuce and rhubarb. These were all allocated according to Paddy’s instructions and of course Paddy’s wonderful organic eggs completed the boxes.

Paddys farm is beautifully situated, overlooking Skerries, just down the road from the gates of Ardgillian castle. We could see the Mills where our boxes would be safely delivered to the Farmers Market by Paddy the following morning. Paddy’s family has farmed in Blackhills, Skerries for four generations. In the 80’s Paddy left the farm for economic reasons but never lost his love of farming and that connection to the land. In 2000 Paddy decided to return to farming and felt strongly that organic farming was the best way forward. He started slowly, initially converting one field and trying out a variety of vegetables. As his knowledge deepened he expanded and 11 years later has 15 acres of land which is certifed organic by IOFGA and four polytunnels which are essential to extending the growing season. In 2005 he decided to add chickens to the farm and sell organic eggs at the farm gate. This turned out to be enormously successful and there are now 500 chickens and 70 ducks producing 120 dozen chicken eggs and 16 dozen duck eggs per week. In recent years, Paddy has also planted an orchard of about 60 apple trees and is focused on developing fruit production over the next four years. Paddy hopes to add a significant number of food based preserves, juices and baked goods to the products currently on offer. This ties in with his future plans for a farm shop and seperate kitchen, storage and packaging facilities.

Paddy’s family has farmed in Blackhills, Skerries for four generations. In the 80’s Paddy left the farm for economic reasons but never lost his love of farming and that connection to the land. In 2000 Paddy decided to return to farming and felt strongly that organic farming was the best way forward. He started slowly, initially converting one field and trying out a variety of vegetables. As his knowledge deepened he expanded and 11 years later has 15 acres of land which is certifed organic by IOFGA and four polytunnels which are essential to extending the growing season. In 2005 he decided to add chickens to the farm and sell organic eggs at the farm gate. This turned out to be enormously successful and there are now 500 chickens and 70 ducks producing 120 dozen chicken eggs and 16 dozen duck eggs per week. In recent years, Paddy has also planted an orchard of about 60 apple trees and is focused on developing fruit production over the next four years. Paddy hopes to add a significant number of food based preserves, juices and baked goods to the products currently on offer. This ties in with his future plans for a farm shop and seperate kitchen, storage and packaging facilities.

Text: Rosaleen Mc Menamin & Bronagh Dhuill

Photos: Paddy Mc Menamin

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