The Case for Community Farms

Image Credit: Cloughjordan Community Farm from their website

Food and Drink Editor Lucy Warmington discusses the impact on climate of imported produce, and makes the case for community farms.

From Cloughjordan in Co.Tipperary, to Moy Hill in Co.Clare, and Derrybeg in Co.Kildare, community farms in Ireland may be few, but they are in demand. Generally, community farms work on a membership system, where a monthly fee gives the farmers and growers a wage and covers day-to-day runnings. In return, you get access to locally grown, organic, and seasonal produce. 

Farmers on community farms typically use regenerative and sustainable farming practices, avoiding pesticides and fertilisers, and instead saving seeds and growing heritage or heirloom varieties. The produce grown as a result is more nutritious, fresh, and many would argue, more flavourful. As produce goes to members, local farmers markets, and nearby cafés or restaurants, there is huge direct benefit to communities who host a community farm. 

The produce grown as a result is more nutritious, fresh, and as many would argue, more flavourful.

On a national level, the case for community farms takes a different angle. For the past sixty years, the amount of fruit and vegetables that Ireland imports from other countries has continually increased. A UCD Institute of Food and Health report showed that in 2020, 890 tonnes of fruit and vegetables were imported to Ireland, 29% of which were seasonal imports that can be locally grown. For example, 18% of Ireland’s fruit and vegetable imports were potatoes. 

The implications of the high rate of produce importation on Ireland’s carbon footprint are of immediate concern. Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, outlines how importing products not only creates a higher carbon footprint through transport emissions, but also a higher water footprint when produce is grown in warmer climates; more water is used for irrigation when produce, such as tomatoes or potatoes, are grown abroad, than would be necessary when grown locally in an Irish climate. 

Eating locally and seasonally grown produce would reduce Ireland’s carbon and water footprints. However, Mike Neary, Bord Bia’s Director of Horticulture, recently told an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture that of the 1,400 potato producers in 1990s Ireland, only 300 remain today, and of the 400 fruit and vegetable growers, a meagre 60 remain. 

Of the 1,400 potato producers in 1990s Ireland, only 300 remain today.

A more extensive network of community farms in Ireland would help to make fresh produce more widely available in a sustainable fashion, bypassing the need for imported goods. Of course, a shift toward a more seasonal diet would be necessary; more fruit and veg from the salad, squash, and onion families in the summer, and more from the root, stem and brassica families in the Autumn and Winter. With this seasonal shift already preferred in many Irish diets given the changes in weather and climate, the case for community farms in Ireland is strong.