Extinction Rebellion Ireland begins XR Farm
How can we eat better, farm better and pay farmers better? This article introduces the XR Farm project in Dublin, a pilot project for how XR activists can improve the soils, Ireland’s biodiversity and their own diets, while supporting local grown food and XR in their community. Welcome to XR Farm!
XR Farm is a pilot project by XR activists in Clonsilla, Dublin West near the Phoenix Park. XR Farm is being set up as Ireland’s first XR Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. Other parts of the country have what it needs to replicate the success of the Dublin XR Farm, so get your thinking caps on.
The Dubin pilot is located at Beechpark House on 15 acres of land near Clonsilla train station. It consists of three acres for vegetables, eight for grains, a pasture, a large pond and a couple of acres of mature woodland. Only organic techniques are employed which means no herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or artificial fertilizers. This soon-to-be CSA project has been live as a food-box scheme since 2019 and a vibrant community has developed over this period. The farm is owned by Neil McDermott and farmed by Nathan Jackson and by Neil. Boxes of seasonal vegetables, for €10, €15 or €20 are available if you sign up to the box scheme, you’ll get added to the CSA WhatsApp group where members chat and share recipes. Last year vegetables offered included Pumpkin, three types of cabbage, three kinds of kale, green and purple broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, Florence fennel, celery, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and turnips. Members can become involved in projects and farm work participating in community growing days, which Nathan explained is essential for Organic Farms which are people intensive because they don’t use agrotoxins.
So how does the way Ireland’s farms produces and consumes food affect Climate Change and Irish Biodiversity?
Both are closely related but to see the connection we need to understand how the current food production system can be improved. Ireland’s biodiversity is hugely damaged by lack of forestry and by removing farm hedgerows and trees but also by using agrotoxins like glyphosate (Monsanto/Bayer’s RoundUp Ready) sprayed with abandon by many Irish farmers. In contrast this writer spoke with Nathan Jackson and he highlighted the following regular XR Farm residents. “We have buzzards, herons, coots, swans, moorhens, rabbits, squirrels, foxes and one of Irelands three amphibian species, the smooth newt”, he said.
When it comes to climate change, there are some basic problems with current farming practices. Eighty percent of Ireland’s food supply is imported! This is something we need to rethink in a post carbon future, and even in the context of the current pandemic. This might seem surprising for a nation known for its green pastures. It is also perverse for an island that has suffered from one of Europe’s worst famines. Ireland currently imports almost a billion euros worth of vegetables annually.
How can such agricultural policies be sustainable?
On the flip side the story is even worse. Ireland is currently the world’s fifth largest exporter of beef and an exporter of dairy to the global food market. This requires Irish farmers to intensively farm the land for cattle (including feed-lot farming and indoor facilities) since Ireland’s land mass is tiny in comparison with competing countries such as Brazil, the US and that specialise in cattle.
We need to situate the current industrial food chain within the context of complex economic and political interests. Of prime importance in the EU context are subsidies lobbied for by large farming interests (represented, in Ireland’s case primarily by the IFA) and by the large slaughterhouses that kill and ship Ireland’s beef (they prefer to call this processing). From the perspective of neoliberal economic theory – which considers the environment as an externality, i.e. outside of its priorities or planning – Ireland’s market economics and a heap-load of distorting subsidies determine the priorities of Irish agriculture. Food imports and exports are enabled by increasingly large-scale agribusiness which leaves little room for small farmers. We can help change this by enablin farmers that might wish to diversify from beef but who currently receive little support from the Department of Agriculture and the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Modern industrial farming is resource — read fossil fuel — intensive but it is not intensive in human labour, which is why rural areas are losing jobs and population. Changing this means more rural jobs and less greenhouse gases (a real win-win).
In Ireland, agriculture currently accounts for 33% of our greenhouse gas emissions which is way too much and presents an obvious challenge for those of us committed to tackling climate change. By de-emphasising meat and dairy in Ireland we can improve this situation for many reasons. Possibly most important better farming can stop and even reverse the rapid deterioration in natural soil fertility. By improving economic margins using healthy agricultural practices, like those practiced in Clonsilla, we can reduce the damage caused by oligopoly pricing by a small number of slaughterhouse owners. This same group have monopolised agricultural policy and subsidies in Irish agriculture for decades.
Our current agricultural system jeopardizes Ireland’s climate target commitments under the Paris Agreement Agricultural policies and practices often also threaten food sovereignty while depleting soils and shipping food over long distances. Big-Agro competes unfairly with small-scale farmers who have acted as custodians of our farmland for generations. Also monoculture farming is also less resistant to climate change. This needs to be fixed soon!
Community Supported Agriculture is one viable alternative: a way for farmers to access consumers directly, sidestepping larger supermarket chains which do not pay farmers a viable living for the food they produce. Consumers get direct access to locally grown, healthy food that does not damage the environment and they directly supports farmers in their communities. They can also get involved and get closer to the land and to the food they eat.
Extinction Rebellion Ireland’s third demand is ‘Ensure a just transition’. While tackling climate breakdown, solutions must be developed which safeguard society’s most vulnerable. We cannot expect those who have contributed the least to this problem to pay the most! CSAs protect the environment, support a dignified living for some of society’s most undervalued workers, reduce emissions and supporting food sovereignty. If you are passionate about any of these issues, one way to bring about the change you would like to see could be becoming a member of this CSA scheme. Also you might think even be interested in setting up your own?
For more information, please contact XR Farm Dublin via Facebook, email or by phone. (‘Extinction Rebellion Community Assisted Farm, Dublin’ on Facebook, firstname.lastname@example.org (087) 619-5518)