Moving home was political
GENERATION EMIGRATION: FERGAL ANDERSON
THE IRELAND I emerged into after graduation was radically different from the one I grew up in as a child. It was 2002, and the Celtic Tiger was gaining pace. New shops were opening, houses were popping up all over the countryside, and people seemed to have less time for each other, even in rural Galway where I’m from. I knew there was an alternative out there somewhere. I left Ireland in search of a different way of life.
Apart from a year at home in 2007 to do an MA, I spent most of the decade travelling, living and working abroad. I spent some time in Latin America, three years teaching English in Spain, and another three working in advocacy in Brussels. I had a great time, but above all, my eyes were opened to alternative political and social models to the ones I was used to in Ireland, and to the potential for change here. I also met my Italian partner Emanuela along the way.
But at the back of my mind, I always knew I would come back to Ireland, eventually.
Via Campesina, an international organisation for peasant farmers that I worked with in Brussels, favours sustainable, small-scale farming over the industrial agriculture model that has emerged across the world in recent decades. Large-scale farming has flooded the market with cheap goods and put enormous pressure on small farmers. Emanuela and I had been thinking for a while about moving somewhere rural to help to rebuild old community traditions and make a living growing food for local people.
We began to hear the word “crisis” being uttered in Brussels about the European economy, and about Ireland. For everyone else, it had negative connotations, but in the downturn we saw opportunity. The word comes from the Greek word “krisis”, which can have a positive meaning as a turning point or a time for assessing alternative solutions.
My parents had some land in east Galway that wasn’t being used, and in September last year we decided to move back. The plan was to turn the two fields into a small farm, producing food to sell directly to the local community.
We both had some savings, which we invested in a polytunnel and materials for the farm. The first seeds were sown in April, and since then we have harvested more than 30 types of vegetables, from artichokes to runner beans and everything in-between.
Both of us volunteered on an urban farm just outside Brussels while we were living there, which was set up to help people learn about agriculture.
Apart from that, we are novices. We had a lot to learn about scheduling planting and harvesting to ensure there’s a continuity of supply from month to month.
This year was a test run to see if we could do it. Despite the terrible weather over the summer, production has been good, and we’re feeling very positive that we can turn the farm into a viable business next year.