'Origin Green is painting a false image to the world and it will come back to bite us' - newly elected Green councillor Pippa Hackett

Switch: Pippa Hackett on the family farm which was converted to organic eight years ago. Along with her husband Noel, the Green Party agriculture spokesperson farms 200ac in Geashill, Co Offaly
Switch: Pippa Hackett on the family farm which was converted to organic eight years ago. Along with her husband Noel, the Green Party agriculture spokesperson farms 200ac in Geashill, Co Offaly

Clarie Fox

While questions were raised last week whether the farming community had actually voted for the Green Party, newly elected Green councillor Pippa Hackett is certain that they did as, after all, she is a farmer herself.

"I know farmers who voted for me. Maybe farmers are reluctant to admit they voted for the Green Party because over the years, a divide has built up that paints us as being at opposite sides of the spectrum when, in reality, we want the same thing," says the organic sheep and suckler farmer.

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Although not from a farming background originally, Pippa says her rural upbringing in Ballindine, Co Mayo, inspired her to study agriculture at the University of Essex, where she met her husband Mark. Having completed a postgraduate diploma in UCD and a PhD in the University of Limerick on Equine Biomechanics, Pippa has taken time out to run the 200ac farm in Geashill, Co Offaly, with her husband and rear their four children, Charlie (15), Poppy (13), Heidi (10) and George (8).

The couple made the decision eight years ago to switch to organic farming, which Pippa insists is the best thing they have ever done.

"Before converting, we were constantly being given advice on fertiliser and when to spray and how much grass to grow," she says. "We wanted to take back control of our farm.

"The scheme was obviously an incentive at the time - we feel it was the best thing we ever did as it reignited our enthusiasm for farming."

Before converting, they had a mix of Charolais and Blonde d'Aquitaine cattle, along with Suffolk cross sheep, but they now have over 200 Romney sheep and 35 stabiliser suckler cows, which she says suits their system better.

"They work for us and tick all the boxes, especially the stabilisers. They calve by themselves, so we have no calving jack on the farm now.

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"They're small when born, but they're as tough as nails and we finish them too."

With 25ac of mixed woodlands and organic hens, Pippa feels it's important to have a number of different enterprises on the farm to share risks.

"We are also toying with the idea of growing organic oats. As a farmer, you have to be willing to try different things and have fingers in different pots to share the risks and have more than one turnover."

At present, less than two per cent of Irish farms are organic, which Pippa thinks is "terrible when we could be world leaders".

"We're doing ourselves an injustice. I think through Origin Green, we are painting a false image to the world that we are organic and it will come back to bite us.

"There's so much potential for more organics to grow in Ireland, but it depends who is in government."

Unlike lots of members of local government, Pippa doesn't belong to a dynasty or didn't cut her teeth in university politics.

In fact, her first foray into politics came during the 2016 General Election where she found herself reading the different party manifestos and was taken aback by one in particular. "I found the Green Party manifesto to be very succinct and I found as I was reading it, I was nodding along in agreement with their policies.

"I joined up and went to meetings, and a few months later, party leader Eamon Ryan asked would I become their spokesperson on agriculture.

"The Green Party is often perceived as urban centric, so it was great that I got elected as I feel I can represent farmers and rural people."

She adds that the Green Party wants to maintain the viability of small farms and encourage environmentally friendly farming.

For her upcoming tenure as Edenderry district councillor, Pippa aims to activate Offaly farmers and showcase all they have to offer.

"I'd love to look at setting up a biodiversity corridor amongst farmers - for example, leaving hedges uncut in an area for five years and documenting how they develop," says Pippa.

"I'd also like if the town council stopped using so much glyphosate in our parks and green areas and to adopt a biodiversity plan for Offaly and a climate emergency plan for the county too."

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