Lay of the Land: Variety both the spice of life and future of farming

Photo: Stock image
Photo: Stock image

Fiona O'Connell

We are one day from completing the first week of the fresh start known as a new year. Though climate change doesn't care about calendar dates.

So it's heartening to hear that some agricultural folk are also a step ahead when it comes to rural resolutions, with 'Farming for Nature' holding its inaugural awards last autumn. This inspiring initiative respects the connection between our survival and that of insects, birds and other wildlife.

Though not only farmers need to forge new relations and recognise the link between choices and consequences. Christmas may have literally had its day but isn't over yet - and not just in terms of tinsel trees and lights still twinkling around this country town. For the mindset of insane spending at the cheapest price persists.

So I was reminded when I nipped into New Ross, one of those under-the-radar yet resilient towns that are a credit to this country.

Free parking encouraged consumers to splash the cash and allowed me take a break in 'The Nutshell' to enjoy its brilliant bedlam and buzz over a mug of coffee depicting a robin wearing a woolly hat. That sort of attention to detail probably explains why there were queues out the door. The owners were full of Christmas cheer, despite a 16-hour day because their baker had a family emergency.

"It had to be done," Philip shrugged. "People were depending on us." Like their staff depend on the dynamic duo all year round, as do their local suppliers. Ultimately, they all depend on us to support these businesses that give country towns their character.

Yet some say that cosy cafes and shops with surnames are too expensive. Even though, as a business owner in this town points out, they go to the chipper most nights. "Takeaways need to make a living," she adds. "But some people eat there all the time, yet then say they can't afford a meal in a family restaurant."

She shops in supermarkets too but tries to make sure that she "spreads it around". Which is why the Brussels sprouts for her festive dinner came in a paper bag that had the farmer's name on it.

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"It's a vicious circle," she says. "People buy vegetables in the supermarket because it's so cheap but end up throwing out loads. Whereas if you buy good quality, the farmer gets paid properly, the land is looked after, and you value the food."

Plus it's more fun buying in shops that are "real local" as she puts it. Her husband figured they only needed 10 minutes to pick up some items recently but it actually took ages because they were chatting with the staff and generally having a laugh.

"We need lots of quirky little places," Patsy of 'The Nutshell' agrees. "People want real shops run by families and individuals."

For variety is not just the spice of life but the key to our future.

Backing small businesses linked to farmers who support biodiversity needs to become the norm and not niche to really nail this being a genuinely new year.

Sunday Independent

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