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“There are no incentives for vegetable farmers or growers in this country”

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Fergal Anderson and Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with their daughter Nessa on their land in Kilmeen, Loughrea. Photos: Ray Ryan

Fergal Anderson and Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with their daughter Nessa on their land in Kilmeen, Loughrea. Photos: Ray Ryan

Fergal and Emanuela with their daughter Nessa.

Fergal and Emanuela with their daughter Nessa.

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with her daughter Nessa pick some berries on there farm in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with her daughter Nessa pick some berries on there farm in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

Emanuela and her daughter Nessa pick some berries on their farm.

Emanuela and her daughter Nessa pick some berries on their farm.

Nessa Anderson Russo picks some berries on her parents farm.

Nessa Anderson Russo picks some berries on her parents farm.

Fergal Anderson walks through his land.

Fergal Anderson walks through his land.

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with her daughter Nessa walk through a vegetable patch at their farm in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with her daughter Nessa walk through a vegetable patch at their farm in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with some of the veg from their land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with some of the veg from their land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

Emanuela Russo her daughter Nessa with some of the veg from their land.

Emanuela Russo her daughter Nessa with some of the veg from their land.

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, walks through his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, walks through his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

Fergal with onions from his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Fergal with onions from his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Some of the veg that is grown at Leaf and Root.

Some of the veg that is grown at Leaf and Root.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, outside one of his polytunnels in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, outside one of his polytunnels in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

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Fergal Anderson and Emanuela Russo of Leaf and Root, with their daughter Nessa on their land in Kilmeen, Loughrea. Photos: Ray Ryan

Fergal Anderson and Emanuela Russo both share a love for farming and nature, so it’s only fitting that they’ve recently become Farming for Nature Ambassadors.

The couple who moved home to Fergal’s family farm ten years ago have since developed a growing business on the farm and are now supplying local communities and restaurants with fresh farm produce.

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Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

“We met in Barcelona and then went travelling,” says Fergal.

“We travelled to Guatemala and did some volunteer work there and while we were there we came to a realisation. It wasn’t them who needed help agricultural wise, it was us.”

They felt Ireland and much of the world had become “hyper-developed” and had lost touch with the farming practices endorsed by nature.

The couple decided to move back to Fergal’s 30ac homeland in Kilmeen, Loughrea, Co. Galway and start their own farm.

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Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Leaf and Root land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

“The land has been in my family since 1980. My parents planted around 25 acers of mixed woodland and we grew up emerged in nature,” says Fergal.

“While we were travelling, we realised that we wanted to farm our own land and produce our own food, for ourselves and for local communities.”

The couple moved back to Ireland in 2011 and immediately began their farming journey on just five acres.

“The land that didn’t include the woodland was bare when we got it. There was no infrastructure, buildings or facilities,” says Fergal.

“So, we bought a mobile home and a polytunnel and started from scratch. The entrance to the land was very narrow so we extended it too.”

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Fergal and Emanuela with their daughter Nessa.

Fergal and Emanuela with their daughter Nessa.

Fergal and Emanuela with their daughter Nessa.

Fergal says one of the first things they did was hire a local farmer to plough the land in preparation for sowing their first vegetable crops.

“In hindsight, I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. We’ve learned so much along the way and learned about new techniques such the “no-dig” system. We could have implemented something like this from the start, but it’s all a learning process.”

The couple started off planting a small selection of vegetables such as broad beans, onions and carrots, in their polytunnel and outside on the land.

They had no machinery at this point, and everything was done by hand.

When their first lot of vegetables were ready for harvest, they brought them to a local farmer’s market where they received a great response.

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Some of the veg that is grown at Leaf and Root.

Some of the veg that is grown at Leaf and Root.

Some of the veg that is grown at Leaf and Root.

“It was clear that there was an appreciation for homegrown, natural food. It gave us an encouraging start and from that year on we began planting more and more, expanding organically and reinvesting in the farm yearly,” says Emanuela.

As the time passed and the couple’s produce expanded, they began selling fruit and veg boxes to local customers.

Over time, their farming journey has expanded into a small food production business which they’ve named “Leaf and Root” and their farm now comprises of three large polytunnels, one small polytunnel and a glasshouse.

They’ve also built a packing shed and storage shed to facilitate their growing business.

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Nessa Anderson Russo picks some berries on her parents farm.

Nessa Anderson Russo picks some berries on her parents farm.

Nessa Anderson Russo picks some berries on her parents farm.

Fergal and Emanuela usually begin their year in the end of January when they plant the first seeds in their polytunnels.

Sowing and planting continue right through the year until October.

“Our polytunnels are used for starting off the growing process and for growing heat loving plants such as tomato, cucumber and peppers.

We grow perennial herbs and annual herbs in our polytunnels too. Using polytunnels also allows us to extend the growing season,” says Emanuela.

For the last number of years, the couple have been supplying two local restaurants with their fresh, farm produce.

“We’ve been working closely with Enda McEvoy and Sinead Meackle of Loam and Eán in Galway city, and we also supply Lignum in Bullaun,” says Fergal.

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Emanuela Russo her daughter Nessa with some of the veg from their land.

Emanuela Russo her daughter Nessa with some of the veg from their land.

Emanuela Russo her daughter Nessa with some of the veg from their land.

“We had veered away from producing the boxes for a while as we were occupied with the service industry. However, when the pandemic hit and restaurants closed, we ended up reverting back to the boxes. We hope to do a combination of the two in the future.”

Because the land had not been farmed before Fergal and Emanuela took it over, there was not water supply throughout the land.

They have since incorporated a rain-water collection system which now irrigates their land. “We installed a system whereby we collect the rainwater from the shed roofs and pump it into the polytunnels. It cost us money but we mitigated that cost by doing all the work ourselves,” that’s the thing about farming, you have to learn to turn your hand to anything, which I think is great,” says Fergal.

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15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, walks through his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, walks through his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

15/11/2021 Fergal Anderson of Leaf and Root, walks through his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea,. Photo: Ray Ryan

The couple have also planted a wide variety of fruit trees on their farm.

“We’ve lots of blackcurrants, raspberries and apple trees. Theses fruits can be quite labour intensive but you can get a good premium on them if you sell them direct,” says Fergal.

Both Fergal and Emanuela, along with others, were founders of Talamh Beo, a member-led organisation of farmers, growers and land-based workers, organising for change in food and agriculture systems.

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Emanuela and her daughter Nessa pick some berries on their farm.

Emanuela and her daughter Nessa pick some berries on their farm.

Emanuela and her daughter Nessa pick some berries on their farm.

“We wanted to open up a new space for discussion and ultimately gain some food sovereignty. Ireland has huge potential in terms of food production and self-sufficiency, yet still, we are exporting most of our own produce and importing a vast amount too,” says Fergal.

“The problem is, there are no incentives for vegetable farmers or growers in this country and it’s therefore difficult to make such a farm viable. We are calling on the government to consider creating a local food policy framework and a rights-based reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).”

Fergal says that Talamh Beo’s members include those in dairy, beef, poultry, vegetables, pork and various other land-based occupations.

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Fergal with onions from his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Fergal with onions from his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

Fergal with onions from his land in Kilmeen, Loughrea.

One of their main aims is to close the gap between rural and urban settings and to make a connection between the two.

“We want to be able to provide our towns and cities with fresh, local food and they want to support us. We just need some help to make it happen.”


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