Cloughjourdan - An Irish Eco-village
Judith Hitchman, December 2011
Cloughjordan is Ireland’s first and so far only Eco-Village. It is situated in North-West Tipperary, just over an hour’s drive from Dublin, but a good 3 hours from my family home in County Waterford. Fergal Anderson, who has just left his job in Brussels with the Via Campesina to start working his own farm in Galway and I were warmly welcomed by Davie Philips, Chair of the Cloughjordan Community Farm. We also met other members of the Board, and visited the lower farm. The weather and time constraints conspired to stop us from visiting the upper farm.
Born in 1999 - the initial members were involved in the Dublin Food Coop, and met there – the project is an overall concept that was designed as a model for sustainable living. The site was chosen for a number of reasons: it is easy to access Ireland’s capital, Dublin; there is a train station, the existing community is one of religious diversity, so tolerance is higher… The village includes 50 families, essentially neo-rural rather than of rural origin. 80 of the 130 potential sites have been sold. It also includes a 32-bed hostel, which is used not only for visitors, but for the many training courses run in the village (Agro-ecology, bio-dynamic agriculture, permaculture, community resilience, leadership etc…). There are plans to develop part of the site to include a green social enterprise community. As the overall principles of both the village and the farm are based on co-ownership and community development in the best sense of the term, the added value of such a project would be enormous. A traditional wood-fired bakery is about to open on the site. The baker is already famous in Dublin for his bread.
Much has already been written about the Eco-Village per se. It is situated on a site some 67 acres of land. What makes it very unique is that unlike many other such projects, it is actually right in an existing small old village, and rather than create friction and making locals flee, it has revitalised the existing community, who, although initially wary, have moved on from wariness to genuine acceptance of many of the “strange” things that are all a work in progress. This includes Ireland’s only community solar panel array and renewable energy district heating system providing hot water and heat to all the houses, genuine participatory community decision-making and self-built housing of various kinds (cob, hemp and lime…). Sadly the Local Authorities declined to give a discharge licence for a reed bed system for purifying sewerage, although this method has been accepted elsewhere in Ireland, where all Local Authorities are independent decision-making bodies…
The main aim of this article is to describe the somewhat unique Community Supported Agriculture project that is part of the Eco-Village. It is a separate project from the Eco-Village, but is nevertheless part of the same overall approach, with 60% of the CSA’s members coming from the Eco-Village. While Grow-it-Yourself and Allotments and even Community gardens have become very popular in Ireland, Cloughjordan is Ireland’s first genuinely structured CSA farm. There are now an increasing number of box schemes and other CSA projects being operated in Ireland. The farm is not certified organic. There is just no need to go through any costly process as the consumers are also the owners of the produce and the farm is therefore not selling anything; it is very much a trust-based community project. The farm does however use organic and biodynamic principles. There are two parts to the farm (upper and lower). The land is leased, with 12 acres on the lower site, 28 on the upper. The farm also organises many educational projects: cookery classes, picking sessions, activities for schools and children of all ages.
The unique nature of the farm is that it is contiguous to the village. It is right behind the houses. This means that for the most part, the 57 families involved are far more involved and aware than is usually the case. Although there is a very reasonable weekly contribution based on family size and income, when I visited, the fresh vegetables were being put in the open, unlocked collection shed three times a week, and members are free to help themselves to what they want and need. There have been no problems with this either. In other seasons, the veggies are dropped off only twice a week. A few members of the scheme come from neighbouring towns like Nenagh, situated 10 km away. This means that there is also a need to have a box scheme that operates once or twice a week..
The farm also provides raw milk from Kerry cows to its members. This is possible, in spite of the constraints of EU regulations that now forbid the sale of raw milk, as it is not sold: the members are actually considered owners through their membership of the collective scheme. It includes eggs and grains as well as the vegetables. A number of heritage and heirloom varieties are grown as part of the scheme. There are plans to develop “edible gardens” throughout the village. For those members that are not vegetarian, there is a meat-share scheme, whereby for an additional sum members can share a pig or lamb. I counted about 15 different varieties of vegetables growing in the fields, which is a good range for the area’s climatic possibilities. Wwoofers (an international network of volunteers in organic farming) from all over the world also visit and help with the work. There have been several different people in charge of the farm in the past, but this has now stabilised. One of the most amusing features is how the crops are stocked: an old container truck was bought for a mere 200 euros. The inside has been converted into a storage shed, with compartments for all the different vegetables. It is well aired, and out of reach to the wild animals that might otherwise help themselves.
Local farmers who were originally wary of the innovations involved on the farm were initially sceptical. The fact that it works, that the quality of the vegetables is so high, has gradually gained acceptance for the approach that is used.
The decision-making method used on both the farm and indeed in the village is an adapted form of VSM (Viable Systems Model). The adaptation enables those involved to have a maximum autonomy; it also facilitates engagement and organisation amongst the members. The result is genuine participatory democracy that has a coherent organisational structure. The level of genuine involvement in the various different projects has led to truly sustainable community-driven thriving and sustainable local development.
The farm is planning to hold an all-Ireland CSA conference next February. The idea is to create an Irish network, and to map what exists in various forms. Cloughjordan farm is now a member of Urgenci, and has invited Urgenci to participate. We are already looking forward to that!
International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development #84