Moy Hill Farm, a community garden and farming project in County Clare, Ireland set up by Finisterre Ambassadors, Fergal Smith and Matt Smith now finds itself in its fourth year of being. It's steadfast mission; to grow worthy food, build soil, regenerate systems and plant more trees. Nurturing not only the ground it resides on but the community it feeds, their 'social farming' continues to make waves and establish Moy Hill as an example of positive change for people and planet.
In the first instalment in a seasonal series of writing, recipes and updates from the farm we hear from the Smiths on the seasons change, the addition of livestock and their reconnection with land and sea on the Emerald Isle.
The striking backdrop of a blackthorn blossom on a small pocket of woods behind the polytunnels on Moy Hill Farm, bright white like a broken wave. It’s spring, we see and feel the sun more than we do in winter. It gets us moving and creates dramatic changes on the landscape around. For surfing farmers and all life, it's a time of movement. For those who work on the land it is time to prepare for the abundance of summer as seeds sown now are rewarded with fruits and vegetables over the coming months and, if planned and diligently maintained, will keep the communities fed until the following year.
To ensure a successful yield, you need to stay connected, be well prepared and ‘trust the process’ - a phrase that Finisterre ambassador and friend Fergal Smith holds as a personal manifesto, keeping him grounded through the chaotic times . As the clocks change and the growth rate of the vegetables multiplies, land workers everywhere adjust their lives and consider all that needs to be done. Fergal’s first cow Daisy is about to give birth, visiting her as shortly after he wakes and a few times each day, but it is not the first thing he does. ‘I dedicate 30 minutes to yoga each morning. This is the foundation of my day. If I get this in everything seems to run smooth.'
The farm he works on has changed so much from when he and surfing friends Matt Smith and Mitch Corbett bought it a few years ago, some of the trees could shade a man (a small one). This year Fergal has taken on the responsibility as the farm manager. 'We have had a tricky couple of years getting through some big short term debts… We have been trying to figure out the best way to manage Moy Hill Farm. With so many people and many different roles we have simplified things, so I have taken on the responsibility as the farm manager.' His personal intention, like all things, is constantly evolving, changing to suit the external and internal environment. They use a management and decision making tool called holistic management, by developed by Alan Savoury, that considers the whole organisation and always checks in with each person's purpose as it changes.
Things have changed a lot for Fergal in the seven years since beginning this project. Normally this would have been the time of year Fergal moved to the southern hemisphere to chase giant swells, but as his life has changed so has his purpose. What is his current mission? ‘Regenerate soil, show a future for our kids that is positive, teach people about regenerative farming and how they can do it.’
‘Right now I feel like we are on a sailing boat in a wild sea and it's all good but we need to work hard and stay focused and then we will get there safely.’ There are tens of thousands of seedlings that need constant attention as spring produces such variable weather; if it’s a clear cold night ‘the tomato plants need a blanket’, and on hot days over 100 seed trays can need to be watered many times. His attention needs to be sharp at this time of year, reconnecting with the process and integrating all that he’s learned during the winter months. Winter offers those who work the land time for reflection and stillness, ‘I am realising rest is too important to ignore. It’s very hard for me to stop but I am certainly more aware of how much I am doing. I miss the dark slow times of winter where there was more rest and more time to read a book.'
With so much change demanding his attention I asked how his relationship with the sea is? 'Sally my lovely wife always reminds me I need to float for a little while to stay sane in an insane world' … 'On land I either have a busy farm life or I want to spend as much time with my wife and two great little girls as possible. So when I am in the ocean that is my time and it feels more about self-connection than anything else'. His time spent floating is less than it’s been in the past, but at a glance you can see how connected to the sea life on Moy Hill is. The boards on the roof of the packing shed, wetsuits on the trees and the view of Lahinch bay, the ocean. What is clear about being on Moy Hill in spring and witnessing Fergal is that he will do everything he can to make the farm truly thrive.
A few days ago Fergal visited his family a few hours away and came back with two lambs, beautiful little babies. They are being reared very close to where people are living, they are already like pets. Seeing them made me wonder if it will be long before we’re wearing Moy Hill wool.
Words by Matt Smith
Lifestyle Photography by Lou Merkert. Surf Photography by Kevin Smith
Learn more of Moy Hill Farm here.