"Consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
After another year of tending to the arable corner of Lahinch in County Clare, Ireland, we caught up with Ambassadors Matt Smith and Fergal Smith on the well-being of the farm and respective community. With a renewed scope on what the future holds the comparison and relationship between sea and land remains resolute.
Another year on the farm and another year tending to the land, sea and air. How is everything?
Fergal: That's a big question. For me, the last season was the biggest yet. The moy hill farm company managed to buy 60 more acres of land just a week before Christmas last year. So that has been a huge undertaking this year. We have expanded the vegetables with a new garden which is the same size our original one. We put up two new 100ft poly tunnels. We planted 300 fruit trees; apple, pear, plum and cherry. We got donated a Dexter cow and calf. We also got given two Shetland ponies for the kids. We have planted over 10,000 more trees as part of the tree charity Hometree we run.
One of the biggest highlights for me was the autumn equinox where we ran our first farm gathering. Over 250 people came and shared in a three day gathering of music, workshops, talks, tours, great food, and mainly just sharing in celebrating this beautiful piece of land and the harvest time of year. Really looking forward to that again next season.
After the farm gathering, we had an amazing opportunity with a man called Richard Perkins from a farm in Sweden called Ridge Dale. He came all the way over and ran a 10 day farm scale permaculture course. We had a great crew doing it and this guy knows what he’s talking about in all areas of land regeneration. It was great to have him on our farm and give us first hand, on the ground teaching with how best to regenerate our land while making it financially viable.
It's been a massive year with so much learning and just getting to grips with all we are doing, it has taking its toll on everyone. I personally had been going non-stop everyday trying to keep up with all the exciting developments to the point where at the start of December I just crashed and am writing this only a month later slowly coming out of it. It's been hard for me being so sick and worn out but it's given me great learning going forward as its just not possible to keep going the way I was. So lots learnt all round this year and here's to a more balanced year ahead.
Matt: Everything! That's cosmic. Everything is perfect. Life is perfect. Sometimes my human form (the little me) has issues with things, from over salted food to how someone breathes or the direction of the wind. Living closely to animals is a nice reminder that all is well. Conrad my dog doesn’t ask how is everything, the birds in the sky don’t ask that. Everything is as it should be. Perfect.
How has it been to see the community grow and your vision resound?
F: It’s been so incredible to see how many people support and want the project to grow. We get people asking to come and help and be involved all the time. It's what the world needs, it's just not an easy task to create! It seems mad at times when everyone wants a community, with a farm to feed, teaching the next generation, creating that community and real solutions to so many of societies issues. But where are all the community farms, even just local regenerative production farms? The reason why they rarely exist is it just makes no sense financially and it's a lot of hard work. People running these types of projects do it because they love it. Something that is so wanted and craved for by so many people you would think surely it would be of real value? We believe in what we do and will keep trying our best to make it work, but if it became financially worth it for people then we would see a lot more of these farming projects. Here's dreaming of that future for everyone.
M: The people that come to the farm are a mixed bunch, some come because a part of what we do resonated with them deeply and some are so into growing vegetables and are so nourished by that element of moy hill. Many of those who come connect with others, learn and heal. Each day offers new challenges from relationships, land management and planning to infrastructure. Seeing the broader organisation grow is sometimes hard, being on the ground. But then when i look up and see the beauty that is around me; there are a few families living here now, thousands of trees, animals in different fields and people with different world views living side by side with a shared vision of regeneration.
What have been your triumphs and battles these past seasons? How is the health of the land?
F: Triumphs - I think pulling off buying €300,000 worth of land with no money was something pretty special. It showed us and hopefully others that you can do the impossible if you believe in yourselves.
The planting 300 fruit trees in the first year was a big feat and the doubling of our garden size was a huge achievement. We have also had the best quality, quantity and variety of produce than ever before.
Battles - With all the achievements comes the realities of making things happen; not much rest being a big one, it's always difficult when you have so many dreams but they require so much energy. This is always the way with starting anything from scratch and its been a mad few years getting everything up and running. I look forward to things settling and a more normal work load for everyone.
The hardest work which I have known since the beginning is working with people. Once you involve multiple people you then have multiple lives and stories and you take that on and need to work with all those energies. So many people tell me we are mad for working with so many people and it must be so difficult, which it is. But the old world alternative of working alone as farmers and not seeing new people is what has made farming so miserable and depressing for people. Mental health is one of the biggest issues facing human's health and being around people in a healthy environment is what we need, not isolation. I will always work with people on the farm, it makes for a much more rich and happy life.
M: It's been a joy to connect with the hundreds of people coming and going. Planting almost 10,000 trees this year and providing the food for thousands of meals. I’ve loved getting to know myself and the people I work with more and more. I have a lot of love in my life and have had my partner living with me for almost one year. The love we have is the most beautiful experience of my life. The land is in better shape, along with the trees and the vegetables, Fergal is grazing three herds of animals through the land that will kickstart the grass growing and support the regeneration of the soil and landscapes.
It's been a year since I have been drunk, I don’t drink coffee or eat much sugar or oil. My biggest triumph has been my connection with myself and living from that place, that place of authenticity. When something feels good it feels like the universe is within me. Though, this triumph has an opposite (battle); maintaining authenticity with love and compassion has been very difficult at times, causing confusion within.
What learnings and teachings do you have for this year? Your regenerative and restorative practices. Both land and people.
F: I will be forever learning, but the past year might have been my biggest year at the school of life! I feel that I have learnt more in this past season then I have in the ten before. The biggest simplest learning that I have been told a million times: you need to look after yourself! It may be straight forward and obvious, but when I'm on a mission to create something, my health has not been the top priority. But if you lose your health you can't do anything and certainly can't help others or create the world you were working so hard for in the first place.
That one seems so simple, but it's finally sunk in for me and I look forward to the world where I am of best service because I am keeping myself well.
Some practical stuff that I have learned of Richard Perkins about regenerative practices is that when we get into this world of regeneration we really want to do what's best for everything. This is great but what often happens with farms, community projects etc is that their ideals get them stuck. Often, doing the right thing won't make you any money and if you just keep trying to help the planet without checking the bills you won't be able to do it for very long. We would be guilty of that and put the environment and the community ahead of financial needs. It's great that we don't long to be rich or need lots of stuff but it makes it tricky to keep the very idea going. So Perkins would say there are three pillars are all of equal importance; environment, community and finance. Without one it falls apart. This doesn’t mean you are not caring for people or the land. It means you crunch numbers well, you help make sure the things you are doing actually will sustain themselves into the future. Everything we are doing is for long term future results so we need to plan to be there in the future.
M: Stay on the authenticity journey and see what that brings. I’d like to keep planning better and better always defining the purpose of the task, I am doing even if it's lying down and resting. Seeing what's alive in me and bringing more awareness to my movements. I've been loving singing and sharing that with people. A couple mornings a week at moy hill we have a group check in, where we sit in circle and share what's happening for us and usually it ends or starts with a song. Singing with friends and co-workers is a special practice. Practicing yoga; yin and yoga nidra and meditation are helping me in body and mind, so to carry on with that. I love hearing from Fergal about the planned grazing of Alan Savory. Alan says that by correctly managing herbivores we have a chance of saving the planet from devastating climate change. With that, I'm looking forward to starting a tree nursery.
You’ve had your fair share of waves of late. Is now a good time of year to find that balance between work and play?
F: Yeah, it's very interesting when summer is here and there is little to no quality waves and the farm is very busy, you wonder if you will ever surf good waves again. But then October comes and the garden is slowing down and there is a scene of calm around the farm and the waves suddenly start pumping and the change is quite magic. One minute you were too busy and there were no waves and then you have time and the waves are back. So yes come October onwards the farm duties can be managed much easier and we all can get our salty time. It's such a great reward after a long season of hard work to have this amazing natural experience on our doorstep and you don't have to go far to find it. We live within minutes of world class waves you just have to be there when they arrive. I will keep trying to convince surfers of this relationship of gardening and surfing with the seasons. It hasn’t quite caught on yet but I will keep trying.
M: It's a lot easier now the last of the big harvests have been done, we can down tools and get in the sea. Whenever Alieens, Rileys or any of the really cracking waves are on we always find the right amount of time to get in the ocean, she is one of my biggest teachers.
Winter’s equinox and a new year upon us we look to better ourselves and plan ahead. Do your long term goals and your vision for the farm and community remain the same?
F: It’s a really special time of year for me, I really love it. Being so a part of the seasons on the farm this time of year, really brings me inward and able to look at the year that has past and what I plan to do/change going forward. For me, my dreams and vision have remained the same and if anything they get stronger and clearer the more I work towards them and understand them. The thing that I am learning most is I can't force these dreams to happen and plans will change. I am learning more and more to accept what is and knowing that it allows for a lot more happiness through all moments. This still doesn't change my dreams but how I get there or even if I will get there is not that important. I love my dreams and visions of the future, they keep me so motivated every day and I will work towards them as best I can, but I am accepting whatever comes and that is a liberating feeling.
Here is to what comes, I aspire for a great future for everyone and lets do our best and also accept what is happening right now. I wish you all the best year ahead.
M: On the deepest level, yes. I use each of my days to bring more health and happiness into life. Even on the practical plane, the plan to feed more and more people and care for the land are at the centre of everything we do. Feeling so much gratitude to the land and life around me, it has everything we need.
Thanks for asking such great questions, helped me to appreciate the work we are doing here, it's so reassuring and supporting working alongside and representing a company that aligns with our vision.
Correspondence by Lawrence Stafford.
Photographs by Matt Smith, Jemoke Murphy & Jacob Bartrop.