Limerick parish produces fine crops of hurlers and now crops of vegetables on its social farm

Donal O'Regan

Reporter:

Donal O'Regan

Email:

donal.oregan@limerickleader.ie

Limerick parish produces fine crops of hurlers and now crops of vegetables on its social farm

Anja Stenberg, Martin Crowe, Jackie Leonard. John Walsh,John Murray, Sister Helena Blackwell, Liam Duggan, Carmel Fox, and Cora Horgan

THE SISTERS of Mercy may have left Doon but they have left many legacies including Doon Social Farm.

It is the brainchild of Ballyhoura Rural Services (BRS) - a charity set up in 2010 to tackle rural isolation in the region. 

Having concentrated mostly on the provision of a befriending service to the elderly, there was a desire within the organisation to respond to the needs of other people in society who are experiencing social isolation, particularly young people.

Anja Stenberg, of BRS, said in 2014 BRS started looking into ways of delivering services for young people and were inspired by the success of social farms in Holland and the United Kingdom. 

“The aim of social farms (also known as care farms) is to deliver health, rehabilitation, social inclusion and educational benefits to its participants through positive work experiences and interactions with the farm staff and other participants.

“Users of social farms range from early school leavers, people who are not employed or in education, people recovering from drug and alcohol misuse, young offenders, people with various disabilities, people with mental health issues and marginalised youths.

“The care of animals, the raising of crops, and the potential for maintenance projects are just some of the rich learning opportunities provided by social farming models,” explained Anja.

As BRS went looking for a suitable location for the project the organisation was approached by the Mercy Sisters who were vacating their convent and 34 acre farm in Doon. They wanted to see it being used for community and charitable purposes. The Mercy Sisters generously agreed to gift the farm to BRS and the research and planning for the social farm started. 

Anja says the project was split into three phases -  the social farm, redevelopment of the convent into apartments and the redevelopment of St Joseph’s Girls Secondary School.

“With the aid of a grant from Leader, several of the farm and school outbuildings were renovated and ready for use by the end of 2018. A manager was hired in February 2019 followed in March by an administrator and two farm workers, partly funded by grant aid from the Department of Rural and Community Development and Pobal through the Community Services Programme. The project also received funding for materials and equipment from the Dormant Accounts Fund, FBD Trust, Kerry Group, LCETB, and The Presentations Sisters. 

“The project is aiming towards eventually being self-sustaining with the income from the farm being used to support the services provided,” said Anja.

The small team along with a few great volunteers and course participants have been busy over the last few months, getting the farm up and running. An orchard and over 100 berry bushes have been planted, a new industrial size polytunnel has been erected and filled with salads, tomatoes, peas and beans and a large chicken house has been built. 

Several acres of land has been ploughed and planted with various crops such as onions, leeks, potatoes, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, and carrots all of which are chemical free. An application for converting the farm to organic status has been submitted and the farm is very focused on sustainable agriculture and conserving the environment.

Doon Social Farm sold its first produce in June and is planning on having more produce in local shops. Vegetable boxes containing a variety of fresh vegetables will be available from August onwards. A small farm shop is also being planned on site. 

In May 2019, Doon Social Farm started a Thursday Drop-In from 1-4pm for young people to come to the farm and learn more about working on a farm. Participants work alongside the farm staff completing tasks, including planting, digging, weeding, watering, harvesting, painting and small maintenance jobs. 

“Some of the first participants are now attending daily and are a great addition to the farm team,” said Anja.   

A QQI major awards course in horticulture is planned for September for young people aged 18 to 35 not in employment or full-time education. The course is aimed at providing young people with the skills and confidence to gain employment within the agricultural sector in the future. 

“A special thank you to everyone involved in the development of the Doon Social Farm over the past five years. Countless hours of research, hard work and dedication have gone into it and it’s wonderful to see it all come together for the good of the community. Congratulations to everyone involved,” said Anja. 

For more information on services, courses and volunteering please email jleonard@ballyhouraruralservices.org or on purchasing produce or vegetable boxes please contact Anja on 061 380808 or anja.stenberg@ballyhouraruralservices.org There is also a Doon Social Farm Facebook page.