WWOOFER Challenge

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July saw us visit the wonderful Tattie Haoker Farm in Cliffoney Co.Sligo. The farm is part of the Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA) which is a partnership between farmers and the local community, in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared.

Aidan Gillan owns and manages the farm and has long been involved in co-op farming. Aidan plays an integral role within the local farming community and is a champion of sustainable living.

He has created a wonderful shared space where people can come together, learn about cultivating and harvesting crops, socialise and contribute to the work done on the farm. This can be done in exchange for fresh produce, knowledge and good company.

In addition to a flourishing farm, last year Aidan organised and initiative called Save Our Planet Awards. These new awards are designed to recognize the contribution of local environmental heroes to their community and their planet.

Here is our account of our day on the farm which we did from an individual perspective.

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A Day on Tattie Hoaker Farm by Amy

On the 23rd of July we headed for Tattie Hoaker Farm in Cliffoney, Sligo. We were on our way to meet Aidan Gillan, community farmer and sustainable living aficionado.

We arrived in Cliffoney a little lost; Aidan instructed us to wait for him in the local shop and told us to browse the aisle for his produce while we waited for him. Left on the shelf were a couple portions of kale and rocket, a good complaint for the farmer who had already replenished the stock once already that day.

We followed Aidan the 5 minutes up the road until we saw the panoramic views of Benbulben, fields full of crops and a gathering of poly tunnels.
Aidan welcomed us and began by giving us a full tour of the farm. We were introduced to Dan (Aidan’s son) and a WWOOFER who was spending a week working there.

The land itself is five hectares in size but was only one fifth full of crop. We meandered through every variety of vegetable you could imagine; potatoes, leeks, pumpkin, beetroot, broad beans, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, horseradish, cabbage and chillies. In addition to this the farm boasted an impressive collection of herbs that were both being nurtured from seedling and growing wildly. The air was filled with the smells of dill, coriander, thyme, parsley, lemon grass and fennel.

Aidan explained in fine detail the care and nurturing that is involved for tending to the needs of the various vegetation. Some required more heat; others needed different soil PH balance. It was like being back in school and learning about plant biology except this time I was hanging on the teacher’s every word.

Aidan told us we would be doing to work and getting our hands dirty before lunch, we both jumped at the chance to get stuck in.
We were allocated our own patch of land to work on and dug straight in, preparing it to be planted with onion bulbs. We were happy out weeding the land; the frog we disturbed was not impressed. During this time Aidan started to explain the significance of the farm and what it had meant to him personally and the local community alike.

The farm itself over the years had transformed into a steadfast pillar of the community. What Aidan has created is a sanctuary by where anyone can go to escape the pressures of life and simply be. Be amongst people, plant bulbs, weed, harvest crop and contribute knowledge. This social and ecological enclave is flourishing all the time because it is cared for, nurtured and thought about. People only take out what they put in and what Aidan hopes is that more people will continue to put in so that the farm can grow in size and cover the other unoccupied 4 hectares.

Before we broke for lunch we Aidan told us to take a box each which we were to fill with produce for lunch. I raced around like a kid in a sweet shop picking tomatoes, beetroot, lettuce, basil, spring onion and dill.

I offered to prepare lunch, a simple pleasure for me especially considering the fact I was about to eat the food I had just pulled from the earth. I got a little excited and for a minute I was Jamie Oliver in a warm summer garden in Devon, creating colourful salads and pasta with home made pesto.
During lunch we talked about the spectrum of people that visited the farm on a weekly basis, helping out for a box of vegetables or two in return. I had to admire this simple and honest manner of exchange.

Throughout the day we got to understand more about Aidan and how the evolution of Tattie Hoaker Farm come about. Aidan, a Commerce graduate himself spent eight years between Thailand, Zambia and Tanzania working with co-operative farms and decided to create the farm as a means of continuing on from all that he had seen and experienced throughout his time spent travelling the world and understanding community based farming.

This know how coupled with his extensive knowledge of the topic of leadership through courses such as the Landmark Forum, makes for one of the most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of talking to in Sligo.

Aidan is a breath of fresh air. His wonderful farm is a meeting point, a place to be with nature, an education about sustainable living, a taste of home and an inspiration to anyone who has a dream and follows it.

Go to this farm, spend a day, leave the phones  and technology behind and just be.

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A Day on Tattie Hoaker Farm by Vanessa

Amy and I had the honour of visiting the Tattie Hoaker Community Farm on a sunny day in Cliffoney. Aidan Gillan welcomed us in and honestly we were not sure what to expect. Aidan gave us a tour of the farm and we were soon getting to work weeding and getting our plot ready to plant garlic bulbs which we’ll have to visit again to see how they progress. While we attended the farm to learn about growing food organically and sustainable living I soon found I was quizzing Aidan about something completely different. Aidan told me that he had studied economics in college. How has a man with a background in commerce come to set up a community farm?

The idea of social ownership is coming up over and over again and it is an idea that I never considered thoroughly before and I’m enjoying that I am finding myself in different situations where I have been invited to explore it. For me this is what the Tattie Hoaker Community Farm really is. Tattie Hoaker is present because of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which ‘is a partnership between farmers and the local community, in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared. Benefits are enjoyed by all sides: farmers for instance can receive a more stable and secure income and closer connection with their community, and consumers can benefit by eating fresh healthy food, feeling more connected to the land where their food is grown and learning new skills.’

We live in a world where people are less connected and personally I feel this is due to various reasons like social media, consumerism, time and the media. Recently I gave up my smart phone in exchange for one of the most basic phones on the market and it is one of the better decisions I have made in my life. Meeting friends is once again meeting with friends and not being interrupted by notification after notification. I did not realise how much I relied on it and I’m not saying it was an easy transition but the itch to check my phone literally every few minutes has died. Facebook is not dictating my life anymore, I’m ashamed to say that I was completely addicted to it. Conversations in cafes with strangers happen now. I have met some incredible and inspirational people in the past few weeks and not having my head stuck in a phone is definitely a contributing factor to this. What has this got to do with my Tattie Hoaker experience? The Vanessa of a few months ago would have documented every single second of what happened on the day via my Twitter accounts, my Instagram account (which I admittedly miss) and my Facebook accounts and while you do that I believe you are not experiencing what is actually happening. I encountered a lot for my few hours on the farm and I partly thank my new ‘stupid phone’ for this. The greatest thing was the happiness that radiated from Aidan and his simple approach to life. It concreted for me that the changes I have made in my life in recent months are wise.

Living life on less than minimum wage has meant that buying nice things is not something I can take part in very often. I used to be a girl who wanted the latest in technology. I bought a sports car that I just cannot afford to keep on the road anymore and trips away were a very regular occurrence. Again this was a difficult transition but it is something that I have come to value. In the words of Bob Dylan, ‘When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose’ and once I realised that it was a freedom of sorts. Once again these life decisions of mine were validated during my trip to Cliffoney. My definition of ‘nice’ things has been redefined in recent times and the farm again confirmed this for me. Aidan lives in stunning surroundings in a modest house that he shares with his children, visitors and WWOOFers. The simplicity seems to have enriched Aidan’s life which I was about to witness first hand. We picked vegetables from the garden and Amy cooked up one of the best meals I have had in a very long time which was keeping with the theme of the day, simplicity. We sat at the table with Aidan, his son, Dan and a visiting WWOOFer, and talked about everything from economics to food to genetics and I personally did not want it to end. Enriched with good food and good conversation we made our way outside again to plant bulbs of garlic in our prepared patch.

The day which was almost like the conclusion point to the pilgrimage of self discovery that I have been on for 2014. It confirmed my old beliefs and assured me that my new beliefs are going along the right path too. The day made me nostalgic of my childhood, inspired, invigorated, reminded me of the importance of partnerships, the importance of listening, the importance of sharing in this world that is constantly drilling us to accumulate as much as we can for ourselves. Community is something that is becoming extinct in current Ireland and the farm is keeping this almost romantic idea alive. The most important life lesson I took from the day was to be present.

I would highly recommend people to visit the farm and join Aidan and his team for a day in beautiful surroundings. The possibilities of what you will gain from it are endless and I can’t wait to get out again.

For more information about how you can get involved please email Aidan Gillan on aidangillan65@gmail.com.

Here is another great blog piece by a WWOOFER who visited Tattie Hoaker from New Mexico http://catalinavf.blogspot.ie/?m=1

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