Located on a windswept hill on the mountain roads between Spiddal and Moycullen you’ll find Siol Farm Shop, run by Cait, one of Ireland’s premier biodynamic farmers.
This Art of The Craft feature all about Cait Curran is a little different. I’ve found as this project develops I’ve gotten more comfortable finding a feel for each shoot and subject as I spend time with them. Given the nature of what Cait does and the year round process I chose to focus more on the farm itself and the products. Chatting with Cait was quite enlightening in many regards. I’ve always had strong feelings about our food supply system so it was great to hear from someone who’s right on the front edge of this.
Cait is originally from Kerry and from a family background where they were pretty much self sufficient as she was growing up. After 13 years spent in the Civil Service she became involved with a restaurant Co-Op in Clonmel. It was here that her foray into biodynamic growing began. Sourcing locally from growers was a part of their ethos. But as Cait puts it there was a certain “life-force” to one particular persons products that felt better and more vibrant than anyone else’s. And this was a biodynamic grower. Cait began to spend time with some of the growers at the weekends. At the same time a local group began to meet at the restaurant who were interested in the writings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Being around this group she learned more about the theories surrounding biodynamic.
Cait told me all about Steiner’s philosophies. How biodynamic growing takes in a much broader spectrum, even to some extent a spiritual element being considered when working with planting and growing. The movements of the moon are a strong consideration as well. In the 50’s a scientist called Maria Thun took this a step further, conducting experiments based around these ideologies. From this she developed a calendar that would help determine root days, flower days etc. This is the method that Cait now works with.
But back to the start… She completed a one year course in organic farming and made the move to Galway in 1990, initially in Athenry. But Cait says she always felt there was a step beyond this. Cait took a stall in the Galway Market near St Nicholas Cathedral selling her organic fruit and vegetables. Later she would move to Castlehackett near Belclare and continued to grow and sell. She also was involved in the development of Galway’s first community garden in Ballybane which she is still a part of. Cait extolled the virtues of the therapeutic effect of gardening and how she had seen first hand from this garden the benefits it can reward people with.
In 2011 she made the move to her current location and it was only a green field site at this point. Cait gained her BioDynamic Certification , feeling this was the right time to put her ideas to the test and now works exclusively in this regard. From this location Cait works on every aspect of Siol Farm Shop. Weeding and sowing, pricking out, transplanting, prepping all the products such as jams, apple juice, basil oil etc. These she primarily sells from the farm shop and still brings her other produce to the market every week.
Working for yourself is always a 7 day a week job. But in Cait’s case this is more true than ever. Nature does not wait. After almost 30 years doing this job she knows the importance of the right time for the right job in a way that cannot be condensed into words. It’s obvious from talking to Cait that while she may have help from others she’s still involved in every single thing that happens here. The only way something like this can work is by making allocations of days to different jobs while still allowing some element of the needs of the crops to dictate when they need to be sown, to be transplanted and to be reaped.
As with many of these shoots I’m always thrilled to be able to spend time with someone who not only is brilliant at what they do but still has that enthusiasm for their craft that is so rare these days. I got the feeling that if only Cait didn’t have so much work to do then we could have spent the day discussing the theories of Steiner and Thun, or how the kind of knowledge she uses to grow her crops was once commonly accepted as part of the way this work was done, long before we all became steeped in cynicism and a desire by everyone to have a how not a why…
And it’s hard work to be sure. Consider the reality of doing this kind of physical labour day in, day out for almost 30 years. Cait told me that at times in the polytunnels the temperatures can get as high as 45 degrees. Weeding is constant and you must always be vigilant for pests and other problems. Yet what’s obvious is that you could never do something like this unless it made you happy. We spoke about how some people spend their lives doing something they’re unhappy with and with no satisfaction. I say we should be thankful and count ourselves lucky there’s someone like Cait who is happy to do this for us and help create a product that we can all enjoy while continuing to educate us that maybe we should all get a bit more back to nature.
I know that for me over the last few years my desire to behave differently with my relationship with food and our food system has changed dramatically. Perhaps its getting a bit older but more so than anything I feel it’s since I became a father. When you’re feedng tiny humans you become a lot more concerned with where your food comes from and whats in it. I want my children to not just eat healthy, more so than I was ever concerned for myself but also to understand how their food gets to them. Some sort of connection to the meal on your plate, some sense of the land and the hands it passes through, some ability to grow something, would that not be one of the best gifts we can give our kids. So at least when the world turns on its head maybe we can all still grow some food rather than just pick it up in a bag.
You can visit Cait’s farm shop at this location every Friday for fresh produce or catch her in the Galway Market on Saturdays. You can find her Facebook here. If you want to learn more here’s some links that Cait recommends:
UK biodynamic association: https://www.biodynamic.org.uk/
Irish biodynamic association: http://www.biodynamicagriculture.ie/
Swiss organic research institute: FIBL (Switzerland) www.fibl.org
Louis Bolk Institute (Holland) www.louisbolk.org
Biodynamic Research and info data base / Network: considera.org
Laverstokepark (Biodynamic and Organic research project)
SEKEM (Egypt) www.sekem.com
Camphill communities in Ireland: https://www.camphill.ie/
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