Padraig and Una Fahy celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their Organic Farm Enterprise in Beechlawn this Autumn. The reality though is that the Fahy Family have been tending this very same land for close to a 100 years.
Just a year after the state was founded Padraig Grandfather Pat Fahy and his wife Mary Ellen Goode bought the original farm. As well as running it as a mixed farm Pat was a master grower of vegetables. He was the Head Gardener in St. Brigid’s before handing over the post to the late Tom Quinn in 1958 (a man who was still winning prizes for his vegetables in Shows up and into his 90s).
Little wonder then that the tradition of setting seeds and thinning, continued to the third generation. Padraig is aware of even earlier efforts, “I can recall him telling us stories of the Suck Callows being used for Garden Fillers and seed potatoes being shipped to the markets of Dublin back to Famine times till the first world war”. “The Mackney area in Gaelic times was famous for Parsnip growing. There was also a tradition of cereal growing in the Beechlawn and Mackney areas with Bertie Walsh’s Mill”, explains Padraig.
After Padraig's education in Garbally College and a Humanities degree in Maynooth University in the mid-90s, like most 20 years olds of the time he decided to travel and see the world. “I was backpacking and WOOFING (working on farms and in social enterprises) around the world. I was in Ghandi’s house in India on St Patricks Day 1997, surrounded by like-minded people enjoying quality lives on subsistence farming when I had my EUREKA moment “he recalls.
On return to Ireland, he enrolled on a Teagasc course in Horticulture in Drumcollogher, Co Cork and this began his love affair with the production of quality organic food and farming.
His wife Una (Ni Bhroin) enters the story a year later formally in the Teagasc course but they did encounter each other during the famous Glen of Downs Protest in 1998. “I was always a keen networker and many of the people I met on my travels and in supporting sustainable and environmental issues are all still connected to green sector enterprise or lifestyles today. We still to this day learn a lot from each other as well as formally” he notes.
On qualification from his course Padraig secured a field office post in Co. Roscommon in 2000. Advising and supervising in a Community Garden and quickly found himself as a Horticultural teacher in Castlerea Community Prison 2001 – 2005. This secured his first few seasons of off farm income, critical to the establishment of a new enterprise in Beechlawn.
“2001 was my first year to plant on ½ acre of my late parents farm. The land was located just beside the cowsheds on the old farm. So, it was well manured land, and I planted my first crop of Potatoes. John Glynn was very helpful to us in the early days, and we would never have bought a tractor, delivery van or tunnel without the huge backing we received from our local Credit Union “, explains Padraig.
Both he and Una chuckle looking back at the memorable week of 2003 when their first tractor, the estate car for delivering the veg boxes and the apple of their eye – eldest daughter Meabh all arrived at the same time!!
For both entrepreneurs the move from their rented home in the Pines back to the Padraig family farm, a new eco build home and the arrival of children Roisin, Tomas and Teegan. This, combined with their first staff, would never have happened without the huge support of Padraig’s late parents Tom and Margret who massively helpful and encouraging to the couple.
In 2005/2006 they founded the Farmer's Markets Network in East Galway South Roscommon and were busy suppling 6 Markets locally on a weekly basis from 9 acres. Back then their core output was 20% wholesale and some 80% direct to customer, generating 20 tons of vegetable output per year.
With Leader support some 6 years in they were able to engage key technical experts who supported in the development of their business strategy. They also secured participation in Bord Bia Vantage programme in 2009. Teagasc have used the farm as a demonstration farm for good organic practice since 2008-2011 and 2020. They also won accolades with Supervalue under their “Local Organic Supplier Initiatives “more recently.
From one staff member in 2005, they now have a fulltime staff exceeding 20 working all year round. They manage 50 acres of farmland and deliver nearly 150 tons of organic vegetables to more than 100 whole sales operators – restaurants, shops, co -ops – with just 20 % of output in direct sales to customers! Currently they are one of Tesco’s Main Organic Supplier of Leek, Kale and Sprouts.
Looking around the couple are not resting on their laurels, “the time has flown , the pandemic was a challenge with labour, and with supplies but people were certainly more interested in locally grown food. We will consolidate and expand our current model. We might look into other areas of education, training here on the farm there are huge possibilities for courses on site for a variety of ages and backgrounds. This combined with alternative medicine or healthy lifestyles are areas we are looking forward to exploring”, states Una.
Location has been key for the enterprise “we have the mighty Esker free draining soils here, the PH is strong, we are at the crossroads of Ireland for distribution with easy Motorway access. We have a loyal and hardworking staff, and we have a hugely loyal local customer base “offers Padraig. With added support from the Department of Agriculture also who are now putting a big emphasis on organic production as part of EU policy for climate change. Biodiversity is a key factor in the importance of Organic Farming for the future.
To celebrate the 20th Anniversary the Farm is hosting an Autumn Harvest Fair from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm on Sat 10th of September - promising a nice open day for families to come and see some of the demonstrations, talks and walks. See their website https://beechlawnorganicfarm.ie/ for full programme details.
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