Sunny Meadows was our first market vegetable farm; the first place were our efforts were directly effecting the success and income of our host farmer, Dermot O'Mara. For this reason it felt a little like our first true WWOOF experience, but that type of thinking only discredits the diversity of WWOOFing. So let's say it is the first WWOOF experience that at all resembled what most people image when they image WWOOFing.
The farm consists of 36 acres, but most of that is fields for the cattle which did not require much of our attention this time of year. Other than cattle, there are 90 laying hens and about 3 acres under vegetable cultivation with 3 large polytunnels for heat loving crops and cold season growing.
Dermot and his two teenage daughters, Emer and Lesha, live in a very simple old stone house with a single room downstairs for kitchen, dining, living room and office space and two bedrooms above. The WWOOFers all live in a single room wood cabin that is equipped with four single beds. WWOOFers have the use of an outhouse toilet facility, but share the shower, kitchen, and dining facilities with the main house. For at least half of our stay Dermot's girlfriend, her two children and Spanish exchange student were also staying on the farm. We'll just say it was cozy.
While the accommodations were a little sparse the work was varied and interesting. Despite relying entirely on WWOOFers for farm help, Sunny Meadows is well maintained and under good production. We spent our first afternoon digging early potatoes by hand.
Here Heide clears some space to plant coriander, or as we call it back home cilantro. We were both involved in seeding, planting, harvesting and of course weeding.
At one point there were five wwoofers on the farm. Here we are keeping the brasicas weeded.
Much of this type of work was familiar to Heide with her past experience on various vegetable farms, which was useful as Dermot had little time or inclination to provide WWOOFers with detailed instruction, and seemed to rely on the most experienced WWOOFers to make sure everyone else was doing things properly. Despite providing inadequate instruction he was often short or aggressive with inexperienced WWOOFers, especially if they were not completely proficient in English. This bummed us out and made us a little uncomfortable.
Patrick was happy to spend so much of his time with his hands in the dirt. This was the first farm where he wasn't asked to do any building projects.
We had the opportunity to put this old farm tool to use, shredding up large beet root that had grown too large to sell into feed for the cattle.
Having a way of using up vegetables unsuitable to eat or sell is one of many beneficial reasons to keep livestock on a vegetable farm. The large qualities of rich manure they provide is another.
While we didn't work with the cattle much we did get to witness these two oldtimers purchase a few bullocks and wrangle them into their trailer. In Ireland castrated male cattle are referred to as bullocks, while in America we use the term steer.
The hens on the farm needed daily attention including: watering, feeding, and egg collection.
The egg collection was a breeze with the fancy German Europa Nest Vollautomat. The nesting boxes are hinged in a way that locks out other birds once one is occupied, providing the security of a private egg laying experience. After laying the egg drops down from the nesting box to a tray below, keeping them clean and eliminating any need for washing.
After collection the eggs are weighed and packaged for sale.
€2.80 for half a dozen farm fresh eggs. Dermot sells most of his produce to repeat customers thorough individual weekly orders. As opposed to a regular CSA scheme were each customer gets the same box, Dermot takes specific orders from every person and individually packages and delivers each order. Although this took up a great deal of his time and did not provide much stability on what was ordered each week he insisted his clientele would not participate in a more standardized service.
As well as fulfilling individual orders Dermot also sold his goods at a very small weekend farmers market in the nearby town of Mount Shannon.
In order to meet demand for organic produce in this remote area Dermot supplements his own produce with a great deal of exotics and out of season fruits and vegetables wholesale from Holland.
We had the great pleasure of being at Sunny Meadows on the weekend that the farm was highlighted in a local farm tour event that saw roughly 200 visitors to the farm in one afternoon.
Much preparation was needed to ready the farm and prepare enough food to feed that many people. Everyone chipped in, including the kids, to get everything ready.
Dermot gave an informative farm tour covering good organic growing practices such as composting, green manures, and dealing with pests and disease.
All afternoon there was a cue for face paint and temperary tattoos provided by Dermot's girlfriend.
The kids drew up some amazing signs leading folks around the farm.
Unexpectedly Patrick was asked to round up kids interested in egg collection.
Despite the many helpful hands it all went fairly smoothly; there were only a few broken eggs.
Our second weekend on the farm we took a short bike trip to get some fresh air and a little more room to spread out. Just outside of Mount Shannon there is an old quirky campground that was high on charm despite being a little run down and obviously not in its prime.
A few kilometers past Mount Shannon is the home of the Irish Seed Savers Association. We enjoyed spending the afternoon wandering around their property and seeing all the interesting projects they have underway.
Profitable times provided them with grant money to build this modern facility for their outreach programs, but recent budget cuts have left them struggling to survive.
Interns and students stay in this straw bale house on the property.
They do a good job providing many areas and guided walks geared toward children. Here is an elaborate bug hotel.
All in all Sunny Meadow was probably the first farm that we felt our host was getting their money's worth out of us. After a hard day's work we often took a moment to ourselves on the blue bench outside our cabin before figuring out what to do for dinner. This time of day was often awkward as Dermot was irregular in his participation with meals and meal prep, and worst of all did not inform us of his plans, leaving the WWOOFers to fend for themselves. By the end of our stay we had established a bond with our little gang of WWOOFers and made the most of our cramped living conditions and unclear meal responsibilities. As always though, or maybe more than ever, we were ready to get back on the road.