A Look at the Cloncannon Biofarm and its Sustainable Agriculture

27th July 2016
Report

Cloncannon Biofarm, located on the beautiful western slopes of the Devil’s Bit mountains in Co Tipperary, is a one of a kind farm. This is due to the fact that it is staunchly committed to the principles of organic food production and protecting the natural habitat.

The mission of Cloncannon Biofarm is* “to engage visitors to the farm in activities that inform and stimulate their interest in healthy soil, animals, plants and society."* And they truly adhere to their mission. Currently, Cloncannon is doing a lot to help promote eco-tourism, as well as promoting healthy farming choices. The farm even has ‘visit itineraries’ that are specially tailored for primary school, secondary school, and active retirement groups on their website, although they can accommodate many other types of groups.

This past May, a group of participants, who visited as part of National Biodiversity Week, were able to take part in one of these incredibly educational and personalized tours. National Biodiversity Week, which was held from May 14th-22nd this year, is designed to entertain, inform, and inspire people to get interested in nature and take action to protect Ireland’s native plants and animals.

Participants toured the biofarm and were able to see firsthand how it is possible to cherish and enhance farmland biodiversity in a natural food production system. The event was one of many designed to help people of varying backgrounds become involved with nature around them. In this particular case, participants spent the afternoon learning how the farm utilized different techniques to maintain biodiversity throughout the premises.

During the tour, farmer Sean O’Farrell demonstrated biodiversity work on the farm. Participants were shown a large amount of flora and fauna at Cloncannon, which included observing a variety of different types of flowers and butterflies. In the organic garden the soil is nurtured and fed with compost, farmyard manure, seaweed and compost teas. Techniques such as crop rotation, companion planting, mulching, green manuring and manual weeding are used to grow highly nutritious potatoes, vegetables and soft fruits. Native trees, nettles, wildflowers and deadwood all contribute to enhancing biodiversity and finding the correct balance for a great harvest bounty. Currently, the farm produces honey, organic chicken (broilers), organic beef, and organic soft fruits, potatoes and vegetables. For this particular event, participants were able to sample organic fruits grown on the farm versus store-bought fruits as well as take part in some of the farming practices listed above.

When speaking to Mr. O’Farrell on how he designs his tours and education activities for his visitors, he spoke of the importance of interconnectivity. He says he wants to do whatever will get the group involved and engaged while also maintaining a more personal relationship between the visitors and nature around them. O’Farrell has implemented a number of different projects to help facilitate this at the farm.

Science Foundation Ireland - Discover Primary Science Centre

Cloncannon Biofarm became certified as a Discover Primary Science Centre in July 2015. This is seen as a great recognition of the hands-on outdoor activities relating to nature and also science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) delivered for Primary School students. School tour programmes are also tailored to the school needs, with a main focus on nature and growing and eating healthy food. The ringfort (history), beautiful landscape (geography) and farm animals each provide a very engaging learning experience for any visitor to the farm.

Secondary School Students.

Sean and his staff of qualified ecologists have been very busy delivering curricular related ecology field study programmes to Leaving Cert Biology and Ag. Science students in a catchment from Limerick City to Portlaoise to Kilkenny and Tipp Town. Transition Year students can evaluate initiatives on the farm under the modules on Sustainable Development, Enterprise and also Care of the Environment. In the new Junior Cycle programme topics such as Evolution (Darwin), Inheritance, D.N.A, Microorganisms, Conservation of Biodiversity and also healthy food feature in the Biological World Strand. Students can gain a good understanding of these subjects during a science/ecology tour at Cloncannon Biofarm.

Eco-Tourism

The evolving attractions and activities at the farm are making the venue a fun stop over for visitors, and O’Farrell hopes to increase the amount of eco-tourism the farm sees every year. And interest in the farm’s practices is picking up. Recently, 32 Swiss farmers enjoyed a farm tour, and their neighbouring farmers in Austria are scheduled to visit in August.

Initiatives to enhance biodiversity, such a planting native woodlands and creating pond habitats will raise the profile of Cloncannon Biofarm as a eco-tourist destination. Quality natural food is also a magnet of attraction.

The Importance of the Biofarm

O’Farrell explains that when you work on a organic farm there is always a lot happening, and when the visitors get the chance to actually participate in the farm’s daily activities it helps them engage with nature and connect to their world.

At a time when many farming practices take advantage of the natural environment around them, it is a great asset to have a farm like Cloncannon that is not only working sustainably, but also working to help educate our generation and future generations on the importance of our environment.

In a recent report titled “Not So Green,” which was released by the Environmental Pillar in association with Stop Climate Chaos, it is noted that intensive agricultural practices contribute negatively to the biodiversity in Ireland. In the past, farming practices used to co-exist alongside healthy ecosystems and were often instrumental in the maintenance of semi-natural habitats [Note 1]. Due to today’s agricultural practices, this cooperation between agriculture and the environment is gone.

The report notes that since the 1960s, due to changes in the way we farm, farmland bird populations have decreased. The report continues “declining farmland bird populations are indicative of wider impacts on biodiversity… [and] reflect losses in habitat extent and quality and often equate to losses in ecosystem services which are an essential asset to society.” [Note 1].

The report calls for support of farmers who support farmland biodiversity. The Cloncannon Biofarm exemplifies this support of biodiversity, and is doing a lot to not only help the biodiversity on their farm, but contribute to teaching the next generation about the possible cooperation between agriculture and the environment.

Notes: Note 1. http://www.antaisce.org/sites/antaisce.org/files/not_so_green_reportdraft.pdf