Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I have just returned from another trip to Orange, Australia. This time it was brief and unexpected but as usual interesting and fun. Orange, in rural NSW, never ceases to amaze me in terms of it's facilities and amenities. It has a substantial and vital agricultural hinterland reliant on apples, cherries and winemaking. Despite the name there is not an orange in sight. The town's name actually has more to do with William of Orange and sectarian rivalries through the ages. Released Irish convicts moved west from Sydney in search of opportunity. After the monumental climb over the Blue Mountains the Irish Catholics decided enough was enough and settled in Bathurst but not before kicking the Irish Protestants out of town. Those evicted travelled further west in search of a suitable place to settle and found the town of Orange and to spite the Bathurst folk named it after the old enemy, William of Orange. Well that is the version I like. Can't recall where I heard that story but I have not been able to find much written or oral evidence. Maybe it is a rural myth. Whatever, I like the story.

Back to present day Orange. During my short stay I managed a stroll through the Botanical Gardens which are quite impressive for a small rural town. What really attracted my attention though was the nice collection of apple varieties they had. By my count there were 54 varieties of apple plus a nice collection of crab apples from Japan an China. The apple collection even had an old Irish variety, Irish Peach, which dates back to the reign of Elizabeth 1. Unfortunately there was no one around to talk to about it, it was 6am after all, but I am sure that the collection is important in the development and history of the apple industry around Orange. I was able to find out that the gardens use the collection to educate the public and schools about the history of growing apples, pruning and grafting and so forth. There is also a children's garden where kids can muck around and a plants and health section planned which will have examples of aboriginal plants important for nutrition. Great examples of what can be done with such gardens in a small rural area.

Before leaving Orange, I took Callum and Imogen to the annual meeting of the Orange Horticultural Society at St Barnabas Hall. There were fine exhibits of cut flowers but hidden away in a corner there was a rather measly collection of back garden vegetables that no one seemed too keen to be associated with. I was left wondering if this is a strong indicator of the decline in growing food in one's back yard.

I think there are many rural towns and councils in Ireland who could learn much from Orange in terms of promoting and enjoying the 'great outdoors'.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

More barmy laws

Unfortunately the article does not appear to be available online but the Guardian Weekly (21.03.08) reports how the severe 2007 cereal season has meant a critical shortage of wheat straw suitable for thatching and how this will be worsened by less seed in coming years. Thatch craftsmen get tangled up in red tape describes how frustrated thatchers have tried to persuade local planners to let them use triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid, as an alternative. Even though triticale is approved by the conservation agency English Heritage local council officials are having none of it. They insist that only traditional straw can be used on listed buildings. Putting the wrong type of straw on roofs could land you with a fine of up to £20,000 and six months in prison.

Friday, 7 March 2008

International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women's Day

Fact Sheets and Training Guides for the implementation of Gender Equality in Agriculture and Rural Development are available for download from the Gender Equality Unit of the Irish National Development Plan.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A working class vegetarian is something to be...

Had the radio (RTE 1) on in the background and my attention was drawn to a debate about vegetable consumption in Ireland. One person on a panel discussion felt that the consumption of vegetables was a class issue and I would certainly agree. Obviously costs and education are big factors. One of my favourite past times is taking the taking the escalator from the top floor of the Jervis centre in Dublin. This gives me a birds-eye view of the little cafe at the bottom of the stairs. You can be certain that about 90% of the finished plates will have the serving of side salad left untouched.

Migration: Forcing Movement, Closing Doors

I finally managed to get along to one of Comhlamh's First Wednesday Debates. The sensitive and emotional issue of migration. Generally it was an interesting night covering the usual push and pull factors involved, the global and historical context of migration. I learned much about recent immigration trends in Ireland and the demographic changes this has contributed. I also learned more about the new migration bill that is being discussed at the moment.

A couple of specific issues predictably arose, issues that continue to unsettle me.

In regards to Irish attitudes to migration and immigrants, someone from the floor made the comment that Irish rural communities are less welcoming and accommodating than urban centres. In my limited time back in Ireland, and having lived in both contexts, I am not convinced that this is the case. Certainly in cities like Dublin there are more spaces for migrants (and Irish) to meet and interact. However, cities by their very nature are more cosmopolitan and this does not necessarily reflect a more welcoming and accommodating attitude on behalf of the local population. I would certainly like to hear more about rural /urban experiences before forming any opinions on such an issue.

Secondly, brain drain. One floor speaker felt that we as a country should be more socially responsible when it comes to 'taking' all the qualified talent from many of the countries supplying migrants to Ireland. Obviously he has a bit of a point but I think the issue is much more complex than this, as one of the panel replied in his response about the benefit of remittances. There are other benefits too. A large number of migrants involved in the 'brain drain' do eventually return to their countries bringing a wealth of new skills, ideas and knowledge. They also bring a breadth of new networks and contacts and more. But what annoys me most about the 'brain drain' debate is that it is usually 'ex-pats' and people in receiving countries that do all the complaining about it. You rarely hear countries supplying the 'brain drain' complain. I suspect because they can clearly see the potential benefit of their qualified people working overseas. I also have a problem with the issue of 'who decides?' or 'who has the right to decide?' about who can go where. Is it okay for those of us in the wealthy world to have professional mobility, while those in the poorer south should stay put? Ireland, and it's citizens, with their historical experience of the 'brain drain' should be in a position to make a more informed analysis of this complex and tender topic. One could equally make the argument that it is our social responsibility to accept migrants as part of the 'brain drain'.

Finally, and it always gets my back up, another floor speaker felt that the onus should be on migrants to 'assimilate'. What has happened to the collective Irish memory? Try telling that to the hundred's of thousands of Irish migrants who travelled across the water from the 1950's up to the 1980's. I can remember many stories of the 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish' signs in windows of B&B and other guest houses in London. Personally, I recall turning up on the doorstep of a house in Kent, where I had arranged to stay for 6 months on the phone, only to be told by the landlady that she wouldn't have let me have the room if she had known I was Irish. Apparently she thought I was American on the phone! The point being that for many reasons this whole issue is much more complex and requires a more detailed analysis than simply saying that the onus or responsibility lies with one particular group of people. It lies with all of us.

In many respects it seems that our collective memory on migration is hazy which is sad because we have so much in common with current migrants. Much that could inform the current debate on migration and help Ireland innovate in how it deals with migrants.

Would love to hear more views on this.

Irish Genetic Resources Conservation Trust

Agency with useful information and links on Irish agrobiodiversity. I have linked to them on earlier postings.

Eat your blues!

Efforts by Irish growers to grow lesser known varieties as a way of reviving interest in a declining market would appear to be paying off. A blue potato is proving a hit since being introduced to the market by a Dublin family which has been growing vegetables for over 200 years. Also demonstrates the importance of agrobiodiversity in adding-value and the potential for opening up niches markets and much more.

An important collection of indigenous potato varieties dating from famine times is maintained at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Potato Centre in County Donegal.

Thanks to Luigi over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for flagging this.


Interesting new developments about the Bluetongue virus (BTV) an it's etiology. Accrding to this article the next few weeks will be crucial in determining if this island remains Bluetongue free.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Care farms

The National Care Farm Initiative is a way of offering on-farm health, education and welfare services for people in need. Participants in care farm schemes have experienced improvements to their physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being. Participants connect with a healthy daily structure and meaningful work in a natural environment - gaining social, educational and training benefits. The farming environment can be used to provide significant benefits for a wide range of people including:
-those with learning difficulties
-people with a drug/alcohol history
-disaffected and excluded youth
-people with work-related stress
-those with mental health issues and depression
Care farming is good for rural communities and economies as it enhances the viability of farms, broadens farm business and increases the services derived from the countryside. Farmers receive a deep sense of satisfaction through helping people improve their lives through farming - and having guests of the farm also addresses issues of rural isolation. Care farming places a high value on the knowledge and skills of farmers and seeks to help rural communities become more socially , economically and environmentally sustainable.