The tours will be at­trac­tive to tourists — but will also woo lo­cals who may not be Award-win­ning farms in West Cork are all set to wel­come vis­i­tors

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COVER STORY - Ma­jella Flynn Vis­i­tors will see our at­ten­tion to de­tail and the work we do to pro­duce the qual­ity of our milk. They’ll see the pas­sion we have for farm­ing; we’ll ed­u­cate peo­ple that we’re farm­ing in an en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly way, that grass” our cows ar

Five award-win­ning farm fam­i­lies in West Cork are opening their farm gates to vis­i­tors un­der a new­ly­launched ini­tia­tive.

West Cork Farm Tours pro­vides vis­i­tors with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of ru­ral life, farm­ing prac­tices and sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion. It is tar­get­ing tourists who may have never stepped on to a farm, and farm­ers and study groups keen to see how other farms are run.

The five farm fam­i­lies are Avril and Wil­lie All­shire, Ross­car­bery; Michael and Mar­guerite Crow­ley, Sk­ib­bereen; Tommy Moyles, Ard­field; John Joe O’Sul­li­van, Ross­car­bery; and De­nis and Col­lette O’Dono­van, who farm be­tween Ross­car­bery and Glan­dore.

All five aim to share sto­ries about their farms, their farm­ing lives, the qual­ity food they pro­duce, and how they pro­duce it, and to share their ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of the sur­round­ing lo­cal­i­ties. Launch­ing the ini­tia­tive at the Celtic Ross Ho­tel, Ross­car­bery, Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Michael Creed said: “This ini­tia­tive is en­tre­pre­neur­ial, it’s vi­sion­ary, it’s of its time.” He added: “Sto­ry­telling is at the heart of this ini­tia­tive. The farm­ers here are sto­ry­tellers, they each have a fas­ci­nat­ing and dif­fer­ent story to tell.” Dairy farmer Mar­guerite Crow­ley says tourists of­ten don’t hear the lo­cal story, and don’t get to meet the lo­cals, and she says West Cork Farm Tours can change that. She and her hus­band Michael and their five chil­dren live near Sk­ib­bereen, and vis­i­tors to their farm will hear about their lives and the his­tory of the farm, and get a trac­tor-and-trailer tour to see the herd of cows and how the farm op­er­ates. They will also have the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy tea, cof­fee and scones with the fam­ily.

In 2016, the Crow­leys were named West Cork Dairy Farmer of the Year, won the Car­bery Milk Qual­ity Award, and were re­cently named as the Best Per­cent­age Solids cat­e­gory win­ner in the Na­tional Dairy Coun­cil/Ker­ry­gold Milk Qual­ity Awards. Third-gen­er­a­tion farmer Michael says: “Vis­i­tors will see our at­ten­tion to de­tail and the work we do to pro­duce the qual­ity of our milk. They’ll see the pas­sion we have for farm­ing; we’ll ed­u­cate peo­ple that we’re farm­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way, that our cows are stress­free, are be­ing fed on grass, and breathe the salt air from the At­lantic Ocean.”

He sees the im­por­tance of chat­ting with the vis­i­tors and show­ing hos­pi­tal­ity: “They’ll thank you for giv­ing them the time.”

Another dairy farm in­volved in the West Cork Farm Tours ini­tia­tive is that of John Joe O’Sul­li­van and fam­ily in Ross­car­bery. They have won the Car­bery Milk Qual­ity Award twice, and won the Ori­gin Green Sus­tain­abil­ity Award in 2016.

“We rear all the stock as well,” says John Joe’s son An­drew. “Vis­i­tors will get a tour of the farm and see the calves, the one-year-olds, the twoyear-olds, and the cows.” John Joe adds: “We also do bee keep­ing, and there’s a lot of bio­di­ver­sity on the farm be­cause all of the orig­i­nal fences are still there. There’s a lot of his­tory on the farm.” An­drew makes the point also that the farm tours will ben­e­fit farm­ers so­cially, by hav­ing peo­ple com­ing on to the farms.

De­nis and Col­lette O’Dono­van and their son Eoghan farm on the Wild At­lantic Way be­tween Ross­car­bery and Glan­dore, pro­duc­ing high­qual­ity milk from grass grazed by their Friesian Jersey cross­bred herd.

“90% of the world’s milk is pro­duced from grain, we [in Ire­land] are the 10% do­ing it from grass. This is our unique sell­ing point,” says De­nis, adding that the West Cork Farm Tours are mak­ing the link be­tween the food pro­ducer and the top-qual­ity prod­uct that the con­sumer buys from a re­tailer.

“That’s what we’re do­ing with the tea and the scones for vis­i­tors to our farm, giv­ing them sam­ples of the cheese and the milk,” says Col­lette. Vis­i­tors can also ex­pect a tour of the spec­tac­u­lar scenery in which the O’Dono­van farm is lo­cated. “We take vis­i­tors on the trac­tor and trailer down to Drombeg Stone Cir­cle, and they’re blown away with it,” says De­nis. As well as see­ing dairy farms, tourists tak­ing the West Cork Farm Tours have the op­por­tu­nity of vis­it­ing award-win­ning pork and beef farms.

Avril and Wil­lie All­shire and their sons William and Mau­rice pro­duce Ca­her­beg free-range pork and, through the Ross­car­bery Recipes brand, pro­duce in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning black and white pud­ding. Mau­rice has launched a new prod­uct, Ir­ish Bil­tong, which won a sil­ver medal in the Blas na hÉire­ann Ir­ish Food Awards.

Avril says the farm­ers in­volved in the tours ini­tia­tive met as five strangers, adding: “Ev­ery one of us have a dif­fer­ent story to tell, yet what binds us is our pride in our fam­i­lies, our farms, in what we’ve done with what we’ve got. And we love talk­ing about it… we’re very proud of where we’re from.”

She says that the fam­ily has plans to add to the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence: “We are plan­ning to build a 50-seater café demo unit as well. I’ll be do­ing cookan ing demos, us­ing our prod­ucts, and Wil­lie will come in and talk peo­ple through what we do, how we do it.”

Beef farmer Tommy Moyles is in­ter­ested in show­ing vis­i­tors around his farm as well as of­fer­ing them an in­sight into what West Cork has to of­fer. He is the fifth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily to farm near San­descove beach, Ard­field, Clon­akilty. A Nuffield Ire­land farm­ing scholar, he runs a herd of Sim­men­tal cows, pro­duc­ing beef from grass.

“We’re look­ing for­ward to show­ing vis­i­tors the stan­dards we pro­duce our food at, and how we con­vert our grass into var­i­ous forms of pro­tein,” says Tommy. “De­pend­ing on what time of year peo­ple call, they’ll see live­stock at dif­fer­ent stages, grass at dif­fer­ent stages.”

He adds: “Our dwelling house is 400 me­tres from the At­lantic, another part of our farm has a view of all of West Cork. My grand­fa­ther used to run tours, so I’ll be us­ing his knowl­edge bank of lo­cal his­tory as well. It’s about show­ing what West Cork is about.”

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