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Rich tradition of farm-based businesses

September 5th, 2022 9:00 AM

By Emma Connolly

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THIS week we’re delighted to profile our three finalists in the diversification category in this year’s West Cork Farming Awards.

The region has many superb examples of farms that have creatively diversified to successful farm-based businesses in areas including artisan food and agri-tourism.

The motivation to diversify is different for everyone and for some it’s financial, the need to create a new income stream, while for others it’s to maximise the resources they have readily available on their farm.

Our three finalists were very honest when sharing their diversification stories, admitting that it was, at times, a struggle that saw them overcome many challenges on the journey.

But equally they all agree that it was a decision they’ve never regretted, that it’s something that has future proofed their farms, and in some cases, has ensured they have a legacy to hand over to future generations.

Judges will ultimately present the award to to a winner who has developed a successful commercial farm-based enterprise that makes a positive financial contribution to their household income.

Next week’s we’ll reveal our Young Farmer of the Year finalists which is always a hotly contested category.

That will be followed by our Drystock finalists, then the Hall of Fame winner, followed by our Farming Family.

All finalists, together with their families, will be invited to a gala awards ceremony at the Celtic Ross Hotel,

Rosscarbery on Friday, October 7th, where we’re delighted to say the guest of honour will be IFA president Tim Cullinan.

DIVERSIFICATION AWARD FINALISTS - Sponsored by Scally's SuperValu, Clonakilty

SANDRA Schmid, founded her therapeutic riding centre in Bantry in 2013 and since then she has cleared major hurdles to develop Hairy Henry Care Farm to the top level it’s at today.

Earlier this year she travelled the 500km Beara Breifne Way on horse-back to raise the remaining funds needed to complete the centre’s all-weather barn which was opened last week.

Sandra, a registered social worker originally from Germany, and her hus- band Tim have a farm of 12 acres 5km outside Bantry – mostly pasture and some native woodland.

‘I have been keeping horses on our land since the year we moved here in 2005, and with my social work back- ground and keen interest in working with people with additional needs, I started the Hairy Henry Care Farm in 2013, where I initially just offered therapeutic riding for children and adults with additional needs,’ she said.

Over the years she started including the whole farm and all animals in her sessions for therapeutic and educational benefits with great success.

She now runs individual and group therapy sessions, children’s camps, riding lessons, educational programmes and family farm visits with a wide range of activities around the farm.

Care farming is her approach, where people get encouraged and supported to engage in farming activities.

‘It involves hands-on jobs such as feeding, mucking out, brushing horses, leading donkeys to the field etc. In care farming it is not so important whether or how the job gets done – the focus is on what benefits it might bring to the person. I use my horses, donkeys, sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, hens, geese, duck and dogs in my work and the ses- sions promote a sense of purpose and belonging, achievement and independence, improved communication skills and self-esteem.’

Their land, she said, would never make a commercial profit with livestock or tillage or even forestry.

‘This diversification is ideal for our farm. By combining my social and health care skills with my passion for animals and nature and my skill set around animal husbandry, I am able to earn an income from our farm,’ said Sandra who is originally from Germany.

Opening the purpose built centre was a huge achievement, which she said required ‘iron determination’ to deliver.

‘My future plans are to expand on my existing programmes as I can now reliably offer a service all year.

‘I would love to offer a pre-school programme for children with autism. I would also like to develop and implement programmes for young teenagers to support them with personal devel- opment, positive mental health and self care.’

Goat’s Path Pod Park | Sheep’s Head

A FARM accident in 2016 was the ultimate push Chris O’Sullivan needed to take the first steps towards developing his unique glamping site, Goat’s Path Pod Park, on the Sheep’s Head.

The accident saw Chris lose the tips of two fingers on his right hand.

‘I couldn’t work for three months afterwards. I’d had the idea for the glamping site for a while, and it just gave me the drive to get my idea moving,’ he said.

‘The accident made me realise that I was doing all this hard work on the farm anyway, but I was getting very little return for it. I asked myself what was I waiting for?

‘And that’s when I decided that I wanted to do more with the farm,’ he said.

At the time Chris ran a suckler farm with sheep at the picturesque location of Glanlough, between Bantry and Ahakista.

His first diversification was to establish the ‘Goats Path Farm’ brand which he did by switching to rare breeds: dexter cattle and valais blacknose sheep (which he describes as a cross between a dog and a sheep!).

Next came the glamping site which was delivered after clearing planning hurdles, and securing Leader funding.

The unique park features six grass- roof effect pods as well as a site to pitch tents.

They opened in June 2021 – when lockdown restrictions were being lifted – and enjoyed a sell-out first season.

‘This year we had a lot of repeat business as well as visitors from the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and France,’ said Chris.

The agri-tourism venture is very much a family affair.

Chris is helped by his wife Marie (who worked in childcare until the pandemic) and their children Sophie (15) and Danny (12).

Building a solid legacy for the children was another very strong motivating factor for Chris to diversify from con- ventional farming.

‘I was handed the farm by my dad, and I was glad of it, but really it was an expensive hobby. I want to hand my children something with a future, and I think there’s a huge future in this,’ he said.

Chris has lots of plans for the park going forward. Already he keeps pet dexters and pygmy goats on the site and down the line he hopes to develop a petting farm for guests but which would also open to the public.

‘The idea is to hopefully expand into West Cork’s first petting farm where visitors can come for a day visit. Getting planning sticking at it and getting this business opened during a pandemic is my greatest achievement to date,’ said Chris.

Curragh Farm Lodges | Riverstick

VERONICA Kelleher always felt there was something ‘magical’ about the Riverstick farm where she lived with her husband and four children.

‘Whenever I went up to the farm I could just sense it, and I could see that there was more potential there,’ she said.

The farm was originally a dairy enter- prise until 2007, then they changed to beef while also breeding horses for the national hunt.

But ultimately it was a need to make the farm more commercially viable that saw Veronica and Maurice take the plunge into the agri-tourism sector.

‘By 2017 we realised we needed to diversify in order to ensure the sustain- ability of the farm,’ she said. ‘We realised that like most farms in Ireland, we had out-houses and that there was potential in converting them into self-catering accommodation. We had an underused property asset, in the very heart of our farmyard. We literally walked past it every day without seeing its true potential,’ said Veronica.

She undertook the major project of converting three outhouses into one- bed lodges, where the focus is on high-end finishes and luxury.

Curragh Farm Lodges opened the week before Covid hit and like all other accommodation providers had to close, but once they got the green light, the bookings flooded in, and the farm has had 98% occupancy since opening.

She has also since overseen the refurbishment of a 300-year-old farm- house where Maurice grew up, Curragh House, on the property.

Her aim, throughout, is to deliver a hotel experience, with a farm experience and a customer experience.

‘Our customer is king,’ she said.

The couple have also restored the naturally-occurring pathways, through the farm, so their guests can use them as walkways to see cattle, horses and foals and alpacas.

The road to diversification hasn’t been without its challenges, admits Veronica.

‘I remember the night before we opened, thinking that nobody is going to come to Riverstick on their holidays. But the rest is history!’

The entire family including children Conor (19), Mossie (14), Tom (11) and Tara (7) have made sacrifices but it’s been 110% worth it, she said.

‘From a family and farm perspective it has been the best thing we have ever done,’ she said.

It’s been financially rewarding and has also boosted the local economy, while giving a lew lease of life to their farm.

‘I’m so grateful to have had the land and to have been able to do something so positive with it.

‘It was a big capital investment for sure, but we’ve future proofed the farm and it has brought us closer together,’ said Veronica.

Why we support West Cork farming

AT Scally’s SuperValu, our policy has always been to support local suppliers and keep jobs in our community.

This, we believe, is very important to the local economy and also ensures we can offer our custom- ers the very best in local produce.

So says Eoghan Scally, who is the second generation of the Scally family to operate the SuperValu store in Clonakilty. In business since 1984, from the very beginning the store championed West Cork foods and this remains a corner stone of the company ethos.

Eoghan runs the business with his parents, Eugene and Catriona, and the store employs over 150 people, trades seven days/week and 363 days/year.

The store has won numerous awards and accolades over the years, and has continually changed and improved in line with retail development globally.

When asked to come on board as a sponsor for the inaugural West Cork Farming Awards nearly a decade ago, Eugene didn’t hesitate, believing it vital that West Cork farming families be recognised for their tremendous effort in producing top class food, be that in dairy, beef or crop production. Coming from a farming background, Eugene knows first-hand the effort that goes in to working on the land and producing food to a consistently high standard.

In recent years Scally’s have sponsored the Diversification Award in the West Cork Farming Awards, and as a retailer who loves to innovate, Eoghan believes this is a particularly good fit for SuperValu Clonakilty.

‘It’s fantastic to see how farms are successfully diversifying their business and developing additional income be that in agri-tourism or artisan foods etc.

‘There have been some outstanding winners in the category such as the Lynch family of Bantry Bay Farm Foods, and the O’Donovan’s of Gloun Cross Dairy, to name just two. We look forward to meeting the finalists in this exciting category of the West Cork Farming Awards 2022.’

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