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hands with just picked radishHow did it happen? That food grown simply and naturally, without the addition of synthetic chemicals, has become a premium commodity that so few of us can afford to buy? That it costs money for a farmer to earn the right to label his produce organic. In the name of  “progress” we allowed substances- toxic to the environment, our health and the fertility of our planet- to permeate our food sources. These pesticide and herbicide laden ingredients are processed, packaged in plastic, and placed on shelves to be bought at a low price to feed our families. How has this become the norm? Organic food should be the norm. Would it not be fairer to penalise those who are placing poisons in our food chain rather than those that farm naturally? But it’s not even a case of organic verses non. We shouldn’t be having that conversation. It’s a case of placing economic and social value on food that is ethically farmed in an organic manner by people that we know and trust.

How easily we were seduced by the convenience of large scale, internationally controlled supermarkets. Operating a system of high volume turnover and market price fixing enables them to offer flexible opening hours, low prices and a huge range of fashionably exotic foodstuffs. This universally accepted model sees Ireland import 70% of our food. Yes, that’s SEVENTY PER CENT…., while Irish food products to the value of €4…wait for it…BILLION leave the country annually. Does any of that make sense? Something tells me we need a collective slap about the face with a wet fish…

Long term, there are not many who benefit from this arrangement. We’ve got to peel back the layers and ask ourselves – who controls the market prices? How are the large pharmaceutical companies infiltrating so many aspects of our lives? The answers to these questions will invariably lead back to a small group of very wealthy people whose sole focus in life is to remain that way. Our passive shopping habits make them richer while our communities are silently robbed of their independence and natural resources. Society has been deliberately constructed to distract us from the absurdities happening beneath our noses, as zillions of us worldwide labour on the hamster wheel of modern day living. And we, my friends, are the lucky ones. There are many around the globe that are less fortunate, already stripped of their natural capital and human rights.

I don’t have the solutions but I do know that we need to start caring about how, where and by whom our food is produced. Supporting our local small growers and producers that farm in an organic manner is one of the most profound things we can do for our families, communities and the future of the planet. We are infinitely more powerful than we believe. Collectively, we can change. And you can start by signing the Irish Food Sovereignty proclamation here, and help “build a vision for a better food and agricultural system for Ireland and our world.” It’s a good place to begin.

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Ragwort_FlowersYou will find swathes of bright yellow swaying in fallow meadows and roadsides despite attempts to eradicate it completely from the land. As a child I remember scouring fields for *buachaláns. Its strong, acrid odour would fill the air as you grabbed the stalk to tug it out. A smell so potent you could almost taste the unpleasantness in your mouth. The reason for its unpopularity lies in its toxicity. In the unlikely event of cattle or horses eating the plant, given its unpalatable smell, the presence of alkaloid poisons have the potential to cause severe or fatal liver damage. It poses more of a problem when the plant is cut and dried as it still retains its toxins. Hence our annual family ragwort purge. The plant is considered such a threat to the agricultural community that it is cited as an offender in the Irish Noxious Weeds Act of 1936.

Ragwort tastes so woeful that it would never be considered as food for humans so it is not a real danger to us. Some alkaloids may be absorbed through skin contact but these are eliminated from the body without causing harm. Ragwort may however cause dermatitis or an allergic reaction to sensitive individuals.

Cinnabar_Moth_ragwort

Is it fair to portray the ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) as a demonic scourge? It is, after all, host to over 70 insect species about 30 of which feed exclusively from it. The most well-known is the Cinnabar Moth, whose larvae can safely chomp away on the leaves, unbothered by predators. The plant’s alkaloids are absorbed by the caterpillars, giving the grubs, I imagine, a particularly nasty taste. The clusters of yellow flowers that emerge in late July and August are a great source of nectar and pollen for insects while its downy seeds provide food for birds in the autumn.

The Manx people refer to ragwort as cushag and liked it enough to appoint it as the Isle of Man’s national flower. This may be down to it’s extensive medicinal use in former times. There is early documentation reporting of the use of ragwort leaves as a poultice for rheumatism, sciatica and gout and the plant has even been cited as a cure for “staggers” in horses.

It goes without saying that livestock should always be kept safe and the practice of pulling the plant from grazing pastures is sensible. A prolific seeder and hardy perennial, it is unlikely that ragwort will ever become an endangered species but consider the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) and other insect life that the plant supports. Next time you come across a **bauld buachalán enjoy the beautiful display of radiant yellow, have a scan for any stripy passengers on board and wonder at the marvel of everything having its place in this magical ecosystem we inhabit.

*buachalán buí: Irish for ragwort (probably derived from Irish word buachaill- meaning boy, while buí means yellow) **bauld: Irish slang for bold or naughty

Note: I would not recommend self-medicating with ragwort, despite the wonder-cure claims.

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Winner of best green/eco blog!!!!

I am so thrilled and honoured to have been chosen for the best green/eco blog award for 2012. Fantastic news and I am only sorry I wasn’t able to make the awards ceremony on Saturday night. Thanks so much to all the organisers and volunteers of Blog Awards Ireland. It looks to have been a very successful and enjoyable affair. Congratulations to all the other winners.

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