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Posts Tagged ‘organic’

Rita-Wild-Illust_2017-05_WEBRita Wild stresses that she is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a capitalist. Shaped by several decades working in the community sector, Rita has long been an advocate for social change. Recognising economic viability, however, as a major key to sustainability has led Rita down a more entrepreneurial path. When Rita, a former vegetarian, began eating meat again she found it difficult to source affordable, organic produce in Northern Ireland. That’s when the idea for the organic box scheme, BOXA, began to form. It wasn’t an immediate transition and a lot of soul searching went into the best format to adopt for the business. One thing Rita was certain of – she would run it as a “benevolent dictatorship”. Many years of serving her fellow citizens through committee consensus convinced Rita that her new venture would best perform with an individual at the helm.

Rita has been delivering organic and ethically-reared beef, wild venison, lamb, chicken, pork and fish directly from producer to plate now for five years. By bulk buying and eliminating the middleman it means the farmer or fisherman earns a fair price while the consumer pays competitive rates for food that is local, traceable, and of the highest standard. Flying in the face of conventional business, BOXA has minimal overheads. No fancy website (a facebook page does very nicely thank-you), no admin or marketing costs, no branding or packaging, just a simple monthly email to the 400-plus customers, outlining what’s on offer. This ensures that the organic produce is reasonable priced and more accessible than its supermarket counterparts.

The enterprise started cautiously. With a side of organic beef in hand Rita picked up the phone and found 10 people willing to share it. It is with the same personal engagement that Rita runs her business today, earning her a great deal of trust from both producers and buyers. The meat is flash frozen in large family packs, insulated with sheep’s wool and delivered to a single collection point for pick-up. “potential BOXA customers must be prepared to change their eating and buying habits. It is not like going to the butcher to buy a single lamb chop. You have to take it as it comes. We’re talking, for instance, half a lamb. There is no convenient solution.”

Her buyers travel on a given day each month to collect their BOXA goodies from Ballylagon Organic Farm, located 20 minutes outside Belfast. Up to now payment was only made on collection and Rita has rarely been let down by a non-showing customer- testimony to the success of her hands-on customer relations. The option to pre-pay online has since become available. The price of a box of meat has been sensibly calculated by totting up the precise cost of rearing, caring for and slaughtering the animal and then adding a fair mark-up for the farmer to cover their labour, time and investment. Rita then charges 10% commission to the producer and 10% handling fee to the buyer. No hidden costs.

It’s all about making organic food mainstream. It’s also about keeping food local, accessible and simple. Farmed as it was in our grandparents’ day without the intervention of chemicals. We need more inspirational food rebels like Rita Wild to fight the system, question bureaucracy and remind us what real food tastes like.

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Last Sunday I took a trip to Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary on a bus full of keen gardeners and GIYers. Why, you might ask, (as we all know it’s such a long way to Tipperary…..) Well, because that’s where you will find Ireland’s first Ecovillage. Set on 69 acres, the cluster of 50 energy-efficient homes, constructed mostly from sustainable materials such as straw, mud and hemp, blends seamlessly into the main street of Cloughjordan as a newly built neighborhood in the already established rural settlement. Despite the sustainable and somewhat alternative lifestyle adopted by the Ecovillagers they share a harmonious rapport with the wider community of Cloughjordan.

We were met by our tour guide Davie Philip at the market square just outside the renovated coach house. Davie works for Cultivate, an organization focused on sustainability through active education that has close associations with the Ecovillage.

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Davie explained how community-supported agriculture (CSA) has been successfully implemented to feed their members. The Ecovillage operates an organic mixed farm of 40 acres. Primarily using biodynamic farming methods vegetables, cereals, milk and meat are produced for the community. The members pay an annual contribution, to cover administration, running costs and growers’ wages in return for a regular supply of in-season farm produce. Farmer Pat Malone delivered an insightful talk on growing for a community and answered some of our questions as we sheltered from a downpour in the on-site eco hostel.

CloughJordan2Davie then guided the group through the site where we could glimpse the variety of homes that had been ecologically constructed. Each house is connected to a central heating system powered by 500m2 of solar water heating panels and an industrial wood-chip boiler.

We made our way up to the allotments where Bruce Darrell was waiting for us. Bruce works for RED Gardens. He outlined his role as a research grower, trialing and testing various horticultural concepts to find the most productive and sustainable solutions for future food production at the village. We saw evidence of the 20,000 plus trees that were planted, ambled through various polytunnels, past the WeCreate building- a green enterprise centre – and back to a cafe on Cloughjordan main street to reflect on the days events.

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Although the project was granted planning permission only a few years ago, already there are 100 residents in the Ecovillage and that number is steadily rising. With five different serviced sites available to rent or buy, including apartments and live-work units, the village attracts like-minded souls fleeing the stresses of modern living in search of a more sustainable and peaceful life. In line with the Ecovillage goal to become a centre of education and training there are a number of courses and events run throughout the year. And of course you could always avail of a group tour, as we did. Free Introductory tours run from 3pm every Saturday and Sunday.

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The Ecovillage ethos offers a practical model for community living that works with, instead of against, the environment. A model that works on so many levels. Please sit up and pay attention city and urban planners. Develop communities that provide sustainable, holistic solutions; give people a voice and the opportunity to control their own environment and lifestyles where they can be free from economic pressures, social degeneration and isolation. Most of all, have the foresight to recognise that this is the only way forward.

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