The expression “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” can’t be taken literally. All jobs require work. However, it does imply that when you love your work and have a passion for what you do, the work is more rewarding and adds value to your life.

Many of the farmers I know love working on the farm despite the long hours – in all weathers – and often for little reward. When people outside of farming see that passion, they develop an appreciation of the contribution farmers make to our society.

Recently, I brought a tour group to visit farmers and small food producers in the west. The group were from Ireland and England and all were from urban areas or large cities. After each visit, the guests used the word “passion” a lot when talking about the farmers. The experience increased the appreciation they have for the quality food we produce here in Ireland.

When visiting the farms, what came across clearly was the deep connection they have with the land and animals. Many have given up successful off-farm careers with financial security to take up farming full-time. I could list hundreds of such farmers here, but I’ll share three who fill me with hope for the future of the family farm in rural Ireland.

Bronagh and Cathal (Burren Premium Beef) run a beef farm, currently in organic conversion, in the Burren. They are the fifth generation to farm the land, which is a combination of lush pasture and bare limestone. Cathal spoke of the farm, the animals and the numerous monuments on the land with passion and an appreciation for those who have gone before him.

Margaret Leahy, Connemara, Co Galway. \ David Ruffles

Leaving a successful career as a bank manager, he manages the farm in a unique area with respect for the ecosystem. I loved hearing his stories of playing in caves and sutrains as a child; an activity his children now enjoy. Bronagh has taken on enterprises to increase the viability of the farm, including selling beef directly and doing farm tours. Sitting with her as she dished out stew made from their own beef (while we drank a glass of elderflower cordial she made earlier) was such a joy.

Financially sustainable

Farmers who have developed small-scale food production combine their passion for farming and food with the need to ensure the farm is financially sustainable.

Still in the Burren, St Tola is a goat farm that produces amazing cheese. I have listened to Siobhán Ní Gháirbhith, who was a teacher and is now a full-time cheesemaker, talk about not just the cheese she makes now – but that which was made by the couple who went before her. She carries on the tradition started by Megh and Derrick Gordon, using modern techniques and processes. She creates employment for people of the area and regards them as her family. She and others like her play a vital role in promoting sustainable agriculture; preserving local food systems and traditions, and providing high-quality food for here and export. Small-scale food producers contribute to the diversity and resilience of the agricultural sector and keep family farms sustainable so the next generation have choices when it comes to staying on the land.

In Galway, Teresa (Kylemore Cheese) is a full-time dairy farmer and cheesemaker, having previously worked as an A&E nurse in Australia. One of Teresa’s great passions is supporting other women to get involved in farming. She sees farm diversification as a way to create jobs in rural Ireland and enhance the health and wellbeing of communities

Passion for the land and the food it produces are crucial in fostering sustainable and resilient rural communities and quality food for all to enjoy. So many of our farmers have a passion and appreciation for the environment they farm in and play a key role in protecting it for future generations.

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