Skerries-based grower Val Farrell has been in the business for 33 years, there is not much he hasn’t seen happen in the horticultural industry in Ireland.
This knowledge lends itself very well to his current position as chair of the Irish Hardy Nursery Stock Association.
It’s this position which has led to his involvement with the More Green Cities for Europe initiative and he is delighted to see the potential opportunities for Irish growers from this new urban project.
Val himself grew up on a small farm and claims he was always “in the ground” as a kid, and from an early age sought work in greenhouses during school holidays.
However, it’s not where his career took him first as Val originally worked as a mechanic.
“You got five pounds a week for six days, and I used to work for a woman in Rush, Co Dublin, who had a small nursery [garden], and I used to work four nights a week for her in the summertime,” he says.
“She had flowers, bedding plants, shamrock and various other things so I really had an interest in growing.”
A journey of his own
Once married and settled, Val and his wife Bridie decided to give it a go themselves and started the business on seven acres on the small farm behind their house.
“[It was] a complete change in life, but I still see the benefits of the apprenticeship that I served as a mechanic because I do a lot of the work around the nursery and we do all our own maintenance on the trucks and vans,” says Val.
“We have had the good times, bad times and survived recessions but at the moment, business is quite good,” he explains. “It’s a family-run business. My wife is probably one of the most important parts of the business, she does the books.
“It’s a passion for plants that we have, that’s what we liked about it. We supply a lot into the retail side of it – the garden centres and into wholesalers and we contract-grow quite a bit of stuff now for other larger growers,” he says.
Through the years they have been members of the Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) Irish Hardy Nursery Stock Association (IHNSA) which promotes horticulture in Ireland and lobbies for its members and for the last couple of years Val has been the chairperson.
“We try to drive the business forward as best as we can so we can improve our own produce to cut down on import,” he says. “We lobby Government for grant aid to develop our businesses and most recently we have been lobbying Government over the peat situation.”
A ban on horticultural peat harvesting in Ireland was introduced in 2019. Anything larger than a 30ac site requires strict licencing. Growers are looking to European markets where the EU operates on a different system. It’s a costly exercise for growers to import peat.
More Green Cities for Europe
As the peat issue continues, there is little hope of finding some sustainable alternatives, but one thing giving hope to the growers of Ireland was the recent launch of the More Green Cities for Europe initiative.
It aims to increase the use of green landscaping in building projects and promote locally grown planting stock which means more opportunities for Irish growers to get involved with the European Commission funded project.
Co-ordinated in Ireland by Bord Bia and the IFA, the project runs until the end of 2023, with Ireland joining 12 other European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden and Italy.
More than just a pretty face
Val feels the initiative will do more than just boost tourism and the appearance of the cities.
“The campaign represents a valuable opportunity to economically support local growers in rural areas,” he says.
“Moreover, the advantages of planners and developers using locally grown plants are many. These include reduced carbon footprint when transporting stock; access to stock that is better suited to an Irish climate; and a chance to see stock in-person, in advance of purchase. The case for greening is clear, as is the case for buying Irish,” says Val.
It’s hoped that the new initiative will shine a light on native growers and create opportunities for growers to get involved with the ‘green’ planning of spaces in our villages, towns and cities.