What a year of extreme’s from the grass shortages of Spring, to the abundance of harvest this Autumn culminating in a great food harvest both wild and cultivated, at no moment have we been able to take our environment and it’s bounty for granted this farming year, a farming roller coaster which will be remembered for years to come and recounted in many’s a story. The sense of place and time a farm provides is grounding, I count myself lucky to be one in a line of family members to have grown up on this farm and have actively chosen to bring my three young children up within this agricultural community and environment.
As with all things a farming “lifestyle” is not static and changes with the times, there are things my father remembers that didn’t exist in my childhood days such as Fair Day in our local town of Fethard when the small market town of 1,000 people would double in size as an equivalent amount of livestock would fill the central square. I remember as a child bringing a few churns of milk down on the back of the tractor to the local creamery depot at Ballinure where farmers would congregate and chat while awaiting the arrival of their Co-operative milk lorry, today this daily meeting point is lost to be replaced by a strong presence of Irish Farmers on Twitter, a forum we might consider alien to nature.
What gives the country landscape its scale in time, some might say are our hedgerows and indeed it is said that the more varieties in a hedgerow the older the hedge. Tipperary is a landscape rich with a tapestry of meadows and hedgerows, to take down a hedge without the permission of the local authority is indeed and rightly so an offense, as we tear apart our natural heritage. Within these scrubby banks lies nature’s education and through the year I encourage my children to observe the gentle pink of wild apple blossom, the delicate white flowers of the bramble and the light buttercup shades of sprays of flowers, be that pressing flowers, gathering floral fronds to make “fruit cordials” or wild fruit for preserves with this time slows and we grow closer to nature and gain a sense of perspective and balance required to weather the ups and downs of a farming life.
There have been many happy moments for me this year on the farm, but key one’s include the excitement of my children spotting the first calf of Autumn born in the field on a balmy August day, the positivity of the farming community following a series of very bad years and the bounty of honey produced from the resurgence in the native Irish bee. With these few notes I leave you with a poem by a great Irish poet Seamus Heaney who passed away at the end of August.
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and the hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tines, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s
We horded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
Sarah Furno (nee Grubb)
Cheese-maturer and co-owner with her father Louis Grubb of Beechmount Farm, the home of Cashel Blue Cheese