When Matt Smith and I spoke a few weeks back about their crowd funding campaign to expand Moy Hill Community Farm, I was struck, as I often am, by the eloquent sincerity of their approach to the land use challenge we all face. Their project is unique, it seeks to educate rather than lecture and it may be even worth supporting, but you can decide that for yourself. And who's better placed than Matt explain it all – from their farm – just a stone's throw from some of Ireland's most compelling setups.
Words by Matt Smith, cover image by Maura Tilbury.
It's a wild morning at the farm, the first winter weather pattern arrived last night, the front arrived, southerly and rain around midnight. There is a feeling that waves are coming.
It's what we are talking about during our over salted porridge this morning. Mitch had made scones. there were two surfers from Scotland, one from France, a few of the CSA members and us. It made 11 in total. No one asked any of us to come, there was no message on the internet, no request for help, we’ve cold water in the tap and electricity until 11pm each evening. There are plenty of more comfortable ways to be spending our time.
We have an urgent vibration, it's a young and clean energy and it contaminates many people that surround themselves with it, we are often reminded by those that are close to us to not work too hard. Sometimes, that’s difficult to hear, we're not here by accident, there is no-one cracking the whip (well sometimes Fergal jokes about the public whippings) apart from ourselves. It’s a feeling that only people who are drawn to, come to really understand. On the surface, we are feeding a lot of families, we opened a space for people to come and connect, and in the winter, when the ground is too wet, we plant trees.
We are pretty grounded, get to surf more than most, spend most of each day outside with friends and we feel lucky as sausages about it, but under the surface there is such a drive to question the way we have been living. And choose how the world for us, and those that will come after, looks; children and animals, trees and bees. It’s this deep-rooted feeling that keeps the stomach rumbling and the arms digging. There are layers of complex problems that would love to be solved, that there are solutions for, and I know that for me this is the best way for me to be spending my time. For the plastic islands in the Pacific, for the hungry children all over the world, for the hurricanes in America and the flooded Maldivians, it might not be everyone’s mission but for me, it’s the right thing to be doing.
We are buying more land, 60-acres next to the farm, it’s lovely, and contains a corner of a lake, Aillbrack Lough (a lovely trout lake), there are meadows, ravines, little woodlands, two wells, an area for the animals, bees, an orchard, the possibility of a healing centre, some co-housing, there could be a forest and home school, shared energy, woodlands (oh, the woodlands) and more space to feed people. Our current plot is perfect for growing intense horticulture during the warmer months, but this new land would allow us to plant acres of field veg like potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions – food that we can grow in abundance and save and store for the winter, it will allow us to feed up to 150 families for almost the whole year, as opposed to the 26 weeks we will manage this year.
We are asking our wider community to help us buy this land. But why should you help us? I hear it rumbling and I understand! Everyone could do with a little help, a little bit of land. There are plenty of farmers who could also do with another 60-acres, during our crowdfunding we have stayed pretty solid but also ambiguous, there are many meanings to what we are doing and we have an open invitation to discuss the way we operate. The land is being purchased by a CLG which means the ownership belongs to the non-profit company, if it all goes tits-up, the land will be sold, debts of the company paid off and all remaining funds will be given to a charity or non-profit with a similar main objective to us. We are currently the directors of the company but that could, and will, change over time, I’d like nothing more than to be tipping away in the orchard and never touching the computer again.
Getting paid is interesting. No-one has ever been paid, it's all voluntary. People pay for their CSA membership (veg box) and the money raised goes back into the project, of feeding people, caring for the Earth and inspiring. It's vague, I know. At some point the farmers will need to be paid a wage, and we want it to be fair and honest for the work they do, it might not be us but those that nourish the community and care for the land should be paid fairly for it. We can buy the land without the Crowdfunding campaign, it will be more difficult, we’ll be more isolated and money will be more of an issue. We will connect with less people, empower less people, engage less people and inspire less people if we do this behind closed doors. It's also something we have not done before so it's great to explore what it means to ask for help.
MSW started just as Fergal, Mitch and I were leaving school we were 16, 14, 14 and over the past 15-years, we’ve all grown up a little and shared many memories. Most of the best tubes of ours that were filmed have been on here, trips overseas and our decision to stay put for a while, so it felt right to share this next part of our journey with the surfing community. We are a community of people that can instigate a lot of change and I know how grateful we are for the support of the surfing world for supporting what we have done and are doing now, so many travelling surfers have come through, and up, to the farm and given a hand for a few hours. Now we are asking for people to donate and pledge for the next stage of this project, it doesn’t feel like a bold move asking but also, we want to reach out and offer an invitation for feedback and questions. We know what we are doing resonates with so many people in the surfing community and now as an organisation, we are asking if you can spare a bit of money and care for the earth please do. To get a little bit more insight into the extra questions people might have, Ed Temperley asked me a few quick fire questions, if you have any fire them over to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this article and I’ll get to answering them when I can.
Why should the MSW surf community donate or pledge with you?
If what we are doing resonates with you, please donate or pledge, every euro will go towards creating a healthier world, one that we all share. It's great being part of the surfing community because we are so connected with our natural environment and we do get behind each other. We're asking the help of MSW and surfers because we know them and feel that together, we can make a better world. We will not own this new land, it will be owned by a company called Moy Hill Farm CLG, so in essence everyone who donates will be part of the group that set up this company.
Can anyone come and stay when suits them, help out and go surfing?
We ask that people get in touch and see how things are doing here before rocking up. Yes we are open to people coming and giving us a hand, we request that people staying do about 6 hours farm work with us and that can involve preparing the land for planting, harvesting veg or planting trees (in the winter).
When are you going to do more of the Growing series?
That was Fergal and Kevin’s series, I loved watching and cameo-ing in some of them, was such a great way to connect with real life situations and also pumping waves. Would love to see more of them.
Is the future you promise now guaranteed in some kind of ongoing constitution?
On www.moyhillfarm.com there's pages and pages of information. We are committed to growing more veg, planting more trees. We dream of a healing centre and co-housing and forest schools and education centres and more of what we would like to live around but they are dreams and we feel they will happen but don’t want to make promises we are not 100 per cent committed to ensuring will happen.
If no one gets paid how do you make a living?
I am an ambassador for Finisterre and also run the ambassador program (a part time job) Fergal is an Ambassador for Finisterre and sponsored by Nixon and Mitch is the grower at the yoga centre in Liscannor, we all had some savings which we spent on the current land, that we look after, and anything that we had left we have put into the purchase of this new land.
What happens if you all fall out?
I don’t think that will happen, a few years ago, potentially, but we have done a lot of work on our communication skills and conflict resolution, it's been a beautiful journey and really strengthened our friendships. If there was unforeseen fall out, and the company stopped existing, all the land and property would be sold and any profit would be given to a charity or non-profit with a similar main objective to ours.
Given your business plan generates enough profit to service your loan from 2018, why do you need to raise cash?
We have borrowed €300,000 to ensure we can buy the land but the loan is only for three years and half needs to be paid back in the first year. This next phase will happen but without support it will take a lot longer, with help we can move faster on doing the work we set out to. Although this next phase will be a big undertaking, our dreams don’t stop there, there is still a lot to be done with healthy growing and eating and large scale natural woodland reforestation, here in Ireland but all over the world. The more we realise we can do this, we can make a difference the bigger the buzz and the more positive impact we can have.
If you are still around then you can get involved HERE