THIRTY years after the opening of An tIonad Glass, the Organic College of Dromcollogher has opened, the growing popularity of home cultivation and the increase in demand for seeds and gardening equipment are beacons of hope for the future.
Based in the town where the Irish cooperative movement was founded in 1889, the motto of these pioneering cooperatives, “Better agriculture, better business, better life” is still relevant today, according to Jim McNamara who helped establish the Organic College. .
“To this, many members of the organic movement added, ‘Care of the earth, people care and share equitably! ” he said.
Recalling the events which inspired the creation of the Organic College, Mr. McNamara explained that 1989, the centenary year of the cooperative movement, was marked in Dromcollogher by the creation of a creamery-museum and a café and the purchase of an adjoining acre of land.
At the same time, he continued, a group of teachers from the local vocational school were looking for an inclusive curriculum suitable for rural areas and a range of food and agriculture courses were developed. . “This program gave the teens an experience of growing, marketing and preparing food,” McNamara recalled. “There followed a demand for adult classes and with the availability of an acre next to the Co-op Museum, the match was concluded for the start of Organic College in 1991.”
It was a rocky start, he admitted. “How do you start a full-time adult course in organic horticulture, with goodwill, but no modules, no books, no students and an old creamery for a classroom?” The passage from the school garden with 25 volunteer teenagers to an acre in the center of town was in retrospect a bit of “Build it and they will come!” “
But with the membership of various agencies including Ballyhoura Development, West Limerick Resources, Fás and Teagasc, and the arrival of Dr Sinead Neilan, the current director and other staff members, the right start turned out to be the half the battle and the numbers started to rise. .
“Getting the first organic modules in Ireland accepted and nationally certified was a major achievement,” McNamara recalled, but also stressed that the college’s learner-centered approach was also an important factor.
“From the early days we had a vibrant relationship with the Irish Seed Savers Association in Scariff, Co Clare and our joint search for heirloom seeds and apple trees culminated in the discovery of Appletown Wonder, a self-serving dessert apple. rooted and very tasty, near Feohanagh, four miles from college, ”he added.
Over the years, several hundred students have passed through Organic College, initiating or participating in projects ranging from health food stores, community stores and ecotourism projects to hotels, restaurants and farmers’ markets.
But challenges remain, McNamara reminded people on the 30th anniversary. “Nationally, the plan is to increase organic production from the current 2% of land, one of the lowest in Europe, to 7.5% by the end of the decade. At EU level, the goal is to have 25% of organic land by 2030 in the new Green Deal for Europe, ”he stressed.
“For these ambitious goals to have a good chance of being achieved, serious investments in agriculture and food education are needed at all levels. In addition, we will need the right supports for farmers and producers to start or convert to organic methods, as well as a change in culture to convince the public to pay the real price for the quality food we produce.