The start of the year looked positive with about 35 applicants and 9 host farms all chomping at the bit for a new season of growth and learning! The country then shook with the news of the Covid lockdown and the number of host farms quickly fell to five and then four! This was not an ideal way to begin our programme and some applicants were understandably disappointed that they would have to withdraw but were fully understandable of the situation we were all in. Luckily four farms had already had their interns begin so once all parties were happy to continue, we were up and running… well walking briskly shall we say! The small matter of a national lockdown would mean that our first few workshops were done via Zoom which was new to us all at the time. Paula Pender gave the interns a great Induction to the course and then over two half day sessions provided all the necessary information in relation to the Principles and Standards of Organic Horticulture.
It was July before we would all meet in person at the Soils workshop with John Hogan in Cloughjordan. This felt like we were starting properly even though most of the interns had been on their farms for about 3 months at this stage. A farm walk at Jim Cronins at the end of July was a highlight with all the interns eager to meet Jim at his wonderful farm and ask some questions. Jim, as ever, did not disappoint and everyone left the banner county full of optimism and eager to put some of Jim’s ideas into practice.
The lockdown in Kildare dealt us another blow as we had some workshops arranged there for August but thanks to the understanding of interns, farmers and facilitators we were able to arrange these and head into a busy end of the programme. Three workshops in September came and went in a flash. First, we headed to Moyleabbey Farm in Kildare for our Marketing workshop with Louise Rankin which discussed the different markets available to growers, how to access these and to keep your customers happy. Pricing, imports, and grant aid available to growers was also discussed.
We then hightailed across the border to Co. Wicklow and Castleruddery Farm were Dominic Quinn gave the Machinery Workshop along with his son Jack. The interns were shown the bits of machinery used and given advice on maintenance and how these can be adapted to suit a particular crop or growing style. Some clever ways to go about certain tasks such as burning holes in mypex or marking out beds were also shown.
Klaus Laitenberger presented his Pest, Disease and Weed Control workshop on Featherfiled Farm in Co. Kildare which went down very well with the interns and prompted lots of discussion throughout the day. Back to Cloughjordan at the end of September for Paula Pander to give a half day of revision on the programme before the exam and then Jason Horner delivered a presentation on Protected Cropping which discussed sourcing and building your polytunnels and then went into soil, water and pest and disease management within your tunnel.
Into October and the interns sat their exam in the packing shed of Lough Boora Farm in Co. Offally. Tony Garaghy had kindly set the space up to comply with Government advice of social distancing and the exam went well. After Lunch we were given a walk of the farm by Cormac who discussed the tunnels, field crops and planning for next year.
Our final outing of the year took us to Kilkenny were we visited both Sinead Cranwell and Vincent Grace who, despite the horizontal rain and strong gusts, gave us two wonderful walks around their farms and openly discussed their operations and how they started to where they where now.
So, despite a difficult start to the year and a reduction in the number of interns we were able to offer places too the 2020 programme was completed successfully and without any major incidents. In the seven years in which the programme has been running we have had 48 interns complete the programme, many of whom have gone on to start their own enterprises or have continued to work in the sector. With 11 farms already signed up as hosts for next year we hope that 2021 will be another successful and bountiful year.
One major sad note on the year was the passing of Norman Kenny from Nurney Farm in Co. Kildare. Norman and Deidre have been great supporters of the internship programme form the outset and had taken at least one intern each year and facilitated four workshops on their farm. Norman’s knowledge of machinery and how to maintain and adapt it was encyclopaedic and he imparted this knowledge to everyone on the workshops with humility and humour in equal measure. Norman’s presence in the organic community will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.