The IOA AGM took place on April 19th at the welcoming venue of Coolanowle Organic Farm on the Carlow/Laois border. Members were greeted on arrival with delicious organic breakfast rolls and the AGM started at 12 noon sharp. Outgoing Chairman Thomas O’ Connor managed the proceedings and questions from members. IOA expressed its appreciation to outgoing directors, namely; Dominic Leonard, Alan Mooney and Thomas O’Connor for all their hard work over the past three years. New appointees voted to the board were David Tierney, Claire O’ Connor and Padraig Fahy. The AGM concluded at 1pm and was followed by a farm walk by Jimmy and Eddie Mulhall, focusing on the meat processing facility at Coolanowle and the dairy/tillage operation.
Following a delicious lunch, the afternoon session chaired by Ella McSweeney, focused on the Organic Farming Action Plan that is due for review. Gillian Westbrook, IOA General Manager, opened up by outlining how other member states use their action plans in a multi-functioning approach to advance the organic sector. She stressed that we need to implement the critical steps strategically and use them as a platform if we are to grow the Irish organic sector in a sustainable way.
The rest of the session featured IOA members who each told their individual story about their business. Bernadine Mulhall from Coolanowle, spoke about the various enterprises on the farm and how it has provided employment for the next generation and how the hard work of the entire team makes the business a success. Kenny Hurley from the Village Dairy outlined how the sale of organic milk has driven their business and how important a consistent supply base will be in their future growth plans. Michael Seymour from Sheepwalk Farm, detailed his conversion to organic farming, the progression to selling at farmers’ markets and ultimately changing that decision to only now selling online. Lisa Ryan from Waterford Distillery spoke about their work with organic farmers growing barley to produce an organic whiskey and market potentials for such a product. John McHugh, a recent convert to organic farming spoke about why he made the switch, how it was perceived by others and his plans for the farm in the future. Dominic Leonard from Castlewood Farm outlined how there are expanding into farm tourism via a farm shop and school tours to the farm. Finally, Kitty Scully from Airfied Estate in Dublin emphasised just how important education is for everyone both adults and children, the working farm and kitchen garden (which has converted to organics) at Airfield illustrates how food is grown and produced and is open to the public year round. John, also from Airfield, highlighted the positive influence children can have over their parents to purchase good healthy food.
It was great to see such a diverse range of organic businesses and it served to illustrate what steps are needed in the new Organic Farming Action Plan to achieve further growth.
A lively barbeque finished off the day at Coolanowle, with everyone going home well fed and satisfied!