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HomeBeefVID: Connemara native harnessing 1ac to make a living
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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VID: Connemara native harnessing 1ac to make a living

Aonghus Ó Coistealbha is proof that you can be “productive on once-acre”, harnessing small acreage to make a living.

The market gardener from Connemara Co. Galway runs An Garraí Glas, a 1ac enterprise, growing a variety of chemical-free vegetables, including lettuce/salad leaves, onions, tomatoes, radishes, herbs and more.

He runs the business from a small space, against the backdrop of a challenging landscape with “plenty of stone” and a strong Atlantic prevailing wind.

His mission is to produce high-quality, fresh and nutritious veg for the local community from raised veg beds.

All of the fresh produce grown is sold to local shops and restaurants, as well as in the on-farm roadside shop.

Aonghus is particularly interested in regenerative farming; composting, soil health and building fertility are of utmost importance to this farming system.

He makes compost on the farm using food waste from local cafés and restaurants, seaweed and other organic material from the land.

An Garraí Glas

Speaking during Farming for Nature’s Ask the Farmer Q&A’s session, he explained:

“Our farm is modelled on the one to one-and-a-half acre scale market gardens of the US and Canada.”

“Some of these market gardens are appearing in Northern Europe now and even in Ireland as well, but when we started out, they were very unusual.”

“Movements like ‘no dig gardening’ and ‘regenerative agriculture’ and figureheads such as Charles Dowding and Richard Perkins have, on this side of the pond at least, inspired many to grow more of their own food and tend to their own land sometimes even turning it into a profession.”

“We do a lot of successional sowing as well, so there is always something in the ground, so that acre that you have, is always very productive.”

“You do not allow time to go by without something working for you in the soil. It is a lovely way to farm, and you have a lot of control,” he explained.

Growing up on an eight-acre smallholding in Connemara, he left school at 16, following in his father’s footsteps, who did so when he was fourteen.

Humble beginnings

Hailing from a “very remote Irish-speaking community”, he desired to see other parts of the world.

In his early twenties, he spent two years residing in the US, and in his late twenties, he lived in Australia, where his passion for permaculture ignited.

He explained: “I was a stone mason by trade, and I have always wanted to be outside, working.”

“That is where market gardening came in. We have land at home, eight acres in total, with about two acres that are actually usable.”

“I always wanted to come back there, but I always thought that I would come back there and become someone that would live off the land only but did not think I would be selling from the land or anything like that,” he remarked.

“I thought I would learn more skills in Australia, fix up my home, live there, and grow some vegetables to survive and live like that.”

“Those 1-acre farms in the US, Canada, North America and even in Europe, they are very inspirational,” he added.

1ac market gardens

Incorporating some of their techniques, he began market gardening in his own right on his native home soil on March 1st, 2013, using practices that regenerate the land.

He has “made it work on very small acreage” but says that finding routes to market took several years.

“In 2015, I went to restaurants, and they were not really buying much from us. I was doing forty different vegetables, but I dropped a lot of these after a farm walk on other farms because they were not working.”

“They could not really depend on us or put it on a menu because we were learning to grow a lot of vegetables.”

“They did not suit our climate or area or even a 1-acre market garden at that; they suit three or four-acres and tractor/mechanised scale, ect.”

Slowly, however, through social media and networking with restaurants, he fine-tuned the business to what it is today.

Farm walk

He is open and willing to share his farming advice and story, including obstacles, with anyone who would like to learn, and he takes a number of interns and volunteers on the farm every year.

Onsight Insights are a series of farm walks whereby a number of Farming for Nature (FFN) Ambassadors will showcase their contribution to nature and good farming practices on their land, as well as highlight their practical on-farm actions to support biodiversity and climate.

Aonghus Ó Coistealbha is the third farmer on the FFN farm walk schedule this year.

This walk will take place on Saturday, June 24th, 2023, at 2 pm.

The theme of this farm walk is ‘Small scale market gardening, building soil health and growing nutritionally dense vegetables’.

The walks cost €10 to attend. According to Farming for Nature, this is a not-for-profit initiative, and all monies received will be circulated back into the farming community.
For more information and to book your place on a walk, please visit Farming for Nature’s website.

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