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VIDEO: ‘We need to be growing a lot more of our own plant-based foods in Ireland’

Founder of Brown Envelope Seeds, Madeline McKeever, is one of only two farms in the country producing vegetable seeds.

Along with her daughter, Holly Cairns, she produces over 100 varieties of organically certified open-pollinated seed, which they sell to Irish growers and gardeners around the country.

They run an organic 30-acre mixed enterprise in west Cork. The mother and daughter duo have 15-acres of broadleaf forestry on their land, containing oak, alder, ash, and nut trees.

The family has planted a diverse range of trees, hedges, and fruit bushes on the farm, which attract insects such as solitary bees, wild honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies, and wasps, all of whom play a “crucial” role in pollinating the seed crops.

Madeline explained: “We planted the forestry in 2005 because I got tired trying to keep cattle to stay in.”

“There is not enough soil to bind a fence post. The writing was on the wall for small beef producers anyway, so I thought trees would be a better bet.”

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Besides, they have 10-acres of permanent mixed pasture, and they use the remaining land for seed production and nature corridors.

Voisin’s rational grazing system and silage production 

Madeline keeps a small herd of cattle, producing beef for the home and a few local customers.

They graze cattle using Voisin’s rational grazing system, meaning they rest grass for approximately 30 days before being grazed again.

Furthermore, they cut a small amount of silage off the land to provide winter feeding for the animals and use animal manure to fertilise the land. External inputs on this enterprise are “extremely low”.

Madeleine’s love of nature is reflected in the low impact, regenerative farming system she runs.

She “enjoys” seeing an array of birds coming and going to the farm, such as choughs, thrushes, chiffchaffs, redwings, fieldfares, and lots of other songbirds.

She said: “We could be developing an agricultural [sector] which is more plant-based. I am not saying that everyone should be vegetarian, but I think we need to be growing a lot more of our own plant-based foods in Ireland.”

Farming for Nature

Earlier this week, Farming for Nature announced that McKeever and Cairns have joined their growing ambassador network.

Madeline, the owner of Brown Envelope Seeds, said: “Holly and I are honoured to be ambassadors for Farming for Nature.”

“Being recognised for our efforts encourages us to do better. We have been busy planting more trees for shelter and making plans for a farm pond.”

“We will be looking out for the swallows returning to nest in the abandoned mobile home and watching the recently planted hedges grow and start to support more wildlife,” she added.

Now in its fourth year, Farming For Nature aims to “inspire, share and celebrate” the stories of farmers across Ireland who manage their land in a way that sustains nature while providing a livelihood for their families.

Madeline and Holly are part of this year’s 23 ambassadors from across Ireland. These include beef, sheep, forestry, dairy, horticulture, and tillage farmers.

They manage a wide range of very valuable habitats, including species-rich grasslands and heaths, wetlands, woodlands, and hedgerows.

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