Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meet the...Organic Farmer

Michael Seymour is one of the driving forces behind The Nenagh Farmers Market.  Every Saturday morning you will find him selling his organic lamb and beef products in Quentin’s Way, Nenagh.  He is the man with the smiling face, the gentle manner and happy and appreciative customers.  Not only does he have the best meat to buy and take home but will also cook you a lamb or beef burger or south African style sausage to eat there on the spot…mmm who can resist.  He farms on Sheepwalk Farm in Borrisokane with his family.  I spoke to Michael or “Farmer Michael” as he said he is commonly known as, about farming and selling.

Did you grow up on this farm and have you always been a farmer?
Yes, I grew up on the farm but I wasn’t always a farmer per say.  I had considered other occupations but was drawn back to the farm.  I wanted to leave my mark on the farm.
North Tipperary has very good land and is known for its cattle.  The local town provides a market for these with the creamery and beef processing plant…so why sheep?
My Dad, and his father before him, was a livestock dealer and specialised in store lambs and breeding ewes. I spent a lot of time at sheep marts and there was always sheep on the farm, so it was to be expected for me to farm sheep.  Actually North Tipperary and South Offaly was renowned for fattening lambs and hoggets. But I farm cattle as well and keep an Angus Herd.

As consumers we know about the benefits of organic to the land and also to our bodies, as a farmer why did you make the decision to become organic?
We always farmed extensively and wanted to maintain and develop this type of farming.   Back in the mid 90s the only way to put that stamp of natural production was to be certified organic.
How long did this process take and did it involve a nightmare amount of paperwork and monitoring?
There is a two year conversion period and yes, there is plenty of paperwork and monitoring. But it has to be that way to ensure the integrity of the certification.

Is this a route you would encourage other food producers to go and what advice would you offer them?
To succeed at organic farming you must believe in it and your heart must be in it.  It doesn’t suit every farmer but if you are considering organic then find out as much as possible about it before you start converting.

You sell direct to your customers, how important is this for you and what are the benefits of this to you and to the customer?
I believe and have value in what I am producing. I know it is a very natural product and nobody can sell this produce as good as you can yourself.  The benefit to the consumer is that they know where their meat is coming from and they are assured of consistency in it.  The benefit to me is that I can sell my product as organic 12 months of the year.
OK two cheeky questions about money.  Firstly what do you say to the customer that says your meat is too expensive and they can get it elsewhere much cheaper?
Like everything in life you get what you pay for.  I keep an eye on what others are charging so I know I am not that much more expensive.  If you want good quality food then you have to pay for it.
And secondly, most farmers are saying there is no money in farming, they just continue because it’s what they’ve always done, is it possible to make a liveable income from a farm or will it always need to be subsidised with income from elsewhere?
If farm subsidies stopped then farmers would stop farming, the income from farm activity just covers the cost of production. Farmers live on the subsidies they receive from the EU.  It is staggering to think that 100 acres could not sustain a farmer but that is the case, however if the price per kilo was higher then a living could be made. But people have become used to a cheap food society.

You were part of the group that set up the Nenagh Farmers Market and are now involved in starting one in Borrisokane.  Why do you feel farmers markets are important?It is important to be able to sell direct to the consumer as they get the best food and the farmers realises how important his job is and can take great pride in what he is producing and selling from his land.
Why do you feel this is the right time to start a market in Borrisokane?
Now, is always the right time! We can’t wait or expect others to give us a leg up, we must take the initiative ourselves.  We are a great food producing country, let’s celebrate that locally in every town.  When people visit us in our area they will feel pride in what we can do for ourselves.  My own experiences tell me that local food and craft markets are the starting point for regeneration.
What would you like to say to customers to bring them to this market?
I don’t know the figures but for every euro you spend locally at least half of that is circulated back into the local economy.  But it is a different way of shopping; meet the producer, meet a lot of new people, experience the buzz of an outdoor market – it’s more fun and less stress.
If you weren’t farming what would you do?
Something in the economics or accountancy area I think.
Any final words of wisdom?
Be positive, think positive.  Surround yourself with positive people.  Count your blessings, appreciate good health and remember there is a solution to every problem.
I think Michael has a great attitude to work and to life in general, I have never seem him stressed and he seems to enjoy what he does.  He passes this good feeling onto his customers.  I can vouch for the quality of his meat and this week our family haver dined on the most fantastic bolognese sauce made with his beef mince and tonight is slowed cooked ox-tongue stroganoff, my husbands favourite dish.

You can buy from Michael at Borrisokane Food and Craft Market Friday's 2pm to 6pm or Nenagh Farmers Market Saturday 10pm to 2pm

1 comment:

Anne-Marie (byAmor) said...

there is nothing like good, local, organic food. Worth every penny.