The broadcaster, architect and campaigner for a sustainable future, Duncan Stewart, ‘gets it’ when it comes to understanding how precarious our global food supply system has become. Food supply is, in effect, floating on a sea of fossil fuels. The non-organic fertilizers and the armoury of weed killers and pesticides are oil-based, likewise the machinery, processing, packaging, transportation, storage, etc. If oil is too dear, food will be too dear, if it will be available at all. It may never happen, you may say. Well, it did happen – in Cuba. Russian oil supplies ceased when the USSR collapsed – and the people of Cuba went hungry. Fortunately, they had good organic agriculture researchers in their universities who could retrain chemically based farmers and many new farmers to grow food without oil.

Recently, Áine and myself met Duncan Stewart who was campaigning for Green candidate, Grace O’Sullivan, in the Ireland South EU Constituency. Duncan spoke passionately with many facts at his disposal about the urgency of developing local food economies in Ireland. Ireland has 10 times more beef than its people can eat, likewise Ireland produces huge amounts of dairy goods. However, the amount of fruit and vegetables (which could be grown in Ireland) and which is now imported every day, points to the need for more horticultural production and more horticultural producers. At present many producers are getting out of horticulture.

Áine and myself, inspired by Duncan, are liaising with other organic producers in South Wexford, in the hope we can put a food co-op together to make sure continuity of food supply for the present and especially for the future when oil will no longer be a part of the food chain.

Organic horticulturalist, Áine Neville discussing the prospect of  setting up an organic local food producing co-op in South Wexford with eco-change maker, Duncan Stewart.

Organic horticulturalist, Áine Neville discussing the prospect of setting up an organic local food producing co-op in South Wexford with eco-change maker, Duncan Stewart.



I am grateful to Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party in Ireland, An Comhaontas Glas, for a recent tweet posting about the BP Statistical Review of Crude Oil Production  2014. This is the oil industry talking about how it sees the future unfolding. Against a backdrop of a 2.8 fold increase in oil prices since 2004, the Review explains that the main 20 oil producing countries in 2004 had a 26% of world oil production. That share has now dropped to 16%.

How come this has not resulted in a global oil shortage? The Review tells us that other countries, mainly Russia, Saudi Arabia and the USA have increased production to offset this oil shortage. However the USA uses all the oil it can produce and still imports about half its oil needs on top of that.

So Europe has to hope that Russia and Saudi Arabia co-operate with the EU and continue to sell us oil, albeit on THEIR terms. If we don’t like those terms, the next most plentiful suppliers are Iran, Iraq and Libya, not the most popular holiday destinations for European holiday-makers! Hopefully the peacemakers in these countries will succeed in bringing about peace and goodwill for all concerned in this region.

If we want to take our oil buying business elsewhere, we will probably be dealing with countries where oil production is in decline like Indonesia, Algeria, UK, Norway, Mexico and Venezuela. It is a racing certainty that one day soon, (if not already,) these countries will say they have no spare oil to export.

Ironically the growing threat of runaway climate chaos can only be averted if more countries stop using most of the available oil BEFORE it runs out. This may sound like an economic death wish, but it is really, on reflection, a prescription for a future sustainable economy. Not only sustainable, but more efficient, more community self-reliant and a more competitive economy. No more easily obtained oil also means a society where human work is more valued and more affordable than oil based energy which has done much to replace human work since it economically came on the scene 150 years ago.

A Shell oil company analyst, Rhodri Owens-Jones, speaking in Dublin recently, said that by 2060 solar power will be the biggest global source of primary energy. The question I would like to see analysed is ‘has the world enough metal and other materials to make enough solar panels to replace all the oil we currently burn’? Or have we a plan, in a structured urgent way, to power down energy demand in energy hungry countries, like

Harnessing the sun's energy in Cloughjordan Eco-Village, Co. Tipperary, Ireland's largest prototype solar park to date.

Harnessing the sun’s energy in Cloughjordan Eco-Village, Co. Tipperary, Ireland’s largest prototype solar park to date.

Ireland? The Shell analyst points to 2040 being the date that global oil production goes into terminal decline, or 2030, or sooner, unless we plan our homes, cities and economies to use far less oil.

Interesting facts from the oil industry. Can Governments continue to ignore them? Learning to live, grow food and run a country without burning oil is the ultimate challenge of political leadership.


Having moved to a bigger exposed plot we need to plant more trees to shelter our kitchen gardening from the wind blowing in from the Saltee Islands. One way to encourage tree growth is  a mulch in the spring with well rotted compost or manure.

With this in mind, it was great to check out a clean and smell free compost toilet in the Eco-Village in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary recently. If one has the space and is even a mediocre handyperson, a compost toilet is a good idea. No flushing of litres of drinking quality water after answering Nature’s call will save money once the water charges kick in. The resulting good compost for mulching the trees can also save money, previously spent  on buying  bags of commercial compost

This compost toilet has a two chamber concrete block base. One chamber is in use which the other is closed to allow contents to compost for a year before becoming  useable as a tree mulch.

This compost toilet has a two chamber concrete block base. One chamber is in use which the other is closed to allow contents to compost for a year before becoming useable as a tree mulching material.


Once we finish building the cob oven, the construction of a compost toilet like the Tipperary model in the picture will be next on the project list.


Dr Ollie Moore, Bruce Darrell, Emer and Grace O'Sullivan discuss keeping a polytunnel mproductive, with water tank in the background.

Dr Ollie Moore, Bruce Darrell, Emer and Grace O’Sullivan discuss keeping a polytunnel  productive, with water tank in the background.

Recently met up with Grace O’Sullivan, community activist, ecology teacher and Green campaigner and her daughter Emer, at the Eco-Village in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. It was a very educational day with  tour of the kitchen garden experimental plots. Bruce Darrell, who is in charge of this research project is testing plants comparing seed sown versus module sown varieties. He is also combining plants like runner bean and potato etc to see how they interact and grow side by side.

We were accompanied by Dr. Ollie Moore, who is an organic correspondent for The Farming Examiner. Useful techniques were also to be noticed such as keeping a water store in or near the polytunnel.


At a recent course run in Sonairte, the Eco-Visitor Centre, Laytown, Co. Meath, professional market gardener, Dermot Carey, introduced his students to hand-held machinery and other pieces of appropriate technology which reduce costs and maximise efficiency for the professional organic market gardener.

The picture shows a wooden drill maker which is simply dragged the length of the seedbed once the tilth is right before seed sowing. Dermot made this device when working as a grower on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands some years ago.

Dermot Carey explaining to  Horticultural students in Sonairte how to make a wooden drill maker.

Dermot Carey explaining to Horticultural students in Sonairte how to make a wooden drill maker.


We are busy in our new not-so-small kitchen garden at present, so apologies for the delay in updating the blog! The organic onions sets are now all planted, several hundred each of Sturon and Jetset white varieties and Kamal red variety, all bought from the certified organic suppliers http://www.fruithillfarm.com.  Before we moved to Tacumshin in south Wexford, a couple of dozen sets would have filled the small onion patch in Balbriggan.

Operating by hand on a larger 3 acre scale brings with it new challenges. For a start, physiotherapists recommend a gardener to change activities at regular intervals so different muscles are used and tired muscles are rested a bit. The lower back in particular can suffer if there is too much bending without a rest or at least a change in activities.

I recently met a retired tiler who had undergone two knee replacement operations after years of an occupational hazard kneeling on kitchen floors and other hard surfaces. This is a salient warning to gardeners who kneel to sow, plant, tend, weed, etc.. After meeting my tiler friend, I rooted out the kneeler I had bought some years ago for €30 from a mail order catalogue. The metal and rubber kneeler doubles up as a seat if required also and works well even on a wet day. One could also say it is also anti-rheumatic as it is raised enough from the ground to remain dry.  It also has handles to make standing easier putting less strain on the back. What’s not to like about a device that saves  injury and energy, and increases productivity? Hopefully the attached photograph is of interest.

Metal kneeler with rubber pad at the ready for planting out one of the organic onion beds.

Metal kneeler with rubber pad at the ready for planting out one of the organic onion beds.


Growing food is satisfying. Cooking and eating it amongst friends increases that satisfaction even further. This is partly why we want to run a course on how to build an outdoor cob pizza oven. The main construction materials are earth and water so a messy good time is pretty well guaranteed! The tutor for the day (Saturday 19th July 2014) is Saul Moshbacher, who has taught many dozens of cob oven builders throughout Ireland at this stage.

Weeks before the course, we have to build a waist high plinth of stone of 4ft diameter. Above this a strong wind and rain proof wooden canopy is required about 10tft deep and 10ft wide, under which one can prepare pizzas, store dry firewood for the oven and shelter from the rain – or the strong sun! Any help is welcome at this ‘pre cob oven course construction phase’ also.

However, the construction of the oven is the really skilled part of the project, as all the cob has to be mixed and used in the one day which requires about 8 adults atleast. Áine is undertaking to provide delicious refreshments and a good organic lunch. The cost to cover costs on the day is €50 per person. However, the cob will need 2 weeks to dry out after construction before it can be used, so lunch will be coming from the kitchen. However the cob oven construction will be providing a good appetite on the day. Email if you want a place on the cob oven building course (19th July) at  tsargent.green@gmail.com. As places are limited the ‘first come, first served rule’ applies.

Wexford forester and al fresco chef, Chris Hayes making a pizza in his cob oven constructed under the guidance of tutor Saul Moshbacher.

Wexford forester and al fresco chef, Chris Hayes making a delicious pizza in his cob oven constructed with a ‘meitheal’ under the guidance of tutor Saul Moshbacher.



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