Hilda, together with her husband Dominic Quinn, grow organically certified vegetables on approximately 3 hectares in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains. Their farm is divided between hardwood forestry, vegetable production, including protective cropping in polytunnels and a permanent grazing area. It really is about loving the land. How does a philosopher-farmer live? Hilda is a student in the School in Dublin.
Loving the Land
Hilda Crampton, Wicklow, Ireland
Way back in the eighties I worked as a physics technician. But I felt very confined and restless in the indoor environment and longed for something better. Two events happened around that time. I started a kitchen garden, producing vegetables for home, and I stumbled across T.M. meditation. Both yielded happiness. Shortly after that it occurred to me that it might be possible to earn a modest living growing organic vegetables commercially on the home farm. This idea just would not leave.
In Ireland a small group of organic producers was willing to share their knowledge of cultivation, machinery, and seed. So I linked up with them and began a period of discovery. Land was available, I’d gained some knowledge of production – everything needed fell straight into my lap. One field was entered into organic conversion, we purchased a Massey 35 tractor, and erected a poly-tunnel. In 1989 Castleruddery organic farm was born.
What do you grow? How much land do you have?
We grow a wide range of produce to E.U. organic standards on 3Ha. We focus on crops that suit the soil here; nature knows best after all. A wide range of over 40 crops suits the soil here, from artichokes to turnips. Varieties within a range add interest, for example, tomatoes…cherry, red, yellow, black, orange, green, plum, round. Why not!
What do you enjoy about it?
I love how each year brings a fresh beginning, a new adventure with the land. There are no boundaries outdoors just the big sky, the land and the connection with the infinite. Sowing seeds in trays for transplants has to be the best work. It is like a meditation, requiring fineness of attention. Sow in a little compost, add heat and water and a few days later the magic moment happens and the first baby leaves show themselves. It is such a celebration to witness all that stored potential appearing. They already know how to grow; all I do is care for them, plant them in fertile soil and keep the weeds at bay.
How do customers hear about you?
Vegetables are sold from the Friday pop-up shop on the farm and from the busy farmers’ market in Naas. It’s lovely to display the produce knowing that it is so fresh and full of goodness. Customers appear through word of mouth. A handful of people have been coming to the farm since the early 90’s and now their children come too. One customer described our farm as the ‘best kept secret ever’ but secrets are rarely kept! We don’t advertise but instead share photos on Instagram to show what’s happening on the farm.
With organics, do you cook differently?
The tunes for the meals at home are set by what crops are available. If I am out in the field or working in the poly-tunnels I just go for a wander and gather in whatever is looking good. That determines our meal for that day.
Springtime brings delights of tender shoots that have survived the winter in the tunnels, the first of the newly-sown salads and perennials that just keep on giving. Summertime is an absolute cornucopia of colourful tender leaves and vegetables that can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Autumn brings more substantial crops for tasty meals and wintertime yields the heavy-duty vegetables for hearty stews and casseroles. Our meals always have tons of vegetables with colourful salads on the side. We are lucky to have so much.
What is your relationship with the soil? Love the land?
It’s stewardship rather than exploitation. It is working in harmony with the checks and balances within nature. We maintain fertility by testing the soil and feeding it with slow releasing natural inputs. Crops such as red clover are grown to be turned back into the land to provide nutrients. Their deep roots pull up minerals and the foliage feeds the microbes. We then try to find the sweet spot to help the vegetables grow.
Organic production is a soil-based system and soil serves to sustain life. Soil is a mixture of minerals formed by stars and supernova explosions, air, water, space and organisms. One teaspoon of soil contains more creatures than people on the Earth and a quarter of all species live in soil. The world beneath our feet is a truly living entity and the most precious resource on Earth.
How much are you mechanised? How much is manual?
We use tools and machines wherever possible as the work is naturally labour-intensive. Cultivation, planting and weeding are carried out by mechanical means. But most of the work is manual. Most days involve a good workout with lifting, moving, reaching, bending, and stretching. Hands are rarely empty, clothes rarely clean.
I like the rhythm of manual work and the air getting deeper into the lungs. Many jobs are repetitive like planting in the tunnels, training the tomatoes or simply hand weeding on a summer’s evening.
The senses connect to the work; the hands can be holding a plant, firming the soil, or pulling a weed and there is not much need to think. The work seems to take care of itself and in a way, can be very restful.
What’s your relationship with the customer?
Organic growing is about health, fairness, ecology and care which includes the customer. Our food connects families with the land, and also with our family. We serve the customer and the customer in turn provides for us. We need each other in an interconnected way; they give us purpose. Why else would we grow it all? Imagine all the tables that our vegetables have graced over the years, how many dinners and lunches have we been part of? What a privilege!
I love young children coming to the farm shop on Fridays. I am usually out and about moving or sowing plants or harvesting for the shop. Children are interested in big things like tractors and near things like plants. They get a kick out of seeing ‘the farmer’s wife’ climbing down from a tractor and carrying crates of freshly harvested produce to the shop. Sometimes I let them sow seeds, or send them off with seedlings to care for. It makes food real.
Chefs occasionally visit and graze their way through the crops, delighting in tasting a vegetable still growing, and visualising all sorts of possibilities. They sample all parts of plants from leaf to flower, root, and seeds. Menus and recipes glaze across their eyes, the excitement is tangible. They also bring new ideas of crops to grow. Chefs know how food works, the alchemy of it all, what complements, what enhances, mixing colours, shapes and textures. Their skill elevates humble vegetables to great heights. When they cook with our vegetables our land becomes part of their food story. Together we have been taking part in a food revolution over many years.
What brought you to the School?
In 2004, the year after my lovely Dad passed away, I joined the School of Philosophy. I wanted to understand what living is really for. I had spent very little time exploring deeper questions. All I knew for sure was that I knew very little. The word wisdom was very attractive, I wanted to develop my intellect and know more about the nature of life.
Has philosophy helped with your work?
Practical Philosophy and the work on the farm mirror each other. Both systems are based on principle and both are my teachers. My work on the farm is to prepare the ground so that good seeds can grow; my work in philosophy is the same, preparing the ground of my being to let my light shine. Opportunities for practice naturally present themselves.
There is great freedom in dedicating the work, in offering it up regardless of results. I am so grateful to have fallen into this way of living and for everything that grows. Philosophy has helped me to understand my part in it all, accepting the abundance and the failures as the same. I know that I am part of something bigger and that it is also in me.
Have a look at Hilda’s account on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/casorgfarm/
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