Smallholder Gathering at Savour Kilkenny

Nov 2, 2016 by

Smallholder Gathering at Savour Kilkenny
Helen Joy and Martha Roberts in Butler House

This past weekend we had our first smallholder gathering at the Savour Food Festival in Kilkenny. This year the festival was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary. It is a brilliant two day festival of food held every year on the October bank holiday weekend – right in the centre of the very historic medieval city of Kilkenny.

The idea came to me when I set up the Smallholder Ireland Twitter account. There is a Smallholder UK one and I thought why could we not have our own account here and then wouldn’t it be a great idea if we all met up to share ideas, plans and visit each other’s smallholdings. I had originally thought if we hosted it here and interested UK visitors came and stayed with us and we organised visits to a few smallholdings. Then they could reciprocate the following year. However, when I told Francis Nesbitt of Croan Cottages what I was thinking he got onto the committee of Savour and suggested it to them. They thought it was a fantastic idea and offered to host it.

So that is how it came about. We had a marquee tent at the top of the Parade just at the gates of Kilkenny Castle and Suzanna Crampton of helped to decorate it. It looked fabulous with a seasonal display of pumpkins, apples, eggs, wool, blankets and and old spinning wheel.

The display (photo courtesy of Dec Gilmore)


Francis Nesbitt, Eoin Jenkinson Gaelic Escargot, Susan Maxwell Seven Acres and Mags Morrissey
The pig talk with Mary the piglet was popular (photo Dec Gilmore)

The schedule was for talks and demonstrations and there were some animals outside in pens for the public to get up close and personal with. The talks were all packed and as Francis quipped “it’s not like it’s even pouring rain outside and they are trying to shelter.”


We had two visitors from the UK. Helen Joy an artist and smallholder raising pigs based in Penarth, Wales and Martha Roberts who fits in a job commuting a couple of days a week to London and has pigs on a smallholding near Abergavenny, Wales. From here we had smallholders with sheep, turkeys, pigs, alpaca, cattle, bees, vegetables and even a snail farmer on a one acre smallholding. Some raised animals for their own family, others sold excess and a few had made a small business out of theirs.

They all spoke with passion about what they do and why they do it. They explained how they sold their produce directly to customers and their experiences of direct selling. They talked about the highs, the lows, the success, the failure. How they relied on farming neighbours for machinery, labour, advice and support and how they in turn had something to offer them. Everyone agreed that having made the decision to get back to basics and get closer to the source of their food they were noticeably happier and had a far better quality of life albeit not as well off financially.

Pigs on Parade
Mary the piglet helping herself to the display (photo Dec Gilmore)


Francis posing with an alpaca

We all “met” each other through Twitter. Some of us had already met in person before the weekend but even those of us who only met at the event all said it felt as if we had known each other forever. There is a lot of negativity about social media but if it brings people together who have similar ideals and interests that can only be a good thing. The fact that our community stretches across the Irish Sea to Wales just shows the power of communication and social media.

Susan Maxwell, Olly Nolan, Francis Nesbitt, Declan Gilmore, Martha Roberts, Margaret Griffin and Helen Joy

So where do we go from here? While it was a fantastic success and it seemed to be very popular with the festival goers, the idea is for us to get together and exchange knowledge and ideas and maybe next time it would be beneficial to visit each other’s smallholdings. A smallholder road trip as it were with accommodation provided by the smallholders for each other. One thing for sure I really think that this may well be the start of something great.

I would like to thank Francis Nesbitt and Suzanna Crampton and the committee of Savour for all their hard work. The Savour committee provided accommodation for all those visiting from afar which was greatly appreciated. Helen and Martha our UK contributors visiting was especially welcome. And not forgetting all the smallholders who came and contributed (Declan Gilmore from Dec’s Plot, Olly Nolan from Olly’s Farm, Susan Maxwell from Seven Acres, Alfie McCaffrey from Oldfarm, Mags Morrissey, craft baker, Eoin Jenkinson from Gaelic Escargot, Paul McDonnell from Hushabye Farm, Eoin Sharkey from Maperath Farm, Dee Sewell from Greenside Up and anyone else I have not mentioned.

Here’s to the 2017 Smallholder Road Trip. And if anyone has any ideas for next year do get in touch.

Follow @smallholderIRL and @smallholdersUK and join the community, enjoy the conversations, fun and friendship.

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