To introduce you to my next Local Food Hero I had to be careful to make sure it was a Tipperary based hero! Trust me living in the country, county borders are of grave significance – especially at this time of year when we are in the thick of the All Ireland Hurling and Football finals. I would surely run the risk of excommunication if I did not introduce you to a Tipperary Food Hero.
Michael Seymour of Sheepwalk Farm was probably one of the first local producers we met when we moved here 10 years ago. Michael sells organic beef and lamb at Nenagh Market and directly to customers.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at Michael and Olive Seymour’s farm is the fact that it right in the centre of town. Literally – right smack bang in the middle of Borrisokane. Walk less than 100 yards and you are on Main Street!
I spent a couple of hours with Michael recently, and he explained to me that originally (and when he was growing up) the farm house was on Main Street! A number of years back he sold the house on Main Street and built a more modern home for his own family just behind the original house. The farmland still runs from the back of Main Street down to the river and beyond, which as Michael said “makes life very easy, if you’re out fencing and realise you’ve run out of nails – you just have to walk a few hundred yards to get some more”. So true! We’ve been there ourselves when it has meant a 10 mile round trip into town!
Walking the farm is almost like a ‘who’s who’ history of Borrisokane. I loved listening to Michael give me the names of the different fields – there’s Slevin’s Callow, Gannon’s Callow, Mikey’s field and oh, and this one is ‘our’ field! That’s the Ballyfinboy River over there…. and there’s the Millrace that was constructed in the late 1800′s….. we built this bridge last year, it makes it much easier to move the lambs and sheep.
Michael’s great-grandfather (who originally came from our own neighbourhood village, Lorrha) bought the farm on his return for America in the 1800′s. It is so unusual to hear of people returning, but he did and the land has been farmed in a traditional way by Michael and his ancestors, ever since.
The farm has been fully organic since 1999, Michael explained that he didn’t like what he was seeing with the sprays and chemicals that were being used, and felt it just couldn’t be good for either the land or humanity. He has often been asked why he doesn’t have a denser stocking level, but he works with nature and knows what his farm will sustain. As part of the farm is ‘callow’ land it is not suitable to be used in certain weather. Michael has 20 suckler cows, 80 ewes and their respective offsprings on his 130 acres.
With endless patience, Michael explained how his rotational system works. Lambs are grazed from March to July on same fields but from then on they graze on different fields, where lambs have not grazed before. As lambs graze fields the worm population grows but moving to fields not grazed previously by lambs should be clean grazing, that’s usually after grass.
The cattle are generally moved indoors onto straw bedding by mid-November where they are fed farm cut silage. The sheep stay out most of the year only being brought indoors for lambing. However, their grazing is supplemented with organic nuts and silage over the winter.
Fields are cut and grazed on alternate years, using a rotation system like this helps to naturally build up the soil fertility which in turn contributes to the preservation of the traditional grasses, clovers and herbs.
As we walked and chatted, I was struck by the array of gorgeous sloes, blackberries, crab apples and haws in the hedges. There were tons of mushrooms and Michael said there are lots of damsons in the hedgerows on the farm too.
I asked about challenges, like all other farmers, Michael said buying in feed and fodder this past year was extremely costly. He balked when he totted up the total!!! However, when I asked would he have chosen another life other than farming – his answer was a very definite No!
We also chatted about ‘social media’. I know Michael uses Twitter. Why? Well, as Michael said, you have to know about these things – everyone else is at it so you need to keep abreast.
I asked if he thought people’s shopping had changed in recent times? No, was Michael’s answer, he felt the shopping pattern changed seasonally….. more burgers and chops in the summer, more traditionally roasts and stews in the winter…. but business is generally remaining the same.
Michael and his delicious organic lamb and beef can be found at Nenagh Market in Quintin’s Way, Nenagh on Friday afternoons and Saturdays 10 – 3 pm, or just give him a call to arrange delivery.
We came home from our visit to Sheepwalk Farm with some lamb and beef…. we’ve had the roast lamb – it is delicious…. the beef is being saved for a special occasion.
Seymour Organics, Sheepwalk Farm, Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary.
Tel: Michael on 086 400 0680