Urban farming in a developer’s paradise: enjoying the best of both worlds

Although more land is being lost to development, and agricultural services are moving further and further away, there are benefits to farming close to the urban mecca that is Dundrum Town Centre, according to Owen Keogh.

Keogh, who has worked as an Origin Green ambassador with Bord Bia, was brought up on the family mixed beef and sheep farm, in Rathfarnham, in the Dublin mountains. The family focus has now moved to agri-tourism in the form of holiday cottages.

“Multifunctional agriculture works quite well, being so close to the city,” he said. “It is an advantage to be close to the city. From my perspective, it is great to be able to work in the city, and still farm part-time quite easily in the evenings or on weekends,” he said.

“In terms of stock, we always have to be careful with people walking, and dogs especially. As the Dublin mountains are becoming more and more of a recreation space, we have to be aware of the extra people on the roads. We haven’t moved stock on the roads in years, as it’s just too difficult to manage.”

The family farm’s urban setting means they are a distance away from marts and other services. “The nearest mart is about 45 minutes away and the nearest agri store, for meal and other supplies, is the same,” said Keogh.

This still does not stop the region of the Dublin mountains from being a productive agricultural area. We have seen the number of farmers drop over the decades in the Dublin mountains but it is still a very productive agricultural area.

As a farm family, the Keoghs don’t feel isolated. “There are still a good few farmers in the area and it is easy to keep in touch. We have a strong community in the area and everyone keeps together. My dad, Chris, stays very involved in the Dublin IFA [Irish Farmers’ Association] and Dublin LEADER programme.

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“All of the farmland in the Dublin mountains is zoned agricultural and high amenity. This can be challenging as on one hand we have large development projects taking place on our doorstep but it is extremely difficult for local people to get planning permission in the mountains, even if you have been farming there for many years,” Keogh noted.

Sheep are the Keoghs’ main enterprise. A positive effect of their location has been the demand for accommodation that has boosted the family’s Tibradden Farm Cottages business. The self-catering cottages are based on the farm.

“This works quite well as the farm is about eight miles from the city centre, and about 10 minutes’ drive from Dundrum Town Centre,” said Keogh.

“While you can get into the countryside quite quickly from the farm and we are based in a ‘rural-ish’ area, we are fast becoming an ‘urban farm’ as my dad describes it now.

“There are still many farmers in the area and the quality of farms in the Dublin mountains rivals any other part of the country,” Keogh said.

Before the holiday cottages took over, the Keoghs had about 350 ewes and 25 suckler cows.

“As the tourism business began to get busier throughout the years, we have downsized to 120 ewes and about 20 beef heifers. My mother and siblings also keep horses and show jump around the country.”

Keogh believes he had the best of both worlds growing up and continues to enjoy helping out on the family farm. “I think that farming still, no matter where it is based, teaches you the value of hard work and commitment, as well as the benefit of getting out into the fresh air.”

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