A new, non-profit education centre near Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan is the focus of a short documentary film that has just been released, that sheds a light on a different approach to farming.

Síolta Chroí, with the aim of “restoring and reinvigorating nature and communities”, was founded by Inniskeen man, Gareth Conlon and his partner, Karen Jeffares.

Síolta Chroí education centre is located in Aghacloghan, about seven kilometres from Carrickmacross.

It is guided by an expert board of trustees and advisors and is seen as a practical model that can reap huge benefits for local communities around social enterprise; job creation; community development; nature conversation and restoration; wildlife protection; health and well-being; and climate action.

Ití incorporates a market garden, a food forest system, space for animals to graze and a venue for training and educational courses.

And, it is also rooted in what the founders say is a traditional and ancient approach to integrating food, farming, ecology and community.

“What we are creating here is a model of what’s possible,” said Gareth, who has a background in environmental and global development education.

Síolta Chroí incorporates a market garden, a food forest system and space for animals

“It takes inspiration from many other people who are doing this around the world in regenerative agriculture and permaculture.

“We are creating a system where we grow our own food in a way that builds soil health, sequesters carbon, feeds the wildlife of the area, brings wildlife back, and feeds the community with nutritionally dense, non-toxic, local food.

“Farming often involves cutting down trees to have room for pasture but animals don’t benefit from that. Often, they need shelter from the sun and rain. Cutting down trees also leads to the land becoming a green desert. So, tree planting is an important part of what we do.”

Karen previously worked internationally in peace-building and human rights and is also an experienced facilitator and yoga teacher.

She is coordinating the well-being programmes at the centre and said the past year has increased awareness of the need for change at all levels of society.

“During the past year, with the pandemic and extreme weather events, people have noticed how our food-supply chain is quite distorted and doesn’t always serve our needs.

“One of the best ways to challenge that is to support local food producers and by learning how to grow food ourselves. This includes seed saving.

“Currently, 60% of the world’s seeds are controlled by just four companies. This needs to change so we improve food security.”

Síolta Chroí also works with schools and said that young people find that learning about food, farming and health in a new way is offering them a positive focus at a time when there is a lot of doom and gloom in the air.

“It is also about personal development. It helps them learn about themselves, about the land, and their connection with nature,” Karen added.

Gareth said he understands that not everyone wants to live or work on a farm or grow their own food, but he believes everyone can play a role.

Karen Jeffares and Garath Conlon

“You’ve got the big supermarkets selling vegetables at below cost price. By putting our money into local food systems instead, and by supporting local food growers, that’s a powerful way of creating change.

“In a way, this is about relearning what our ancestors knew about the wisdom of the land. Irish people have always had a deep connection with the land and we are reconnecting with that.”

The film, produced by RoJnRoll Productions for Afri, is entitled ‘Síolta Chroí – Seeds Of The Heart’ and is available to watch for free on YouTube.