Limerick’s Rockfield farm aims to stay social

The family behind Limerick’s Rockfield farm is brimful of ideas it is keen to introduce as part of its social farming offering. Celia O’Connell and Geoffrey Brighton said they are constantly looking at what improvements they can implement while still operating a working farm.

“Celia’s parents bought the farm in the late 1960s when they were still living in the US. They came back to a piece of land with one stone outhouse and from there they built everything to create a successful dairy farm,” said Geoffrey.

In 2004 Celia and Geoffrey moved to Rockfield and Geoffrey started working on the farm. It remained a dairy farm until 2006 when they all decided to stop milking and move over to a calf-to-beef enterprise.

“I went to an open meeting with West Limerick Resources in about 2016 and we loved the concept of social farming. About a year later some training came up which we did and still we didn’t think we were suitable hosts,” said Celia.

“A short time later the social farming regional development officer said they had a suitable group for us and would we do a risk assessment. At that stage we had nothing to lose so we said we would try one group.

“We were very nervous about our first placement and we weren’t sure if we had enough or indeed anything to offer, and whether we be able to fill the time. When you have said yes you just face your fears and I think the induction day is great in this respect because there is no pressure to achieve anything. It is just a get to know each other session and by the end of it everyone is more relaxed,” she said.

Eager for work

“We were certainly nervous on the first placement day but you soon realise people are just people and you walk and talk and once land and animals are involved, everyone relaxes. We also soon realised we did have a lot to offer and when clients return week after week eager for their day’s work and learning, you know you are doing OK.”

The day-to-day farming hasn’t changed during the pandemic but the family is now even more involved as a unit. “Our children were on the farm every morning at 9:00am while school was closed. This created great structure to the day,” Celia said.

As we have had more time we have been more observant, both to the great things around us and what needs to be done around the farm. As a result of social farming, we had decided to double our vegetable growing area and lockdown has given us more time to achieve this and we are very proud of the results.

“Our use of technology had certainly improved and Geoffrey and I are doing Pilates through Zoom all through lockdown. I am continuing with a digital marketing course which is now being run through Zoom and we hope to use what I have learned to promote Rockfield Farm and our involvement in social farming,” said Celia.

“We love being involved in social farming and we hope to be involved forever. We are constantly looking at improvements to what we can offer but still keeping the farm as a ‘normal’ working farm. It is great to look back and think of our past social farming groups and various clients get fondly mentioned for all sorts of reasons. We are always looking at new projects that we would like to tackle with our future guests,” she said.

‘Future is very bright’

“Though my digital marketing course loads of ideas have come about as to what else Rockfield Farm could offer to social farming so we think the future is very bright. Thank you to everyone who works so hard to make this all happen, it is much appreciated,” said Celia.

Geoffrey and Celia are one of the 14 active farms in the south-west region that are supported through the south-west hub based in West Limerick Resources. The hub supports Clare, Limerick, Kerry, north Tipperary and Cork.

In December social farming was reactivated in the region with participants from mental health services choosing a placement on John Murphy’s farm in north Cork. Among the many local development companies supporting social farming, Joe Cronin in West Cork Development Partnership has given great support to a number of farms in the Bantry area.

With a new regional officer starting, further development is awaited in the new year with another approximately 30 farms in the pipeline across all the counties in the region.