A ground-breaking non-profit centre cofounded by a Wicklow woman is the focus of an inspiring new short new film that has just been released. Síolta Chroí is a visionary initiative that aims to restore and reinvigorate nature and communities. The County Monaghan based venture was cofounded by Kilmacanogue woman Karen Jeffares and her partner Gareth Conlon. 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. It is attracting viewers and praise from around the world. Síolta Chroí’s education centre is located in Aghacloghan, about 7 kilometres from Carrickmacross. It is guided by an expert board of trustees and advisors and is increasingly 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 wellbeing, and climate action. Síolta Chroí incorporates a market garden, a food forest system, space for animals to graze, and a venue for training and educational courses.
At a time when many are looking for new ideas, Síolta Chroí appears to be a particularly timely initiative, even though it is also rooted in what the founders say is a traditional and ancient approach to integrating food, farming, ecology, and community.
Karen previously worked internationally in peacebuilding and human rights and is also an experienced facilitator and yoga teacher. She is leading the integration of wellbeing programmes at the centre and says 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.”
“Ireland is signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals, and local councils are also developing climate action plans so there’s an understanding they have a role to play and there are some great initiatives in there, but we need to go further. For us, the wider mission for Síolta Chroí is about restoring the ecosystems of Ireland and the ecosystems of communities. We need to work on the land and also to work with people and our relationship with nature,” she says.
“What we are creating here is a model of what’s possible,” says Gareth, who has a background in environmental and global development education.
“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.”
Gareth says that he and Karen understand that not everyone wants to live or work on a farm or grow their own food, but he believes everyone can play a role. “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.”
Síolta Chroí also works with schools and reports 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, it’s important and incredibly rewarding work” says Karen.
Find out more about at www.sioltachroi.ie