The Remarkable Colchesters
Ben and Charlotte Colchester of Drumeen Farm are remarkable people. Pioneers of mixed organic farming in Ireland, the years have not diminished their enthusiasm or commitment. They met at agricultural college in England and became disenchanted with the drive towards large-scale monoculture farms in England at the time. Ireland, they felt, would be more in tune with their vision as mixed farming was quite normal here at the time.
England’s loss was certainly Ireland’s gain! They purchased a beautiful farm near Urlingford in Co. Kilkenny and began a diverse organic farming enterprise. That was 40 years ago. Over time the enterprise expanded – they were producing organic beef, lamb, chicken and turkeys in significant volume. All the feed for the animals was grown on the farm, too, just as it is today. They kept bees as well and for a while maintained over 100 hives. They also had some forestry and sold logs and fencing posts. There surely were not enough hours in the day!
They found time to involve themselves in the organization of the new organic movement in Ireland and for a while the headquarters of The Organic Trust was their farm. They were living proof that an organic farming enterprise was a real economic option and encouraged many to follow them along the road.
There are less chickens now, and only about 40 hives, but there is not much sign of Ben and Charlotte reducing their workload. Neither have they taken off the mantle of Crusaders for organic farming! I was delighted to visit them recently and inevitably the conversation came around to weedkillers, Glyphosate and Round-Up. As organic farmers, the Colchesters do not use any chemicals, of course. This choice is made through a deeply held conviction that to spray crops is harmful to the plant, to the soil, to the animals that would consume it and ultimately to us, the consumer. Charlotte explains: chemical manufacturers and governments may say that such-and-such a chemical is safe but all the toxic chemicals we encounter have a cumulative effect. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the shampoo we use, the furniture in our house, the detergents we use. All of this together will eventually affect our health. I think she might also be inclined to add that she believes that it is disrespectful to nature to force it to produce more and more, to harm the soil, to feed livestock, and ultimately ourselves, with anything less than the best quality, clean, natural food we can produce.
Growing up in such a household, where almost all the food on the table was produced by their own hands, it was perhaps inevitable that Kitty Colchester would earn a living through the land, through something good, something nutritious and natural. During her travels, in Europe especially, she had seen that rapeseed oil was widely used. Back in Drumeen Farm, rape was being grown purely as a high-protein feed for animals. The oil was simply a by-product, and in Ireland, very few saw its value as culinary oil. But she knew that - if people could be encouraged to try it, to discover its light earthy flavours and learn about its health benefits - there was the potential for a sustainable business.
Since those first tentative steps, rapeseed oil has become widely accepted and used in Ireland. Many other brands have entered the market but Kitty’s award-winning Second Nature Organic Rapeseed Oil remains the only certified organic Irish rapeseed oil on the market.