Mary Walsh and her partner Ophelia run Little Black Hill Farm, a small mixed farm outside Killarney in County Kerry. They manage a 1.5-acre market garden, growing a wide range of chemical-free vegetables which are sold to local restaurants, shops and through a vegetable box scheme. Mary has 8 growing seasons under her belt and she has been making changes to the farming system year-on-year to ensure her farm operates in the most ecologically and economically sustainable way. Last year the outdoor beds were converted to a no-dig system in an effort to protect soil biology, minimise weeding and thus grow stronger crops. Mary keeps a few chickens and pigs on the land producing food for the home. She recently added 4 Belted Galloways to the farm, and the cattle will play an important role in managing rush and dock encroachment on areas of the grassland.
Mary is passionate about community and educating people on how their food has been produced – "As much as I love growing food, I also want to grow community, understanding and connection. I want to help people reconnect with their food and realise how dependant we are on nature." One full-time intern is employed on the farm and many volunteers, neighbours and friends have lent their hands to helping with various projects on Little Black Hill Farm over the years. Pockets of woodland, hedgerows and a pond all provide important habitats for the healthy bird and insect populations on the farm. Mary understands that her farm and her livelihood are completely dependent on nature, and she takes great pride in producing nutrient-dense, seasonal food for the local community, all the while leaving space for biodiversity and wildlife on the land.
Mary Walsh and Little Black Hill farm are perfect examples of working with nature while growing local quality produce. Her deep connection to the land she farms is clear. A perfect Farming For Nature ambassador for 2022
Situated just a few miles from Killarney. The farm is 15 acres with one acre in outside production and a little less then a quarter acre under cover.
Mary has been growing veg for 7/8 years and produces a mixture of veg up to 30+ verities. Mary mainly produce’s salads and green leafy veg.
Supply a few hotels and shops and a weekly Farm gate veg box from May to December that’s been running for the last few years.
Last year with covid Mary decided to scale back production giving her time to convert the growing areas into a no dig system.
The reason for going no dig was to keep soil biology intact by avoiding rotovating or digging and to feed the biology from the top down.
While also removing some of the work load by reducing weeding. But the primary objective of this change was to farm with nature while producing the highest quality veg which is nutrient dense.
Community engagement in local food production is at the heart of what they do. In fact it would not have been possible without the local community who have gathered many a day with wheelbarrows and shovels to make over a hundred 30m beds.
Proving local employment
This will be our second year taking on a full time paid intern to work beside me.
Sharing knowledge and experiences.
As well as producing great veg we need to start producing great vegetable growers who think ecological, economically and want to produce real food.
Through out the summer they take french horticulture interns as well for short periods to share knowledge and culture.
Diversified mixed farming system.
On the other parts of the farm over the last few years we have put in a small wood land, a small orchard, some bees, a pond, planted hundreds of trees.
Now that the time is right we have some beautiful bovines back on the land in the form of belted Galloways. These guys will eat our unwanted docks and also help manage a very rushy field we have. Along with grazing appropriately the better fields.
Aims for “Little Black Hill farm”
The aim here on this patch of land is to produce amazing veg that excites people while caring and nurturing the land thus creating more diversity and life. It’s important to us to build community, new growers and be financially viable.
Nominator: Thomas O Connor, FFN Ambassador