Michelle Hanley travels to the west coast of Clare to meet pro surfer and aspiring eco-politician Fergal Smith, and to find out about the organic community garden collective at Moy Hill (pictured above)…
Arguably the best surfer these shores have ever produced, Fergal Smith was sponsored to travel the globe, catching waves on coral-filled bays in Indonesia and the white sandy shores of the Galápagos Islands.
But several years away from home left him devoid of community, wary of his ecological footprint, and craving a homegrown, square meal. “I grew up with good food but when you travel, you are at the mercy of buying food – and I really missed real food,” he recalls. “For me, the only way I could be sure if it was real, healthy food is if I did it myself.”
Fergal got his love of land and sea from his father, an organic farmer and surf enthusiast. “My dad left an engineering job in Dublin to move to the west of Ireland to grow organic vegetables,” he says. “He had no experience and made it work in a time when people didn’t know what ‘organic’ meant. He believed in it 30 years ago – and still believes in it now.”
This connection between a love for growing and surfing is a strong theme among the group of friends who run the not-for-profit Moy Hill community garden in Lahinch. They are joined by a good chunk of the community of west Clare – home to some of the most sought-after waves in the world. Fergal says, “Members of the surfing community make great gardeners; they love being outside and have free time, as they build their life around the tides.”
One thing’s for sure, the work ethic of this group is phenomenal – not many can say they spend their day digging out beds and building shelters in between good swells. So, where do they get their energy?
Fergal is unequivocal: “I instantly felt so much healthier and more full of life when I started growing my own food.” Keenly aware of the high price of organic food in supermarkets, the group has a donation system, making chemical-free fruit and vegetables available to all budgets.
“There is no reason why people can’t eat local healthfood.” Fergal says. “We do not need massive farms to grow our food; we just need to encourage more people to get back on the land.”
WORDS Michelle Hanley PHOTOGRAPHY Kevin L Smith & Al Mackinnon
For the full interview with Fergal and more about Moy Hill Community Garden, pick up a copy of the Garden Heaven 2016 annual, at newsagents now.