The community garden at the back of DCU was a place I never quite managed to pay a visit to when I was a student there…more fool me. Last week I finally paid that visit to what is now a market farm, run by a trio from Ballymun called The Gnomes.
On a warm overcast day, I find Martin and Jason, shovels in hand and wellies on feet, tending to a bed of Red Russian Kale. It’s just about midday so I’m invited to I join them for some lunch al fresco. The lads are keen cooks and have a neat little set-up with a stove for testing out new recipes from their rich abundance of fresh crops…baby white salad turnips played a starring role in their latest dish. Today it’s vegetable soup, and as we sit overlooking the rows of crops, Martin tells me how it all began.
Four years ago, after doing a Tús work placement programme and finding they were pretty green-thumbed, Martin, Jason and Shane founded The Gnomes. The rows of crops in the community garden were once mounds of slate which they cleared before tending to what would become the basis of everything they do – healthy soil. Since then they’ve been honing and refining their skills at DCU’s community garden where they operate a bio-intensive market farm specialising in quick growing high-value crops. As Martin puts it “it’s the wild west of farming” and as far as we know this is the only bio-intensive market farm in the country.
The Gnomes studied the teachings of Elaine Ingham, a microbiologist and soil biology researcher who is known as a leader in soil microbiology and research of the soil food web. They don’t use herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilisers. Instead, they treat the soil organically with micronutrients, seaweed extract, and comfrey to create a healthy immune system for the soil.
“If you respect the soil you’ll get a good return with the harvest” – Martin, The Gnome
Last year The Gnomes had twenty weeks of market stalls, with a turnover of 500 kilos of food; from herbs to salads; to cucumbers, garlic, tomatoes, peas, and even apples. They’re returning to the DCU Glasnevin campus this week with their stall and plan to supply lots more fresh produce to the local community, farmers markets and restaurants. We’re delighted to be stocking a mixture of their salads, Red Russian Kale, and more to come, at Small Changes, fresh from the soil to your plate.
The Gnomes are definitely the coolest farmers you’ll ever meet, extremely hard working yet laid back while they’re paving the way for a farming revolution in Ireland! If you’d like an informative tour of The Gnomes Market Garden or have any questions, direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the guys on Facebook and Instagram.