My ICRPS 2015 Experience
I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have the chance to travel to one of the most beautiful countries halfway across the world to be involved in discussions and learn about international perspectives on rural issues and the policies that surround them. As one of the liaison officers for the Rural Policy Learning Commons, I was lucky enough to attend the International Comparative Rural Policy Studies (ICRPS) Summer School in Ireland from June 22 to July 5, 2015, surrounded by the most knowledgeable faculty and inspiring fellow students. The 2015 summer school was hosted by University College Dublin Agriculture and Food Science and the National University of Ireland, Galway.
As I write this, my mind is wondering back to the fond memories I made while in Ireland; the things I learned and the people I met while I was there. I’ll be honest – I didn’t even know what “policy” meant in regards to rural issues before I landed in Dublin airport. Boy, do I know what policy is now! Various concepts, issues and questions relating to sustainable rural communities were discussed, using Ireland as the central example, while comparing this country to others such as Canada, the United States, Norway, Mexico, Scotland, and others. The four general themes of the summer institute were: making policies for sustainability, sustainable rural communities, contemporary policy challenges, and research and analysis methods. I could go on for days about the lectures that were delivered to us and the field trips we went on to learn hands on what rural in Ireland meant. However, I want to share with you the experiences that really stuck with me and are ones I won’t forget for a long time.
As I am one of those people who ‘learn by doing’, my favorite part of the entire trip was visiting farmers and hearing about what they do on a daily basis as we walked around their property and got
to see first-hand what they are doing well with, and what they struggle with as Irish farmers. I’ll never forget the passion that these farmers had for their land, their animals, and the industry in Ireland. One fellow, owner of Ballindrum Farm and Bed and Breakfast was on more boards related to dairy farming than I could count on all fingers and toes. As he spoke to us, it sounded like his sole purpose in life was to make dairy farming in Ireland viable for farmers and help them produce the best they could. Along with the boards that he is on, and/or is the head of, he helps his wife with the Bed and Breakfast business, and manages to milk the cows at some point. It was an amazing feat of persistence, faith in the system, and yes time management.
We then visited Ballard Organic Farm, home of Kilbeggan Organic Foods. Owner Pat Lalor is the most passionate person about fertilizer I have ever met. It was interesting to listen to thoughts from an organic producer. For example, there is no need for pesticide use on his farm because the slurry he uses (chicken, bovine, and elephant – yes, elephant) enriches the soil to the point where weeds and diseases don’t grow. This is in extreme lament terms (you should have heard him go on about the biology of the soil – so impressive). He may not get the amount of yield per acre that farmers who use chemical fertilizer do, but it’s a much healthier and safer yield for the consumer and the environment, and the consumer can feel good about knowing that their product is 100% organic. Pat specializes in oats, and he and his wife have started making organic oatmeal cookies, along with the oatmeal they’ve been selling to retailers for years now. Let me tell you…from experience, there’s nothing better than an organic oatmeal cookie!
These are only two of the many memories I have of ICRPS 2015. The policies and programs that Ireland has in order to combat issues relating to rural development are forward thinking and always changing for the better. I’m so glad I got to experience Ireland like this – from the farmer’s perspective to the European Parliament and everyone in between. James Breen, lead of the Institutes Team and Lecturer at University College Dublin did such an amazing job both organizing and executing ICRPS 2015 – I’m not at all jealous of the amount of ‘herding of cats’ he had to do over those two weeks. Philip Loring (University of Saskatchewan), the next lead of the Institutes Team, has a tough act to follow but will no doubt do a fantastic job of next year’s ICRPS – ICRPS 2016…Alaska!
A full report of the ICRPS 2015 experience will be posted soon!