Everybody’s Project- A Grá for the Ground
A cup of tea and a scone here at Cape Clear B&B on an August day with Joe Driscoll and Carmi Paris made for a wonderful few hours. Joe is the founder of The Lavender Initiative on Cape and I was so happy that both he and Carmi were able to pop over from The East End to chat about the project.
Joe has deep roots here and visits his ancestral home often, maintaining a strong link with this community. As a boy in Boston he grew up in a multigenerational household where no doubt stories of Cape were well told. Joe radiates drive, positive energy and that classic American ‘can-do’ attitude to life that is often absent amongst ourselves. A resilient, successful, enterprising man who served his country in the military and developed a manufacturing business producing rotary tiller blades for gardeners and other high carbon alloy steel components for both garden and agricultural implements. (Joe visited Russia in 1981 as the US rep for Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association but tall tales from Russia are for another day!)Joe’s diverse career so far has one common thread, working with nature and a grá for the ground.
In 1973, he bought his first house in Ohio. This house had a garden which he loved, perhaps the seeds of his vision for a ‘Renaissance Ranch’ were sown there. The Renaissance Ranch as he describes it, is diverse in nature, respects the land, offers opportunity and last but not least, will help to reframe farming.
‘good ideas are a dime a dozen; the value is in implementation’
The mark of a successful businessperson is often just that, a clear vision and follow through. Joe is following though. He tells me he has recently bought land in Carson Valley, Nevada with plans to fulfill his dream of a ‘Renaissance Ranch’ partly cattle grazing and partly Lavender. What you might ask has that to do with a tiny island in Roaring Water Bay? Read on!!
Joe is nothing if not thorough and his research led him to the town of Sequim, Washington. Farming country- where a new highway bypassed the town and left the people wondering how they were going to maintain or improve their economy. The Chamber of Commerce took up the challenge and Lavender farming was the answer. The town and its hinterland are thriving. People flock to the area to enjoy Lavender experiences of all sorts, but key to its success is that it respects the skills of the people, enhances the environment and is a good solid sustainable business.
Joe is a keen observer of life on Cape, and he developed an awareness of the awful slow erosion of community by drift. The permanent population is at crisis point. In spite massive efforts to encourage people to move here the fundamental problems remain, a national school in danger of being mothballed, no secondary school, no year-round work, poor mobile reception and the significant and often surprising extra costs associated with island living. (for instance if you need to see a consultant in the city it often means an overnight stay, or if you need to go anywhere on the mainland you will absolutely need a car or if (god forbid) you need a technician of any sort it will cost a fortune and you will have to wait for ages!) Issues such as these conspire together to prevent people from settling here for the long haul. Until those fundamentals are addressed then no amount of meetings or schemes or inducements are going to result in a stable, thriving community. These problems are not unique to Cape, they are sadly common to many island communities off Ireland’s shores. Problems are exacerbated by the current rise in inflation and the ongoing narrative that reducing or culling Ireland’s cattle is the way to save the planet.
Problems exist everywhere and sometimes the right help and harnessing of strengths can reverse decades of moldering. Joe speaks about the little schoolroom where so many started their journey to successful careers on the mainland so he feels that an island that can produce engineers, artists, doctors, teachers, sailors, builders and much more besides is rich in resilience, creativity and adaptability.
Joe’s vision is ‘The Sequim Solution’. I think he is right and I think lavender farming will do the same for us as it did for that small town. The plan means using the skill set and the natural environment to develop agritourism here by growing fields of lavender. Lavender has a wealth of uses and benefits not least that it is both beautiful and fragrant which is now enhancing the beauty of the island.
Joe calls the lavender a foundational product indeed it is. As the plants grow so too will innovation. By 2024 Cape should be celebrating its first Lavender Festival. Visitors will enjoy a range of new experiences and reasons to stay here, lavender trails, weddings, parties, friends getting together, island hoppers and Wild Atlantic Adventurers there is something for everyone from March to October.
Since its inception in 2020, The Lavender Initiative is gaining momentum. Back in 2020 Joe bought a few hundred plants and offered them to anyone who would try growing them. We were among those who grew a half dozen plants with an expectation to be honest that they wouldn’t come through the wet and windy winter. I’m glad to say they sailed through it and now my small plantation has expanded and growing very well. My room is festooned with bunches of buds that are either dry or drying. One of the main jobs associated with the new plants is to keep them trimmed to encourage good root growth so every week I go about snipping off the flower spikes and I can honestly say that when I come back from the lavender, I feel very calm indeed. Being around the plants doing mundane stuff like weeding leaves me feeling very zen- I wish my feisty bees who live in the lavender patch too were also feeling calmed by the lavender. (some have suggested I ought to spend more time with the plants-honestly I’m fine with that!!). This week another load of lavender plants arrived. By now there is approximately 5000+ plants around the island and everywhere you go you will see spots of blue and royal purple in gardens and fields and pots.
During our lovely chat I tried to nail down what inspired him to go and invest a lot of money in this idea, to give away the plants and other associated equipment with no expectation or requirement of a return. I expected a long answer about his motivation and inspiration, but he deftly avoided answering every time. All he would modestly admit is that the lavender is a gift. Indeed, it most certainly is a gift, a gift that looks like it will offer a more hopeful future respecting nature, using the diverse skills of the resilient, creative, and practical people here, fostering pride and more of the infectious ‘can do’ American attitude.
Many people would not even consider doing what Joe is undertaking here, in fact I’d say most people would think him mad for taking it on- but he says he has only two speeds in life; stop and go-
So next time you are going out to Cape take the time to stay over, to stop look around, absorb the view, see the purple blaze and inhale the fresh clean, salty lavender scented air. Take home a heart full of happy memories and bunch of Cape Clear Lavender.
Ag fánaíocht thart timpeall an oileáin tabharfar faoi deara an labhandar. Tá breis agus 5,000 planda anseo agus táid ag fás in ngach gairdín agus pota agus páircín ar fud na háite. Cad na thaobh? Cén sórt fiántas nua é seo a deir tú bhuel coinnigh ort ag léamh.
Is é an fear gnó Joe Driscoll de shliocht na háite seo atá taobh thiar den tógra. Chaitheann Joe neart ama anseo ar an oileán agus is suim leis a bhíonn ar siúl anseo. Chonaic sé an líon daoine ón oileán seo a chuir tús lena n-oideachas anseo ar Chléire agus a chuaigh ar aghaidh chun slí bheatha a bhaint amach in earnálacha éagsúla ar an mórthír, oileadh iad ina gceardaithe, ina múinteoirí, ina léachtóirí, ina ndochtúirí, ina n-ealaíontóirí agus neart eile nach iad. Dea-theist cumas agus teacht aniar na ndaoine. Fós féin níl meánscoil ar an oileán, tá an bhunscoil I mbaol a dúnta,agus ná bí ar caint ar an tarchur don ghuthán póca! Tá fhadhbanna ann maidir le heaspa fostaíochta lasmuigh de thréimshe na turasóireachta. Ní hé nach bhfuil na deacrachtaí seo in áiteanna eile ná ar oileáin eile ach tá na deacrachtaí seo ag cur bac leanúnach ar dhaonra a mhéadú agus a bhuanú. Tuigeann Joe é seo go rímhaith.
Nuair a bhí Joe ina ógfhear cheannaigh sé a chéad teach in Ohio agus bhí gairdín aige. Thaithin sé leis go mór a bheith ag obair leis an nádúr agus fiú ina shaol mar fhear ghnó bhí comhlacht aige tugtha do dhéantúsaíocht gléasra feirme. Cheannaigh sé talamh I nGleann Carson I Nevada agus tá sé beartaithe aige bheith ina fheirmeoir ann ‘Feirm na hathbheochana’ a thugann sé uirthi. Tá leath den fheirm tugtha do bheithigh agus an leath eile ag fás labhandair. Rogha aisteach a cheapfá ach fan liom!! Rinne sé neart taighde agus thug a thaighde timpeall na tíre é go feirmeacha labhandair agus baile beag Sequim I Washington. Bhí an baile seo ag fulainght toisc gur tógadh seachbhóthar a rinne slad ar gheilleagar na háite. Bhí an pobal ag fulaingt agus thug an Comhlachas Tráchtála faoin bhfadhb a réiteach. Bheartaigh siad an fheirmeoireacht labhandair a chur chun cinn. Thuig siad go mbainfeadh an stíl nua feirmeoireachta seo leas as scileanna na ndaoine I ngach uile earnáil ón bhfeirmeoiracht go próiseáil, margaíocht, miondíol agus tuasóireacht agus go raibh deiseanna ann do dhaoine gnónna a fhobairt agus a bhuanú ar an labhandar. Tá an baile beag sin I Washington ag dul ó neart go neart agus táthar ag súil go dtarlóidh an rud céanna anseo.
Cuireann an planda beag seo le háilleacht na háite ach táthar ag súil go gcuirfidh sé leis an ngeilleagar leis. Tá sé bearthaithe go mbeidh Féile Labhandair ann in 2024 nó níos luaithe agus tá roinnt táirgí ar díol go háitiúil ar nós uachtar reoite labhandair ó fheirm na nGabhar.
Aréir bhí an deis agam mo chuid labhandair agus cúpla lús eile a thabhairt liom go teach Joe chun triail a bhaint as an ngléas dríoghta nua. Bhuel bhí sceitimíní orainn ar fad féachaint conas mar a oibreodh sé ! Chuir Joe an gléas le chéile agus las an tine faoi, tar éis uair a chloig nó marsin tháinig uisce na lús amach. Bhí boladh álainn an tsamhraidh uaidh meascán de labhandar agus lúsanna éagsúla. Táimse ag súil go mór leis na samhradh seo chugainn nuair a bheidh na plandaí mór go leor chun ualach maith ábhar a bhaint agus na tairgí éagsúla a chur ar fáil.
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