Planning to go from cows to cabbages

An Bord Pleanala will debate this September whether growing vegetables is agriculture or not. A Galway case has been appealed to An Bord Pleanala following a decision by Galway City Council that a change from livestock to horticulture constituted a change of use. We have become so used to livestock grazing every field that any other form of food production feels and looks wrong to some people.

This is the case of Mad Yolk Farm in Roscam which set up a no dig organic vegetable farm on part of a field zoned agriculture and amenity. Objections re the new farm were raised by locals to the Galway City Planning office, who believe that growing vegetables constituted a change of use from agriculture and therefore required planning permission and also because the area is one of a protected view of Galway Bay, the view to be maintained is agricultural, i.e. livestock grazing. Retention planning was duly applied for, refused, appealed and now it is to go before An Bord Pleanala.

Ireland imports huge quantities of fruit and vegetables, and while we can’t grow bananas here, we certainly can grow apples. Yet we import over 60,000 tonnes in a year (2017 CSO Ireland ). We also import colossal amounts of vegetables that we can and should be growing here. Brexit brought the reality of potato growing to the news headlines, when chipping potatoes and seed potato shortages became a possibility. We imported in 2017 over 70,000 tonnes of potatoes, not to mention 20,000 tonnes of cabbages and 15,000 tonnes of lettuce, and lettuce weighs nothing, so that’s a huge amount of lettuce. Bord Bia’s 2019 report into horticulture states that the number of growers in Ireland has dropped by 56% in the last twenty years. As a nation we’re putting all our eggs in one basket, the dairying one.

However we need to eat fruit, and vegetables too, seven portions a day they are now saying. And there is a push on for more plant based diets, and reductions in meat consumption for environmental reasons. Many people in Galway are either vegetarian or vegan, Bord Bia puts the figure at 8% nationally and growing.

The most environmentally friendly way to grow that fruit and veg is close to the market to facilitate minimal transport and direct sales. County Dublin has many large scale fruit and vegetable growers who can get their produce to market quick and fresh. So surely Galway City Council should be encouraging vegetable growing on land zoned agricultural?

Small parcels of agricultural land within the city limits are best suited to horticulture as livestock require much larger tracts of land. A few acres of vegetables is a lot of food whether that is a commercial unit, allotments or a community garden. Growing vegetables is just as valid a form of agriculture as sheep farming.

If we set a precedent that horticulture is a change of use and requires planning, does that mean a farmer needs planning permission to till a field of pasture to grow potatoes? Or is it just rows of cabbages and lettuces the city objects to?

And as for the protected view, 50, 60 years ago every farm in the west grew a field of potatoes and cabbages and carrots, had a wee orchard, as well as cattle and kept a dairy cow, some sheep, a pig who paid the rent and a flock of chickens scratching around the yard.

Indeed in the 1960s the government had ‘Sceim na dTratai’ which gave support towards building glasshouses for tomato growing. The Wild Atlantic Way was a patchwork of fields, a mosaic of land uses, some fields tilled and some not, they supported many different species of farm birds and biodiversity. This monoculture of pasture is a modern phenomenon that we’ve become very attached to. Every Failte Ireland advertisement cements it in this vista as the norm, the ideal image of Ireland. But are we to lock every scenic view into pasture and grazing forever?

Martina O’Connor Green Party Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Galway said that the decision by the Galway City planning department was very disappointing and she would like to see more being done to support diverse farming and food growing in particular.

“I hope that the obstacles can be overcome for projects like Mad Yolk Farm and that other food producing entrepreneurs could be encouraged and supported to provide high quality locally produced food,” she said.


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