Ireland of the Welcomes - This Farming Life
Nestled on the serene shores of Lough Derg in county Tipperary, Brookfield Farm is an exciting and innovative mix of sanctuary, farm and enterprise.
An early interest in animals gave way to a career in construction until Ailbhe Gerrard finally settled on life in farming, creating a beautiful place to live and work.
“When in secondary school, I wanted to leave and work with animals, but luckily my parents persuaded me to finish school. I did veterinary practice with two vets in my Leaving Cert year and I remember being fascinated during a caesarean section on a cow.
“Back at school I realised that the points for veterinary were eye wateringly high, so I focused on Arts instead. From there, I worked my way into construction project management, taking night degrees during full time work with architects and landscape architects. When I completed an MBA in Project Management for Construction, I decided to try out new skills and worked with the international aid charity, GOAL, as a reconstruction manager in Sri Lanka for six months. My project was to rebuild schools damaged in the 2004 tsunami, and it was a fascinating but tough time.
“For the next few years, I shifted between project management on large construction projects in Ireland, such as mixed use developments, bank headquarters, offices, and working voluntarily on projects in places like Pakistan and Ethiopia. When I felt in 2007 that the construction boom was over, I looked for an exit, and in 2008 retrained in sustainable development.
“The MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at University College London was an eye-opening experience, studying and learning with post graduates from Africa, Asia, Americas and Europe. An integral part of the course was preparing for a study trip in Accra, Ghana, working with urban farmers to improve their access to land, clean water and markets. Following this experience, and researching my thesis on different forms of urban agriculture, I realised I had a deep interest in food production, global equity and sustainability. I made a life-changing decision to move back to Ireland from London and to try to buy a farm.”
In 2010, Ailbhe purchased Brookfield Farm, a neglected 26-hectare plot close to her family home and took on the challenge of turning it around through innovation and diversification.
“In order to learn farming and make a farm living, I studied Organic Farming in Scotland, which was invaluable in practical farming skills and the realities of farm enterprises. There is no similar course available in Ireland, and half the students travelling to Aberdeen were Irish.
“Today, the farm enterprises are a mix of livestock and nature. We have an organically-certified sheep enterprise, honey bees, agri-environment – including three hectares of flower meadows, conventional tillage, with a plant to convert to organic, native woodland and broadleaf plantation.