Thursday 23 January 2020

Uncle Bob advises

A couple of weeks ago, my HoD sent out a call for volunteers to serve the Science desk at the evening Open Day. My reaction was meh! I gave already. Then on Tuesday, the call was repeated with "Refreshments served in the annex from 4.15-5.15pm" to which I replied (ASAP lest my response be lost in the stampede from the voluntariat):"Jakers, why didn't you mention the refreshments first time round?" Which committed me to start grazing at 1700hrs on goujons, spring rolls and doubtful sandwiches filled with mayo-and-meat. Not really a balanced meal but I was a graduate student once and find it hard to refuse free chop.

The evening Open Day is a different, more focused affair than the big daytime events when coach-loads of uniformed teenagers are disgorged at regular intervals through the morning. Most of them just relish the chance of a day off lessons to roam around the concourse in packs. Last night was much quieter and the punters had a much clearer idea of what they wanted to do. Far too many parents, though, most of them Mammies speaking for their teens. The Institute offers one Aggie course, at our satellite Campus down on the coast, called Sustainable Farm Management. It's run by a couple of my pals who, as well as the day job, are real farmers in the next county. I am happy to recommend it for people who don't want to go to college in the city.

I got one enquiry about the SustFarm course, from a young woman [and her Mammy] from a dairy farm in Westmeath. I asked how many acres they had, which elicited a prim "I'm not at liberty to say" in case I was going to grass the family up to the Revenue Commissioners. We chatted on about the course and then I had a brainwave:
Why do you want to do farming at college? You've spent your whole childhood in the milking parlour, there's not much you don't know about the business; would you not think of doing something different. Bring something back to the table after your four years out in the wild?

I tried to think of something completely different . . . humanities . . . French . . . Tourism!  Lookit, I said, you need to diversify; all my farming neighbours are diversifying because it's impossible to balance the books with sheep and subsidy or milk and subsidy. You could come back and set up a corner of the farm-yard as a petting zoo or make artisan jam. And remember Paddy and Joyce O’Keeffe from Clogheen, Co Tipperary. They were fed up getting up at 4 am seven days a week to milk the cows to sell it to the creamery at 12c/lt. They decided instead to add value  at home and sell ice-cream at the farm gate. Within a few years they were buying milk from other diary farmers in South Tipp and retired on their money in 2008. Ice cream is a bit yesterday but what about organic yoghurt or . . . koumiss! Three years ago, at another Open Day, I tried bullying a young woman into making soy sauce for Ireland.

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