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June 17, 2015

10 Questions with Siggy Buckley (@Hernibs)

What gave you the idea of dropping out of the rat race and become organic farmers in Ireland?
It was actually a thought in Mac’s, my then husband’s head that he was harboring already without my knowledge when we got married. When he put garden tools, a wheelbarrow, a cable drum, and a pickaxe on our wedding list. That plus a book that was #1 on the best-seller list in Germany: John Seymour: The big book of Self-Sufficiency. I thought it was a joke and that he just wanted to garden a little at home in Germany in his free time.

Why Ireland?
Ireland was a mostly unpolluted country, away from the arms race and rearmament of Nato-Europe in the 80s. Mac had been there once as a student on a vacation playing golf and loved it because of its laid-back, unspoilt character and old-world charm. He kept saying, “We’ll go to Ireland when I retire.”

How did you take it?
I replied, “OK, honey.” Little did I know that he planned to retire at the age of 40. When that became clear to me, I needed counseling for over two years to cope with that idea.

How did you prepare for such a move? How did you learn the necessary skills?
We first moved to a cottage in the country where he studied the book and applied the skills in our garden. We had endless discussions about how we could survive financially.

Was there anything in your background that prepared you for such a life?
We were both academics, not one agricultural gene in our heritage.

I Once Had a Farm in Ireland
How did your family take it?
Family and friends were either appalled or ridiculed us. They accepted our being “Green” and very conscious of environmental issues, but couldn’t we practice that and live like that in Germany too? When my mother died and his parents got divorced the path to emigrating seemed to be clear. His mother, the only living relative surely could come with us, no?

Tell us about your daily routine as organic farmers?
Get up, let the geese and chickens out first, then have breakfast while grinding 1 kg of wheat into flour; then started a bread or a cake. Mac and the kids mucked out the stable. Then I got the children ready for school Mac began his workday by checking on the animals: cows, sheep, pigs, and horses. Drive kids to school in Limerick or car pool, go to college (University of Limerick)  to teach a few hours. Picked up children from school, did some shopping for groceries. Mac would have dealt with emergencies or mended fences and water-supplies; depending on the time of year calving and lambing was on the cards and looking after the flock.  Once or twice a week, I gave German classes at home at my kitchen table. Otherwise I just prepared classes for the next day in college .Then cook dinner while kids did their homework. After that, the last round checking on animals, put poultry to bed before the fox could get them in the twilight. Muck out stables again. Mac read a paper and had a glass of homebrew. Mostly we were in bed by 9 P.M. In winter, the routine slightly differed when some animals were in sheds.

What were the most difficult things about organic farming?
Organic prohibits applying herbicides or pesticides. So I picked caterpillars and other bugs from each Brussels sprout plant with a little knife and picked up slugs by hand.  Weeds I pulled by hand; on bigger areas like the tarmac yard, I tried a flame thrower but that never worked. You need to do it twice in a row on a couple of dry days. You hardly get 2 dry days however in a row in the west of Ireland.

I also found it very off-putting to transport dead animals in our Jeep to the lab to find the cause of death. Or to make hay by hand when you suffer from hay fever and asthma.

What did you like best about it?
I loved best to sit out in the sun with a book—that hardly ever happened. I enjoyed my growing flower garden and the taste of our first raspberries and red currants each year. I loved experimenting with fruit wines and preserves that I sold to the local market. I hated that there was never time for leisure activities or to go on vacations.

How long did you stick with it?
For almost 10 years. When nothing much changed in our lifestyle- like things I wanted to do, go to a movie, concert or even travel etc. -- I said to Mac: “It’s either the cows or me, one of us has to go! He chose the company of his cows. I set myself free and converted my life-sentence: I left the farm. For my first book: Next Time Lucky.

Buy I Once Had a Farm in Ireland at Amazon

About the Author
Educated in Germany with a Master’s Degree in English, Siggy Buckley lived in Ireland for over 15 years, first teaching at the University of Limerick as an adjunct professor, while building up an organic farm. She later ran her own businesses in Dublin before coming to the USA in 2003. In 2005, Siggy married an American and pursued her life-long dream of writing.
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