Ireland is a country long celebrated for its history, its character, its land and its literature. It is lesser known as a place that spits out professional surfers.
But in County Mayo, Ireland native Fergal Smith was becoming a surf star. With that strong Irish will, a knack for riding heavy waves and backing from international surf brands, he had the opportunity to join the ranks of the globetrotting pros.
Thing is, globetrotting pros wind up with a pretty heavy carbon footprint. And several years ago, Fergal Smith gave it all up to remain in Ireland and do something that mattered more to him.
He and his friends started an organic farm. What began as a half-acre community garden is now a 17-acre CSA. They focus on healthier organic vegetables over Ireland's beef and dairy tradition.
Smith could be surfing a WQS event in Europe right now and preparing to head to the North Shore for the season. But instead, he’s quite literally digging drainage ditches in the rocky Irish soil and surfing the waves in his own backyard.
For any kid born today, there is less forest. Less of the food they eat has been grown locally and without chemicals. Less of their life experiences will not come out of a box. Moy Hill Community Farm outside of Lahinch is not only growing organic food for 50 local families, but has planted 12,000 native trees to reforest the local area and rebuild the biodiversity. It has become a place of education and community.
Smith, now a father to a young girl, is crowdfunding the purchase of an additional 60-acre plot of land with buds Matt Smith and Mitch Corbett for even more farming and native trees, looking to raise £303,985 (roughly $400,000 USD) by Nov. 12.
Smith notes that there are some wealthy donors who support the movement toward sustainable farming in general, but most are nominal donations from everyday folks in Ireland.
“If enough of us get together than we don’t have to be rich. Everyone’s 20 Euros is just as powerful. Most people in the world want good things to happen. It’s about getting together rather than waiting on the few rich to maybe help. That’s a real strength,” says Smith.
This isn’t easy garden work. Smith and company have to remove large rocks from the land. It’s also very wet, so drainage ditches are dug by hand. They then lay stone, set pipe and fill over with stone.
“It’s a heavy going job, it takes three people a full day to make one drain. We have done about 50 so far and another 50 to go, I would say,” Smith continues.
It’s a far cry from jetting around the globe from one epic surf spot to the next, a practice that contributes to the degradation of the atmosphere.
“I felt it wasn’t fair for me to keep getting on the planes,” he explains. “Today what I find most rewarding are the great events we have run on the farm we we see over 100 people coming to share in food, music, connecting to the farm supporting what we are doing. That to me shows that people really do care about the world.”
But what about 12-foot Teahupoo or roping Padang? Make no mistake, Smith charged the heaviest waves in the world with style.
“The waves in Ireland are as good as anywhere I have seen in the world so why would I travel?” he says.
Interestingly enough, Smith also ran for general election to the Irish assembly, the Dáil Éireann as a Green Party candidate.
“It was a great experience,” says Smith. “I am certainly not designed for politics and being indoors but I really enjoyed it as it was a great platform to get our message out there. The great thing no one was against what I was saying they just were not going to do it.”
Maybe that’s a real surf star.
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