Rock Farm in Slane, run by Alex and Carina Coyningham, has been a staple in the area for 12 years. While many may recognize it as a concert, glamping, and wedding venue, the farm’s organic credentials are not to be overlooked. The 90-acre mixed farm focuses on producing organic food for on-site consumption. In 2013, Rock Farm achieved full organic status and operates using permaculture principles. The farm is home to rare breed cattle, pigs, and poultry as well as a thriving vegetable section.
The Coyninghams operate an agro-forestry system where trees and livestock coexist in the same area. Currently, the farm has 50 head of organic Dexter cattle. “We chose that breed because they never come inside. They outwinter and calve outside. They are hardy and the meat is delicious. Rare breeds are definitely what we favour,” says Alex. The farm’s first animals were pigs, but they now crossbreed Tamworths with Long White, Gloucester Old Spot, Duroc, and Saddleback to produce less fatty meat. The farm also rears hybrid brown hens who graze in a mobile tunnel, and Organic Bronze turkeys are sold for the Christmas market.
Vegetable growing has declined in Ireland in recent years, but Rock Farm grows a large variety of produce, from brassicas to roots, mixed salads, tomatoes, and carrots. The farm did Jim Cronin’s course in east Clare to familiarize themselves with growing vegetables. While they previously relied on WWOOFER volunteers, they now work with agricultural students to gain valuable experience. This year, they are growing potatoes on a field scale.
Tillage is another aspect of farming at Rock Farm, with their barley ending up in various whiskeys, including the local Slane Whiskey. The farm works in partnership with Meath Farm Machinery, the local John Deere dealership. They grow two varieties of spring barley, Planet and Splendour, which are malted and sent to Slane Distillery. Their winter barley is 100% home-grown and is the Costello variety. While they are not organic certified for barley, they have a lower eco footprint and practice crop rotation. Wild bird covers increase biodiversity, and they have reduced ploughing depths to lower fossil fuel consumption. Rye and turnip are good catch crops for increasing organic matter in the soil.
350 acres of the farm are devoted to woodland, with Rock Farm working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to remove invasive species and plant native oaks to increase biodiversity. The woodland is a designated Natural Heritage Area (HNA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and is home to a variety of wildlife, including kingfishers, herons, cormorants, egrets, otters, and Irish hares. A natural pool and integrated constructed wetland complete the picture. Instead of slash and spray, rabbits and hares manage weed management. The farm has 19 hectares in a National Parks and Wildlife Service Wilding plan, lowering the stocking density of livestock and creating a Wilding area near the river to create a habitat for ground nesting birds and other species.
According to Alex, any farm now needs to be looking at direct selling and diversification to make a living off the land. Rock Farm also offers agri-tourism farm tours, glamping, and festivals, which are now in their third year. “They’re another stream of income, which doesn’t compromise our eco-principles,” says Alex. Carina adds that the farm’s natural system has been to their advantage, with nothing to unlearn from conventional farming. The Coyninghams plan to have glamping in the middle of the Wilding so visitors can have a totally immersive experience of nature, less than an hour from the city centre.