Irish Farmer Leads Regenerative Farming Movement
Brendan Guinan, founder of Fior Bhia farm in Ballyfin, Co. Laois, believes that a new type of farmer is emerging, one that is willing to challenge the status quo and make changes to traditional farming practices. Guinan criticizes the current state of farming in Ireland, stating that there are no solutions being proposed by the current leadership, and that the industry is facing numerous challenges including an over-reliance on chemicals, antibiotics, debt, and imports.
Guinan’s farming model, known as regenerative farming, aims to address these issues by focusing on building a rich and diverse soil microbiome. He combines traditional knowledge with modern technologies to implement science-based methods that anyone can adopt. Guinan believes that there is a food revolution happening among farmers who are disillusioned with the current system, and he is leading the change by supplying simple, clean, and local food to concerned consumers.
Guinan points to other leaders in the Irish regenerative movement, such as Kevin Scully of the Merry Mill, John McHugh, an organic dairy farmer, and Jim Cronin, an organic market gardener. Internationally, he mentions Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm and Gabe Browne of Understanding Ag as influential figures in the regenerative farming movement.
When Guinan purchased neglected forestry land in 2019, he had a simple plan: to prove that farming could be done in harmony with nature, without the use of chemical fertilizers, sprays, or antibiotics. His farm, Fior Bhia, focuses on providing minimum processed, nutrient-rich, and tasty food directly to local families. Guinan has designed a direct marketing system to improve margins and quality by connecting with consumers.
At Fior Bhia, forested land is used in collaboration with nature, with animals contributing to the health of the soil and forest. The farm is committed to 100% chemical-free farming, meaning no chemicals are used on the land, in the animals’ food, or in medication. Guinan implemented his plan by using the labor of pigs, cattle, and poultry to prune, root, and poach the forest floor, allowing native grasses and herbs to grow abundantly. The trees provide natural shelter for the animals.
Guinan’s passion for farming stems from his upbringing on a family dairy beef and tillage farm in Geashill. He credits his grandmother, Kathleen Guinan, as a major influence, as she was one of the founding members of the Irish Country Markets. She had an impressive garden and glasshouses that supplied the market in Tullamore.
Despite the success of his farming model, Guinan faces challenges when it comes to receiving government support. Fior Bhia is not eligible for Common Agricultural Policy payments, organic payments, or environmental payments due to the farm’s unique status as an established forest. Guinan has worked with government ministers to address this issue but has not had success thus far.
Fior Bhia primarily sells its produce directly to families through its retail website, with a growing demand from high-end restaurants and hotels. Due to unprecedented demand, Guinan has partnered with other high welfare regenerative farms to supply additional produce. The farm also operates an open farm where the public can see how they farm and offers courses on regenerative farming.
In addition to his farming practices, Guinan values water and has taken steps to rewet his land by slowing down drainage and building ponds and a small lake. This has created a new ecosystem on the farm, supporting a variety of wildlife.
Guinan has intentionally chosen to live without electricity or a water connection on the farm, viewing it as a place to escape the noise of the modern world. He has invested in solar panels for basic electricity needs and has a well on-site for drinking water. He personally drinks the pond water, believing it builds his immunity and feeds his diverse gut microbiome.
Guinan and his family live off-farm in Kilcavan, Co. Laois, but also practice social farming at Fior Bhia. Social farming provides vulnerable individuals with the opportunity to participate in day-to-day farm activities, promoting inclusion, self-esteem, and improved health and well-being.
Despite facing challenges and a lack of financial support from banks, Guinan believes that his farming model has infinite income potential, from agri-tourism to freshwater fishing to foraging. He remains committed to leading the regenerative farming movement in Ireland and promoting a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to agriculture.