Hello there! My name is Leonie Byrne.
I am a wife and mum-of-one based in the sunny South East of Ireland. My husband and I farm a mixed flock of lowland sheep, surrounded by the beautiful rolling landscape of County Wicklow. We keep some alpacas as flock guards and have a busy home that we share with chickens, quail, dogs and a cat called Batman.
I am originally from Dublin, where I attained my BSc in Computing. I also have a number of other, lesser certificates in a myriad of subjects, including Interior Design & Garden Design. I am a total bibliophile and I love to learn; our house is filled with shelves laden down with books covering all manner of subjects.
I got married about a year after moving to the countryside, back in 2007. At that time, I was working as a furniture designer, while my other half Stephen, was an electrician. We had built a house on his parents land: at that time the farm was leased out and his parents had not been farming for over a decade. The idea of farming was not on our radar at all, though we did start a bit of a vegetable garden.
When the recession hit in 2008, work arrangements changed for us as they did for many. Having lost his work on the building sites, Stephen took over the family farm and then later on, in 2010 we were blessed with a baby boy, who we named Luke. That gorgeous baby has grown and developed into a music and Fortnite obsessed preteen, and we wouldn’t have him any other way. He is kind and so much fun to be around.
I started farming full time about six years ago: due to a change in circumstances, both my husband and I were working away from home and we quickly realised that it was not a sustainable arrangement. We had a large number of sheep (for the amount of land we farm) and somebody had to be around to keep an eye on the day to day running of things. I was nominated and I accepted.
I have always loved animals so working alongside them was a treat. Even more importantly though, being at home meant that I could be around more for Luke: he had just started in Big School - a huge milestone for any four-year-old - and this new plan meant that I could be around to bring him to and from school, do homework and generally watch him grow up. As a youngster, he was tractor mad, and more than happy to be my right-hand guy, helping me out, so we had lots of adventures together.
At this stage, I am much more familiar with the farming life and the day to day running of things than I was back then, but I’m still learning every day. Sheep in particular are notorious for finding new ways of getting ill so they keep up on our toes.
Having come from a home where my mother was Cordon Bleu trained, I grew up eating healthy, well balanced meals with fresh ingredients. Also, my father was Maltese so there was a Mediterranean influence to my upbringing and summers spent in Malta with family gave me the opportunity to be fully immersed in the local life. I was eating the tangy, crusty, traditional Maltese loaves of bread before anybody knew what ‘Sourdough’ was!
When I moved into my own home, I brought with me those vital skills needed for cooking success – adjusting flavour, tasting, seasoning – that I had learned from my mother. We ate well and when the time came to harvest some of the fruit and vegetables we had grown, I learned some basic preserving skills. In fact, before I became a full time farmer, I had started a company called Izzy Kitchen, which sold preserved goods at a couple of local markets – I even came home with a couple of rewards from agricultural shows! I found real joy in making beautiful preserves and appreciated getting to connect personally and interact with my customers.
As a family we have always had the same ethos: it was never discussed but Stephen and I just seemed to fall into step together. We believe in planting trees, in encouraging wildlife into our garden, in trying to have as minimal an impact on our surroundings as possible. We recycle. We try to make best use of salvaged materials and items are reused wherever possible. We believe that we should leave the world better than we found it.
In March, everything changed in our communities and in society as a whole: it caused us to slow down. It forced us to think about our priorities - our families, quality of life, the food we eat – an in particular, regarding our food, where it comes from, how available it is, how far it travels. But this line of thought sends up some alarming questions too: how secure is that availability? We saw that there were items we could not obtain from areas of the world that were badly affected by the virus, but what if we were cut off geographically from our food source? Would we survive?
I believe that the pandemic has given us a unique opportunity: it has caused us to look at the reality of the way we live our lives, which is unsustainable at best. We have a chance now to change our approach, to support local food suppliers by buying locally and in season and by growing what we can. We may not be able to become entirely self-sufficient, but we can do our best with what we have.
Food security, sustainability and self- reliance: these are ways we can take back control at a time when some of us are feeling powerless and at the mercy of external influences. I think we are on the cusp of major changes, and I'm excited to be part of the movement!