Talking to someone who clearly loves what they do for a living is always a pleasure, and this is most certainly the case with Claire Winters of Good and Green Organics. Having taken a circuitous route to her business of organic farming, Claire is passionate about organic growing, her little piece of paradise where she lives in south Sligo and last but by no means least, her horses.
Good and Green Organics does just what it says on the tin. Claire set the business up on a commercial basis in 2012. She grows in seven polytunnels, all certified organic, and she sells the produce in the Sligo Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at Sligo IT and at two markets in Roscommon (Boyle on Saturdays and Market Yard, Carrick on Shannon on Thursdays). Innovative products such as her popular salad bags ensure she sells out every time.
She is totally committed to the organic way of life and believes the process of working with the soil has a very positive effect on people. In fact in 2010 she was involved with the early stages of The Severn Project in Bristol, helping out with horticultural advice. This is a social enterprise urban farming project at the core of which is employing people with significant social issues (people recovering from drug and alcohol misuse, people with poor mental health and those with offending backgrounds). Their theory is that growing food is good for the soul and their ambitious project is proving extremely successful.
Although Claire was born in London, her father was Irish, hailing from Co. Louth and when Claire was just a toddler the family moved to Ireland. They settled in the north, in Co. Down, where she lived until she spread her wings as a teenager, and college life in Yorkshire. She then spent a few more years working in different parts of England before coming back to Ireland in her twenties.
After some time in Clare and Galway, the birth of her daughter prompted Claire to move closer to her mother who lived in Roscommon. Serendipity played a part in her search for a suitable property and she found her current home literally as it came on the market. That was in Cloonloo which translates romantically as ‘the meadow by the lake’, and it was a case of love at first sight.
Initially she bought the 10 acre smallholding because she needed land for her horses. Indeed horses have always played an important role in Claire’s life. As a child and teenager she had a pony and loved cross country where the jumping is across natural fences and obstacles. She doesn’t jump any more but does love hacking out on her horses around the lovely local countryside. Horses have brought her on some very exciting holidays along the way including a wonderful seven day trek in Transylvania. This magical experience involved a small group riding from village to village and staying overnight in different lodgings, the most exotic of which was definitely Ceausescu’s hunting lodge! The accommodation ranged from simple village hostelries to Kalnoky’s Castle which was every bit as fairytale-like as it sounds. A lover of travel, Claire is led by her interests and has enjoyed ‘busman’s holidays’ visiting organic producers in Portugal, Morocco and Spain as well as riding holidays in Crete.
Her interest in gardening and growing crept up on her. She laughingly recalls telling her green-fingered mother that if she was ever caught gardening, her life might as well be over. She looks wryly at her daughter Leolie who is studying Fine Arts and her son Darragh who at 14 is a talented guitarist; neither are showing signs of getting their hands dirty … yet.
For Claire having her own land encouraged her to try her hand with a few seeds and before she knew it, she had caught the bug. She did several training courses with the inspirational Klaus Laitenberger and spent seven years working with him in Croghan Organic Garden and another three at nearby Knockvicar Organic Garden. This lengthy apprenticeship left her ready and willing to set up her own enterprise. Initially the land was poor but the organic approach has improved it hugely and she now has superb soil and growing conditions. Never one to sit still, Claire has plans to launch a box scheme for her produce and is mulling over the idea of setting up glamping in traditional old gipsy caravans. Whatever happens, the future of Good and Green Organics looks bright. #SligoFoodTrail www.sligofoodtrail.ie