HORTICULTURE, EAST SUSSEX: Sinead runs her horticultural business on 4.5 acres (1.8ha) of land on a rent-to-buy scheme through the Ecological Land Co-op. Her team grows edible flowers and herbs – mainly targeted at restaurants – and in response to Covid-19 started up a postal service for the edible flowers too. All the produce is grown organically.
The smallholding is situated on former arable land which was used to grow maize for 30 years before being left fallow (uncropped) for a few years then allocated to create a market garden.
Today, Sinead’s most popular flowers include nasturtiums, borage, gladioli and roses, while herbs range from chives and dill to more unusual lemon verbena, Thai basil and pineapple sage.
Sinead balances productivity and the preservation of natural resources using agroecological practices. In addition to producing flowers and herbs, she has planted over 5,000 trees. These include an orchard of 50 fruit trees, a mix of heritage varieties in danger of extinction and ancient varieties from the area.
Farming has taught Sinead more about wildlife, and she’s particularly pleased that her farming techniques and tree planting she has seen a significant increase in pollinating insects on the farm. Numbers of most species have doubled or trebled since she set up the farm, and when it comes to bees, Sinead has counted 15 different species.
Sinead worries that food and farming debates are becoming more polarised and disrespectful, with too much attack from both sides of an argument. This is not productive and she would like to see more focus on what is actually going on. She believes more joy, education and awareness about the industry will bring a more positive narrative to farming.
Her deep connection to the land and industry issues are strongly influenced by her own background. Starting off with a degree in environmental geology and a deeply held fascination with the earth's natural resources, she joined the mining industry. A year later she took redundancy and, sparked by an interest in environmental issues and food waste, she went on to work in different sustainable food areas, before deciding that the best way to make change was to start from the ground. In 2016 she started volunteering at a social enterprise allotment growing food for restaurants in London, and in 2017 took over her current plot with her partner Adam.
Wildlife loss and mental health are two key issues for Sinead. She has pursued an active role in finding solutions to wildlife depletion and is passionate about sharing the role of wildlife on-farm and in the wider world, highlighting small things everyone can do to help.
And with agriculture having one of the highest industry suicide rates, she feels that awareness of mental health issues and how people get to dark places in the first place is a vital part of helping drive positive change. Believing that recent demonisation of farming and polarising narratives are taking a toll, Sinead wants to see compassion brought back into the conversation.
Landworkers’ Alliance and Eastbourne Food Partnership
National TV (including Marcus Wareing’s Tales from a Kitchen Garden), national and local radio, national magazines (including Gardeners’ World)