For the last two years, Fergal Smith has documented his journey from professional surfer to organic vegetable grower and the establishment of the Moy Hill Community Garden at home in County Clare, through a video series called ‘Growing’. Both projects are continuing to do just that. And this year he’s planting more roots, but in a very different way.
Following Fergal’s announcement that he’ll be running for the Green Party in Ireland this year, we were lucky enough to meet him and his young family during an evening with Finisterre, as they passed through St Agnes.
Being paid to follow the world’s best waves is a career most surfers dream of, but the environmental issues related to travelling the globe were what influenced Fergal to go back to his roots. Growing up on an organic vegetable farm in Ireland, it’s not surprising that they’re deep in Ireland’s soil.
“I grew up about 40 minutes from the coast and just dreamed about being a professional surfer. And I did it. I was suddenly sitting in Tahiti and Fiji, in all these beautiful places, riding the best waves ever and I couldn’t even in my wildest dreams believe it had happened having grown up on a farm in Mayo.”
Working the land and growing food were skills cultivated in him by his family.
“My dad is a very passionate organic grower, one of the first in Ireland. So he’s always grown vegetables and he’s a bit of an expert at it. His priorities are instilled in me.”
It came as a shock when Fergal turned round and told the surfing community that he was making a career change, but his reasons were grounded. Having injured his knee at the beginning of a three-month trip to Tahiti, Fergal spent two weeks on a sofa and took the opportunity to think about his situation.
“Surfing was my dream, but I didn’t think about the environmental costs, I just really wanted to do it. You hear all the stories about pollution and the model I was in for professional surfing wasn’t telling me to do anything about it. So I sat there and had a think and…”
Fergal pauses mid sentence as his toddler breaks into a long, loud “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ as if to demonstrate the frustration behind her dad’s story on his behalf. “It felt a bit like that!!” he continued.
It was this realisation that prompted him to dramatically reduce his carbon footprint and focus on creating a sustainable, organic lifestyle around Ireland’s land and waves.
“I had to ask myself, what could I do? What’s the thing I could do to try and give back? We all care about future generations.”
Fergal went from flying 20-30 times a year to not flying at all.
“In the last two or three years I’ve stopped flying completely. And it’s not even a hardship. I live in the west of Ireland, it’s beautiful and it has amazing waves. It feels more like I’m honouring the place now.”
The Moy Hill Community Garden was born out of his vision to create a space for community-supported agriculture (CSA), where the locals could work together to cultivate the land and share the bounty it produced. Since its modest beginnings, the garden has thrived and grown into a successful, sustainable scheme.
“There is a lot of doom and gloom out there. So this is a really positive way of meeting people, growing good food, going for a surf and making it fun and light-hearted.”
The doom and gloom Fergal talks of are current statistics about the state of the global environment. The United Nations currently bought out reports saying that in 60 years, Earth’s soils will be barren and that we’ll be facing mass extinction.
“The way we’re living isn’t sustainable. It’s a pretty heavy feeling when you have a kid. So the CSA is a nice way to think about it and get together with a bunch of people knowing that you’re doing something positive.”
“It’s also a really easy way of getting people to interact and learn about the production of food. It makes so much sense because I don’t know how people are going to discover the importance of food unless it’s made accessible to learn.”
So why politics and why now?
“I have a daughter now. We all appreciate the major problems our children are going to have to deal with, but perhaps less apparent is that the solutions for them already exist.
“Surfing has taught me that you can live your dream if you just go for it. Surely the dream of growing food and planting trees is more achievable and tangible than the mad dream of being a professional surfer. So I feel like it’s totally doable. We’re the ones who are going to have to live with the policy makers and if you don’t get policy makers who care then we haven’t got much luck for the future.”
Surfing still remains central to Fergal’s lifestyle as he continues to charge the giants of Mullaghmore as well as his home break. He highlights how powerful the joy of surfing can be if applied to a good cause.
“Surfers are a group of people who are young in spirit, enthusiastic and full of energy. They care and are open-minded.”
“Lets be the positive doers who care and who are excited about doing things because surfing makes us happy. Why not take that happiness and put into things that show people there are alternatives to how things are currently being run. I think it’s an amazing dream and hopefully, I believe, the future.
“We all want our kids to grow up in a healthy, happy, safe, thriving place so we should start saying it.”
Lead Image: Finisterre / Matt Smith