This year, I was selected to represent Macra Na Feirme for a week long study session at the European youth centre in Budapest, Hungary. I am a full-time beef farmer working with my grandfather Tommy Higgins in Claremorris, Co Mayo, and chairman of Mayo Macra. I was gobsmacked to be one of the two successful candidates.
We arrived on the Sunday and we travelled to the youth centre and that is where we stayed for the full week. We were provided with three square meals a day in a wonderful canteen by very friendly staff.
There we met a few people from different young farmer organisations across Europe that had also arrived on the Sunday. We hit the hay to prepare for what would be one of the most amazing weeks of my life.
On the first day, we began with getting to know one another and getting involved in a few games so that we could remember each other’s names. We also discussed what we knew about human rights (or didn’t in my case).
We had a healthy discussion focusing on food as a human right, especially on availability, adequacy, quality and access. That evening, we became acquainted with the city by visiting some memorials and the local parliament.
On Tuesday, we looked at healthy food choices, sustainable food or understanding of sustainability, water quality, the nitrogen cycle, greenhouse gas emissions and much more. Each group was given a big sheet of paper to document all of our revelations. That evening, we went on a boat tour down the river, seeing all of the famous sites from the comfort of the water.
On the Wednesday, we had some very thought-provoking discussions about food chains and their impacts on the economy, environment, farmers and the businesses involved.
One of the most wonderful parts of the whole event was the international evening, where we were all encouraged to bring some samples of food and drinks from our countries to give each nation an idea of what we held dear.
From Ireland there was Tayto crisps, Clonakilty black pudding/white pudding, and Kimberly biscuits, to name but a few.
We thoroughly enjoyed this and learning about the other cultures in and around our beautiful continent.
On Thursday, we had to bring a recipe from home and we worked in small groups, where we were encouraged to think about alternative food chains and sourcing the best climate friendly ingredients for our dishes.
This was very interesting from a cultural perspective, learning all about how important food is in everyone’s culture and how unwilling a lot of people are to compromise when it comes to national dishes.
We had a very interesting vegan speaker who sparked a fascinating debate. The majority of us being farmers, thoroughly enjoyed hearing the other side of the story. Everybody has the right to enjoy whatever diet they like and what works for them, their morals, preferences and pocket.
That evening we enjoyed a water fountain show on Margaret Island.
Day five was the most interesting day for me. I thoroughly enjoyed our guest speaker, who did a lobbying and advocacy workshop.
Lobbying is probably one of the most important tasks Macra Na Feirme does on behalf of young farmers and rural individuals, to advocate for our voice, for our needs and for our future. I learned so much that Friday.
We were let off after lunch to finally see a bit of the city in the daylight. I went to the thermal baths and it was an amazing experience, with water that was warm from natural underground springs.
We arrived back for a farewell barbecue – everyone of us had one of the best weeks ever. I could safely say we learned so much about each other, each country, culture, courtesies and much more.
I strongly encourage anyone given an opportunity like this to grasp it with both hands, apply for the interviews get involved and learn.
I want to thank Macra so much for allowing me to represent us young Irish farmers – I hope I have done you proud.