The Need For Community Economies

Our latest blog post is from Anne B Ryan, writer, learner, educator, activist and champion of the the community economy. Anne says if we are to move towards low-carbon, democratic and inclusive futures, we need thriving local-community economies.

Anne Ryan Cultivate Celbridge

What does a Community Economy look like?

It has a great number of people working, whether paid or unpaid, close to where they live. There are small independent businesses, including farms, shops, workshops and art-cultural enterprises. A good percentage of these businesses are pioneering a value-driven business-model. They run as cooperatives or subscribe to cooperative ideals in their organisational structures, while also aiming to do work of direct benefit to society and to minimise waste and ecological harm. Affordability for buyers and customers is also a key principle for them. Many of them will at the same time make a modest income for their workers.

The importance of food in Community Economies

A lot of enterprises in community economies are concerned with growing, preparing and selling food. Trades like baking, cheese-making, brewing, butchering, preserving, seed-saving are experiencing a resurgence. The community-supported model is gaining ground, where people come together and pay upfront an annual fee, which then entitles them to a certain amount of vegetables, bread, beer, meat, or other food produce. This community-supported business model works a bit like a club, where the members and the farmers or producers share the financial risks with each other and supply employment for some of the people involved.

Derrybeg Farm and the Community Economy

Other enterprises are focused on repairing, recycling or up-cycling. Yet others are concerned with producing beautiful and useful craft goods from scratch. Community TV and radio play an important role in the community economy. Co-housing cooperatives can also be an important element and are becoming more widespread.  Digital fabrication or 3D printing of customised items is also a growing feature.

Espresso Project and the Community Economy

Self-help activities are an essential part of a community economy. They include Tidy Towns groups, Transition Towns groups, street theatre, free-cycling, seed-swapping, skills-sharing, tool libraries, discussion forums, guided walks, community gardens, men’s sheds, playgroups, retirement groups, repair workshops and many other activities we may not have yet dreamed about.

Tidy Towns and the Community Economy

Money circulates locally

Where a community economy is thriving, there are spaces to meet, public and private, some free, and all affordable, and a place becomes interesting, friendly, safe and lively. Footfall on the streets of towns and villages brings customers and participants. Money circulates within the locality instead of leaking out to shareholders of big corporations. There may even be a thriving local currency.

Halo Cafe and the Community Economy

Each community economy will have a different flavour, depending on its locality. But all will have certain common characteristics: able to respond to challenges, self-organising to a large extent, inclusive and participative. Most residents will be part of some kind of local network, and the different networks will liaise with each other. This means that there are thick social connections among the people of a locality, which leads to increased personal and household resilience.

Communities Economies are fragile

People all over Ireland are pioneering community economies and communicating with and learning from each other and from people worldwide who have similar aims. In Ireland, one can see much of this activity concentrated in the village of Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary, pioneered by members of the eco-village there. Elsewhere, community economies are more dispersed and therefore not so visible. Everywhere, community economies are extremely fragile because many of the pioneers who spearhead them are in very precarious financial situations, living on low and uncertain incomes and often struggling to make ends meet.

Pat Malone Cloughjordan

Our social welfare system with its poverty traps and means-testing does not help these pioneers, nor does a state-finance scheme for entrepreneurs, which is aimed at ‘high-value’ projects with export potential.  The pioneers are social entrepreneurs focused on their locality and bio-region, not on export. Micro-finance is often what they require in order to get off the ground. That’s not to say that the pioneers are not very globally aware and networked. They draw on knowledge generated in community-economy enterprises all over the world and share what they know freely with each other and among projects.

Support is needed from the state if Community Economies are to survive 

A diversity of work – paid and unpaid – in the local and community economies is essential in the cultivation of higher degrees of personal, community and national resilience today. A key aim of political economy should be the enabling of community economies, which in turn support high levels of human well-being, low energy and resource use, healthy ecosystems and greater levels of democratic participation.

Communities can do a great deal for themselves, given time and organisational skills. Importantly, however, the state, which represents the community at large, needs to enable, support and protect them. There are some wider policies that only a state or union of states (such as the EU) can put into effect.  The most immediately doable and beneficial to community economies would be a universal basic income and land-value site taxes.

Cloughjordan - Signs

Micheal Walsh of Cultivate Celbridge

Community Energy Project

My name is Micheál Walsh and I’m a new member of Cultivate Celbridge. I live in Maynooth and am interested in looking at options for a community energy project in the Maynooth/ Celbridge area. At the moment I am researching the feasibility of the project and weighing up the pros and cons.

Before the summer I went down to the Ballytobin Camphill Community to look at their biogas harvesting system and burners. My conclusion coming away from that visit was that building a biodigester would be a very labour and capital intensive project and would be too big an undertaking without there being serious commitment from a large group of people. However, that’s not to rule it out completely as a possibility..

I have recently been in talks with some people in the social enterprise arena (Ross Rabette, Biabox, and Rónán Ó Dálaigh, SEDCo) about energy co-ops more generally. Their idea is to do some research into different possibilities for co-operative energy projects which could then be used as a starting point for community groups such as ourselves who are interested in doing something in the area of energy.

The three projects which we are looking at currently are wind based on the Drumlin Wind Energy Co-Op in Northern Ireland, some sort of project in the area of water conservation, and a biomass heating project. I am to make an approach to Drumlin Energy Co-op to try to get some information on their business model.

I’m going to proceed with making some tentative inquiries of Drumlin co-op on behalf of Cultivate Celbridge with a view to researching whether a wind project is in any way realistic for us, and then I can feed this back to the group at the next meeting along with the details of the biodigester visit –  all with a view to improving our understanding of the options at our disposal for an energy project.

When it comes to food it’s all about the local!

Eating locally





What does it mean to eat locally and what are the benefits? Eating locally simply means minimising the distance between production and consumption. For example when you buy from a farmer’s market or from a co-op you are eating locally. When you eat in a restaurant that supports local producers you are also eating locally. Of course it may cost more to eat locally in the short-term and can be hard to justify against the lure of the hard discounters like Aldi and Lidl, but the benefits as follows are numerous.

The benefits of eating local


When you eat locally, local producers retain more of the profits that are traditionally captured by larger firms. You essentially sustain local producers. You also keep money in your community. When you eat locally approximately 65% of your euro is kept within the community, but when you buy from the multiples only 40% is kept in the community, the rest goes to shareholders who are usually overseas.


The environment benefits when you eat locally as transport costs are cut, lessening carbon climate-change
emissions. Local, small scale farmers are more likely to use environmentally friendly production practices. Per capita Ireland is the 5th most climate producing county in the world. The Stop Climate Chaos alliance say that if everybody lived like the Irish we would need the resources of more than three planet Earths to survive!

Mental & physical

When you think-local-foodeat locally you make healthier eating choices because the food is generally more nutritious, fresher and less processed. If you get involved in growing your own food you inevitably eat more fruit and vegetables, and you become fitter because of the physical activity associated with it!


One of the greatest benefits of eating locally is that you get the know the farmers and producers and have more of a stake in what you are eating. You learn about other movements like Favour Exchange and get to know others in your locality with similar interests. Strong social ties at local level will help to deal with floods and other shocks associated with climate change that are becoming more frequent in Ireland.

Community Supported Agriculture

At the forefront of local food in Ireland is Cloughjordan Community FarmSet up in 2008 this farm is based on a model of farming called Community Supported Agriculture and is the first and largest CSA scheme in Ireland. Members pay an annual contribution that covers running costs and wages of growers and in receive fresh produce that is in season.

nathan-jackson-derrbeg-farmHere in North Kildare local farmers Nathan Jackson and Neal Hickey have joined the movement for change. Since April Derrybeg Farm has been operating as a fully functioning community farm with a memberships spread across Celbridge and Maynooth. In season vegetables are collected at designated points each week by the members. Members have been busy swapping recipes and looking for new ways to cook radishes and and baby carrots. There is lots more coming down the line and eggs will be available soon. If you’re interested in becoming a member you can find out more here here What do you think of the local food movement?





Latest News


Our community conversation on the theme ‘What are your hopes for your
community’s future?’ took place on Oct 5th. There was good energy and
lots of ideas flowing, with about twenty people in attendance. Many of
the ideas that came up are familiar from discussions we have had
already in Cultivate Celbridge. On Saturday, there was also a more
general overarching hope for a resilient community, that is, one that
can withstand shocks and not only recover from them, but also break
through to new ways to live and work. With this theme in mind, we
think you may be interested in the report from Rob Hopkins and Asher
Miller, called Climate after Growth. It’s at the link below:

Our next public event will take place on Sat Nov 23rd at 2pm in
Celbridge Public Library. It is a participative event about Basic
Income, with members of Basic Income Ireland. We are calling it
Re-Democratising the Economy: the basic income model.

Download Poster


Finally, the Community-Supported Farm project is making steady
progress. We have decided on the name Derrybeg Farm and will be
producing boxes from May 2014. We are now looking for members, donors
and lenders. We have recently launched a website at, where you can read all the details. We also have
a facebook page, Derrybeg Farm. Please send the link to anybody you
know who may be interested in the farm, or publicise it on facebook or

Community Conversation Event

On October 5th 2013 at 2pm in Celbridge Public Library we’ll be having a community conversation on “What are your hopes for our community’s future?”

It will consist of a talk by Davie Philips of EcoVillage Cloughjordan and and will be followed by group discussions.

This is a great opportunity to explore ways in which our local community can help achieve a brighter environmental and economic future for everyone and hopefully it will be a thought provoking and interesting occasion for all that turn up.

You can view the poster below. Click here to download a pdf of the poster that you can print out and hang up, or distribute as a flyer. Please pass the word on to anyone who might be interested. Everyone is welcome. See you there.

Community Conversation Poster 0813