Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2020

How I ended up on a farm in Northern Ireland

by Marda Quon Stothers

I left my government position in 2005 to help my husband explore his calling to live and work in Ireland. We spent six years in the Shankill Road community in North Belfast, Northern Ireland working with church and community. We returned to Berkeley in 2014. Ward was diagnosed with Parkinsonism by the UK National Health system in 2010 and died in 2018 four years after we returned.

I’ve returned to Northern Ireland three times since we stopped living there. Last summer I stayed for two months. After 33 years of a government career using my architectural license for master planning, project and program management, my post government years saw me building community peace and making porcelain pottery.

Sometimes things fall together to use all one’s skills as it did at Jubilee Farm Community Benefit Society (, instagram). In 2018, I asked my good friend in Belfast, would there be anything of use I could do if I returned to Northern Ireland on a regular basis. She said oh yes we love you and you change us. She introduced me to a young fellow who had started a community based farm in a walled garden of a convent. I told Jonny Hanson that I knew nothing about farming having grown up in the middle of Los Angeles but I am committed to environmental sustainability and community building. A few months later Dr. Hanson invited me to come to be the project manager for their building expansion on their 13.5 acres recently purchased. This included the building of a new barn and the renovation of an existing shed into intern accommodations. Sure I could do that and farm sit for two weeks while the family took their holiday.

I traveled back and forth 25 miles from Belfast to Larne twice a week for a month. I helped with the Bioblitz, a 24 hour teaching of biodiversity where I sold some ceramics to fund the cause. I attended lectures and awards ceremony where Jonny enthused about creation care. Learned what it takes to take care of 20 pigs, 7 goats, 16 turkeys and two geese and a half acre of community supported agriculture garden. The two weeks of farm sitting went quick. During the week an intern, the market gardener, the bookkeeper and a civil engineer retiree came by to work. Three days into my farm sitting, the 7 goats became 13. Nubian long ear goats are so docile and sweet and the kids are prancing around the day after they are born. A joy to watch.

I made some sketches, wrote up a 32 page programming document, briefed the team and hired a local architect. The barn has a 4800 sf footprint. It will house all the animals in the winter and has a hay loft, dairy and feed storage. The peopled space has toilets and showers, commercial kitchen, large and small meeting spaces and space upstairs for storage or future intern accommodation. The land use planning envisioned quiet and social spaces, family space, intern space, public space, garden, animal space, circulation and parking. Hedge rows and trees enhance biodiversity and the existing brae down to the River Glyn gives opportunity for restoration to native species.

This has been so much fun. To my OWA lifelong friends I’m delighted to use all the experiences and skills I have in this way as we each discover what to do with our lives going forward.

View this page in your browser