The soapmakers regenerating a farm in Co Meath

Game Changers: Founders of the Handmade Soap Company bought a farm 2km from their factory in Slane village

There’s a 30 acre field in Co Meath that’s about to become five small ones, thanks to local entrepreneurs Donagh and Gemma Quigley. The founders of the Handmade Soap Company have bought a farm 2km from their factory in Slane village. The couple, who started making soap in their kitchen 13 years ago, have an ambition to create a profitable regenerative farm.

“With our business, we’re always trying to practice what we’re preaching,” Quigley explains. “We just got a B Corp Cert.” This is no small achievement. B Corp is a rigorous inspection standard which audits a company’s environmental and social impact. “We want to carry that ethos over to the food supply.”

The huge question of how to produce food without degrading soil while making a profit and enabling the land to sequester carbon and improve water quality was behind the decision to buy the farm. It’s not a hobby farm, though. “Land isn’t cheap so we have to get a return,” Quigley says.

They looked up maps from the 18th century and found that the large perennial ryegrass field was once five smaller fields, divided by hedgerows. Replanting that hedgerow system will be one of the first steps.


This year they will also put in an orchard of apples, pears, damson, plums and cherries, advised by local “apple grower extraordinaire” Mark Jenkinson from The Cider Mill.

The grandson of a farmer who grew up around farmers, Quigley says he isn’t daunted by the prospect. He took a regenerative agriculture course at the Siolta Chroi centre in Co Monaghan. He is also inspired by Richard Perkins, who runs Ridgedale Farm in Sweden, an education centre based on making a living from small farms. Gemma is doing a deep dive into vegetable growing with a year-long market garden course.

They hope to plant a native woodland on part of the farm and to create a 5 acre agroforestry area where wide-spaced trees can be combined with grazing or growing. They have applied for a herd number and plan to buy 10 Dexter cattle. “We want Dexter because of their [smaller] size which means they can stay out all year round,” without damaging the soil, he says.

Strip or mob grazing will mean the animals move between the small fields, a technique that can help boost biodiversity rather than just rewilding.

“We’ve planted an Irish wildflower mix, a perennial mix across 2 acres,” Quigley says. The 30 acres has been pasture land for the previous two decades, heavily fertilised with nitrogen fertiliser and low in biodiversity. That’s all about to change.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests