Meet the women behind the farms

Helen Troughton of Armagh Apple Farm, based outside Portadown
Helen Troughton of Armagh Apple Farm, based outside Portadown

We chat to three local women who are taking part in Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend

Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend is delivered by the Ulster Farmers’ Union and is sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK and supported by The Prince’s Countryside Fund, NFU Mutual and ASDA.

Margaret Turtle along with her 9 year old daughter Megan and 4 year old Rose Crawford

Margaret Turtle along with her 9 year old daughter Megan and 4 year old Rose Crawford

The weekend would not be possible without the help and resources of Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, CAFRE, DAERA, the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Food NI and the Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme.

Each farm has unique opening hours so use the website to plan your trip in advance. To locate your nearest free farm event, visit www.openfarmweekend.com.

‘We enjoy welcoming the public onto our farm

Helen Troughton is married to Philip and they run Armagh Apple Farm outside Portadown.

Sylvia Matthews teaching Rachel and James Beggs, from Dromore, how to plant seeds at Donagh Cottage Farm, Donacloney

Sylvia Matthews teaching Rachel and James Beggs, from Dromore, how to plant seeds at Donagh Cottage Farm, Donacloney

They have one son Mark, who also works on the farm, and a daughter, Kelly who is married with two children. The family has taken part in Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend since it started in 2012. The Troughton family have been growing apples at Ballinteggart for four generations.

“I was brought up with ponies and horses so when I married Philip in 1978, I brought my love of horses with me,’’ said Helen.

‘‘In 1985, we began the Ballinteggart Stud allowing me to work around home when the children were young. We also started a business on the farm making rosettes, a diversification project that has been going since 1994. In 2006 we began making our own cider and the range now includes traditional and flavoured ciders, as well as apple juice and cider vinegar. The joke is, every decade we start a new business so watch this space!

“Within the businesses on the farm, we have a great staff team - we are like a big family in one sense. If one part is busy, the others will chip in and help out to get things done. The stud farm is run by an experienced team that can run things day-to-day and keep me informed and involve me when management decisions need to be taken.

“Armagh Apple Farm has opened each year in association with Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend and we enjoy welcoming the public onto our farm. As well as guided tours of the orchards, production unit and bottling room, there are activities for the kids including treasure trails, an orchard train, a live demonstration bee hive, and apple peeling competitions, including the chance to make your own apple juice. You can see everything ‘from blossom to bottle’!

“For the mums and dads, they can get to try our ciders and we have a special photo booth set up for Father’s Day which is on the Sunday. We have a host of apple based food stalls and traders, along with a BBQ and locally made ice cream.

“We’re also happy for people to bring along a picnic - and if it rains, we have plenty of activities inside our very large farm buildings so you’re guaranteed a great day out no matter what the weather is!

“As we have the Stud Farm, you may be lucky enough to see some foals which are just a few weeks old, and children will enjoy watching our pygmy goats playing!”

Armagh Apple Farm will be open Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm, at 73 Drumnasoo Road, Portadown, Co Armagh, BT62 4EX,.

‘I’ve known nothing else but life on a farm’

Margaret Turtle is married to Victor and they have three children, Victoria (14), John (12) and Megan (9). They farm 500 dairy cows at Drumrammer Farm, outside Ahoghill, Co Antrim.

“This summer, Victor and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary,’’ said Margaret.

‘‘I grew up on a mixed farm so I’ve known nothing else but life on a farm! I enjoy helping out and pretty much put my hand to anything.

‘‘Last year, we invested in robotic milkers which have taken a bit of pressure off, certainly physically. Victor used to be up at 4am to start the milking so he doesn’t have to get up as early now!

‘‘There is more computer work with the robots and we are still getting our heads around it all but in the long run, we will hopefully have more time to spend as a family. I would say to anyone marrying a farmer - be prepared for any eventuality! Farmers do work unsociable hours but it is very rewarding work too. You have to help each other out and do what you can, such as cooking for contractors - its all part of the job! I used to cook at Coleraine INST so that background comes in handy when you have a kitchen full of men to feed at silage time!

“We decided to open our farm because we are aware not everyone has access to farms and some children have never seen cows up close or watched them being milked. We recently had a class of school children visit us and it was lovely to see them take an interest in the farm - they were fascinated when they seen the milk go from the cow into the jars through the clusters!

“Victor and I are both Christians and we are planning a short service on the farm on Sunday at 5pm to give thanks for all God has given us. It will certainly be a unique setting for worship!”

Drumrammer farm, based at 15 Drumrammer Road, Ahoghill, Co Antrim, BT42 2RD, will be open Saturday from 11am to 4pm and Sunday from 12noon until 6pm.

‘As a farmer’s wife you have to be their best friend’

Sylvia Matthews is married to Brian and together they run a dairy farm outside Donaghcloney, Co Down with their son Jonathan. They also have a daughter, Naomi, who attends Loughborough University and studies sports science and mathematics.

Farm life was new to Sylvia when she married Brian 31 years ago.

“The biggest change I noticed was that you are living in your place of work,’’ Dairy farming is very much routine as our cows are milked three times a day. ‘‘Some days are good and some days are not as good. As a farmers wife, you really have to be their best friend and it is also a very supportive role - you have to help them talk through things and listen and encourage.

“I used to milk but now Jonathan has finished his studies, I tend to feed the calves and be the general gofer - go for this and go for that! I did have my own business making jewellery when the kids were still at school. It helped to have a business that I could work around the home and not be far from the farm. I had my own income and a little bit of independence too! My background was as a banker so I feel comfortable doing the book work and all the paperwork that comes with a farm these days!

“We took part in our first Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend last year to help children see and appreciate where their food comes from. Farmers are also custodians of the countryside and it is also important we tell people the story of how we look after the animals.

‘‘The cows are bedded twice a day, they have their own dietician and someone checks their feet regularly - and if they are sick, the vet is called out. We take a lot of care with the animals and it assures the public when they see the high standards we adhere to.

“Now we have our first year behind us and know what to expect, we are really looking forward to hosting Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend again. While we specialise in dairy farming, we also got some baby chicks especially for the weekend - they have just hatched and I can’t wait to see the faces of the children coming as they get to meet them and all the other animals!”

Donagh Cottage Farm, based at 15 Lisnasure Road, Donacloney, Co Armagh, BT66 7NN, is open Saturday from 11am to 4pm and Sunday from 12noon until 4pm.