Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Suzanna Crampton, Farmer and Educator
Suzanna Crampton is a surprising woman.
I first met Suzanna Crampton, at her farm, in leafy Kilkenny, a couple of years ago. She was one of the first small food producers I visited when I started branching out from recipes. She welcomed me at her home and I was lucky enough to meet Bodacious, the wonderful Cat Shepherd and Ovenmitt, the cuddliest cat I’ve ever met. I wrote all about my visit to the zwartbles farm at the time. The hour at Suzanna’s kitchen table is an hour I often think about when I try to explain why I’m so passionate about small food producers in Ireland.
I am still just learning about the many aspects of life of a farm, the sacrifices, the hard work, the rewards and the glorious food. The conversations I had that day with Julie of Highbank Orchards and with Suzanna Crampton have stayed with me and I think of them as the true start of my education in all things Irish food. Before, food writing was a hobby. It has since become a full blown passion and has gone into all sorts of directions.
To me, Suzanna Crampton is an educator. Through social media, she has managed to gather a huge following around her as she shares the ups and downs of her life on the farm. We see the bucolic but we also see the lambing season and the sleepless nights and the worry. She is fascinating.
More recently, she has been sharing her knowledge at the Meatopia Festival, in Dublin, at the start of July. Unsurprisingly enough, the feed back received from the team, was excellent. It makes sense to me, I can’t think of a better way to learn about where the meat I eat comes from.
It’s worth noting that after meeting Suzanna, I ordered a lamb to be reared by the wonderful Alfie and Margaret at their farm (a fabulous Air BnB as it happens). As it happens, they sourced their lambs from Suzanna Crampton. And now the circle life is complete and there is amazing lamb in my freezer.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I’ve always been interested in agriculture. I attended an agricultural college in Vermont where I learned how to farm closely with nature. The earliest part of my agricultural life began on our family farm when I picked seasonal fruit and vegetables, then sold them at local markets. After agricultural college I apprenticed lambing in Counties Wicklow and Carlow. I also broke and trained horses.
I strayed from agriculture for a number of years, only to return when my physical health crumbled.
Due to debilitating personal health issues, my pursuit of healthy fresh food combined with my deep love of animals, the natural web of life, my interest in the histories of our Irish farm and of regenerative agriculture brought my career to where I am today.
How does your career fulfill you?
My farm career most importantly improved my health. It also broadened my understanding of how humans perceive nature as chaos rather than how nature is in fact a well organized helpful web of interconnectedness. When nature’s order is respected, working within its natural capabilities produces the healthiest most delicious food for man and beast.
We humans, egotistically presume, as a species, that we can control what we want from nature. What we do not realise is how we simultaneously disrupt nature’s symbiosis while we destructively ruin our soil’s health.
My path led me where I never imagined it would. I designed blankets with wool I’ve shorn from my sheep. I’ve written a book which I never thought possible due to my dyslexia.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Suzanna Crampton?
I am a founding member of an Irish group called Regenerative Agriculture or Farm to Fork. We aim to help farmers find a more economic way to farm with lower costs (fewer artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides) and to enhance what the natural world has done for longer than human agriculture has existed. A style of land management that looks backward to go forward based on modern scientific proof. Modern research has caught up and demonstrated that healthy soils microbial and mycorrhizae life produce healthier raw food materials that are richer in natural, more digestible fiber, proteins, vitamins and minerals with the added benefit of delicious taste.
Now, I am writing a series of books for children aged between 9 to 12 years. Written from the point of view of Inca, my tiny dog, who is also known as The World’s Smallest Sheepdog.
On the 6 July, I was on stage at the 2019 Meatopia Festival in Dublin with a celebrity chef who will BBQ some of my Zwartbles lamb over apple and mesquite woods.
In the below photo, you can see me with Barra Fitzgibbon, Lord Logs and Mat Kemp. Barra was the MC for the whole event, Lord Logs supplied all the different woods and Mat Kemp was the main organizer of the whole festival.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
Women have fewer challenges in the area of processed foods since there are a larger variety of jobs within that part of the food industry. Unfortunately it still holds true that a woman’s suggestions or ideas often need a male figure to back them up before others take her concepts or ideas seriously.
In farm production of raw food materials, the grass ceiling persists. Women are still often dismissed, patronized or misogynistically talked down. Many remain seen as just an assistant to their male relative, partner or husband. Too frequently, they are not credited or given due respect for their farm management abilities.
Despite the often misogynistic attitude toward women in the agrarian community, lately more women have become highly respected agronomists.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
Outside my own family, it was Myrtle Allen, who appreciated where naturally produced raw food came from and how it was farmed. What the cow, pig or chicken consumed from a particular field, which grasses and herbs had enriched the flavour of milk, pork and eggs from which she cooked. She learned this from conversations with farmer neighbors. They told her in which fields, their cows grazed, that sweetened their milk which improved the flavor of her butter. Likewise chickens with access to open fields with mixed grasses, herbs, insects and worms produced eggs of deeper color and richer flavour.
Inspirational writer novelist Barbara Kingsolver and her husband, although not Irish, lived in a very poor broken rural community in Southwest Virginia, USA, in which they unwittingly created a thriving rustic economy that became worth over 300 million dollars. This economic revolution began from baseline locally sourced foods.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
More articles like this written about and by women.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
To have published my book, Bodacious The Shepherd Cat (affiliate link), that many have said should be read in schools by children as part of the modern curriculum as it would teach them where food comes from.
So far Bodacious has been translated into French, German, Italian and Japanese. This has brought visitors to our farm from all over the world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Treat all one’s negatives in life as strengthening experiences to learn from since those mistakes or accidents may become useful later in life.
Never say never.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Lateral thinking. When you come up against a figurative or literal brick wall of your own making or what others impose upon you, lateral thinking allows you to find a way around obstacles.
Which cut of lamb do you feel is underrated and what way should it be prepared?
Shoulder of lamb is often over looked as too hard to cook as it seems to come out tough. Good grass fed lamb shoulders with the bone develops beautiful flavour when it is slow-roasted.
The mouth-watering trick is to marinade first, and then slow-cook the shoulder of lamb. Marinade in Greek yogurt the night before or even 24 hours before you plan to roast it. Next day take it out of the yogurt. Make a paste with olive oil, fresh cut rosemary, garlic and thyme. Then rub the paste all over the shoulder of lamb.
Place the shoulder on top of rough cut red onions, carrots, parsnips and root fennel. Roast long and slow in a low heated oven.