The Organic Centre's Year Long course in Organic Horticulture is now taking applications. Hear about it here from tutor Steve Hoey.  

As the light dims over the polytunnels, yet another year at the Organic Centre in Leitrim draws to a close. The centre nestled in the heart of Leitrim for many, has a life of its own, and takes a breath, as nature takes a rest. Steve Hoey one of the three tutors on the Organic Horticulture course, his office window looking out onto Sheeaun hill, contemplates the year that’s gone.

He has found that since the pandemic hit in 2020, many people have gone back to basics.

Steve says.

“Since 2020 we have seen a massive interest in growing.‘Our seed sales reflected this in the height of the pandemic’

He feels that there are a few reasons behind the surge

‘People were desperate to get growing, whether that was cos of shortages on the shelves, and a drive then towards self-sufficiency. Some people out there wanted to eat healthily and boost their immune systems against such an aggressive virus.

The increased interest could also be due to parents needing to find some way to occupy the kids, when they were home from school’

Whatever the reason he sees it as a positive thing. A way to make sense of, and be empowered in the midst of an unprecedented health pandemic that many felt uncontrollable. For a long time, many consumers have been part of a food system that they feel detached from. Now since the Pandemic many more have become aware of the chain from producer to shop, whether that’s the distance travelled to get their food or the type of farming used.

Some scientists have made the link with the spread of the pandemic from animals to humans as a symptom of biodiversity collapse. Species having lost their habitats from industrialised farming, tree felling, and over development caused by humans. Animals and people are in greater contact than ever before.

But in the Organic Centre growing with nature and therefore protecting wildlife when doing so, has been its life blood since 1995.

Put simply Steve says

“If you can grow food without pesticides, insecticides or other artificial means why wouldn’t you?”


“It’s better for the land, for the water, the wildlife not to mention us humans!”

He is a firm believer in growing and sourcing locally. He adds

“For every gram of food got locally its one less gram that has to be shipped in” he says “and that includes not shipping in the products and fertilisers too!”

That interest in growing has also come through on the Level 5 course in Organic Horticulture which Steve tutors on. The one-year course Level 5 QQI is fully funded by Mayo, Sligo, and Leitrim Educational training Board (MSLETB) and can be further subsided by Intreo for those eligible. Steve sees this as a great opportunity for the fifteen successful applicants every year. Students attend five days a week 52 weeks of the year, and are taught in a variety of ways including practical training in the garden, orchard and polytunnels, classroom sessions, and demonstrations. The course starts at the beginning of the growing season. He is proud, not only to have modules in growing on the course but also a new Biodiversity module, which sets it apart from others,

He explains, ‘As well as teaching you how to grow, students learn practical things like conducting river surveys, as well as identifying and surveying flowers and fauna. They get a chance to be more in tune with and therefore more likely to protect nature. It gives us such a great sense of achievement to know that students go out into the world with those skills after completing the course.’

He adds that interested candidates need to be fast this year and their applications need to be in by the end of January

‘The course has been v popular since the epidemic. We are recommending that people get in early’


To apply for the Level 5 in Organic Horticulture, for more information and to apply click here