One-on-One: Fionnbarra Ó Cathail

CS: Thank you for sitting down and taking the time to answer some questions today. Perhaps for those readers who are unfamiliar with you and Leylandiistan, you could provide an introduction?

Thank you for offering to interview me, it truly is a pleasure to share my views on a subject I really enjoy. I founded Leylandiistan in November 2012 with one of my friends, and established our online presence the following year. We had a bit of a crisis when my co-founder pulled out along with his territory in July 2014, but that August my neighbour and I agreed to merge our two nations to form the Confederation of Leylandiistan & Gurvata. The community is a bit divided these days between “Old” and “New Guard”, our nation seems to be stuck between the two, belonging more to the former perhaps. We seem to have a bit of a reputation as a nation for having green fingers, which naturally I am happy with!

CS: Leylandiistan has positioned itself to be a leading agricultural producer within the micronational sphere. What inspired you to focus on agriculture and what does the future hold for it in your micronation?

I only caught the gardening bug last year, but the great sense of fulfillment I got over the course of the summer of 2014 inspired me to expand my own plot further, and to focus Leylandiistan’s economy on agriculture. Micronations are often stuck for something to produce, but agriculture offers endless possibilities. Apart from the vegetables and fruit themselves (which provide many a wholesome meal) you can make jams, relishes, cordials, juices, seeds, even fibres and tobacco! I expanded my plot from three raised beds in 2014 to nine raised beds this year, plus an additional 4 square metres of open soil for fruit, herbs and artichokes. I am glad you ask of the future, because that is what gets me so excited. I grew some flax this year, which produced heavily even though I had only given it about 15 cm by 15 cm of space. This got me interested in growing grains, so in October I sowed oats and barley to be harvested next spring, and next March I will sow other grains like millet and ancient wheats. This is to investigate which grains are suited to small growers, and perhaps to boast of being a micronational breadbasket! I will also try some curiosity crops like tobacco and tulsi. The nation’s growers, myself included, will identify over the winter what grows well and what doesn’t, so that we can produce more from our limited space next year.

CS: If you were to be approached by a micronation or micronationalist looking to start an agricultural programme, what would be your most important advice on how to go about it? Are there particular resources you would suggest they read?

My most important bit of advice would be not to doubt you or your nation’s ability to produce something. Land is useful, certainly, but if you don’t have this a windowsill will suffice. I encourage all micronationalists to have a go at producing a bit of food, and it really doesn’t matter what scale this is done at. A small container of radishes can go from seed to plate in about 5 weeks on a windowsill. If you do have a bit of unused ground in your capital’s back garden though, I greatly encourage you to use it. As for reading material, I recognise most micronationalists are urban dwellers, so I feel Celia Brooks Brown’s “New Urban Farmer” would offer some useful insights for urban gardeners. Most gardening books though are of the same format, so I would recommend a gardening book published in your neighbouring macronation as the advice given would be more suited to your climate.

CS: A local source of food certainly allows not only for increased self-sufficiency for a micronation, but also for a means by which to develop a popular revenue source. Leylandiistan has sought to do just that through the creation of the Confederation Seeds Company as a seller of seeds from its local crops. What challenges have you encountered in creating this aspect of the economy and how successful has agriculture been in generating revenue for the micronation?

So far agriculture hasn’t necessarily increased revenue, it has instead reduced citizen’s expenditure on food and seeds. As you said, we have set up a state owned seed company in order to create a revenue source from our agricultural sector. The main challenge with this is not producing the seeds, nor packaging them, nor sourcing funds to do this, it is selling the end product. I have made numerous enquiries with many other micronationalists regarding our seeds, and the Confederation Seeds Company has released a seed catalogue. However, the Seed Company has yet to make a sale or a trade arrangement. We are doing our utmost to export our seeds, and I am confident that by the end of winter we will have come to some arrangement with one or more parties. It is simply a little difficult, as I’m sure readers will understand, to establish a functioning micronational export sector. You mentioned self-sufficiency in your question, and I should mention that self-sufficiency is in my view something any nation big or small should strive to. Our agricultural sector hasn’t made us self-sufficient, though aspects of it are indeed self-sufficient. For example, the water needs of all of Leylandiistan’s cultivated land is met entirely by collected rainwater, so we are self-sufficient in our irrigation needs, and we are looking to do the same for our compost needs.

CS: Leylandiistan & Gurvata’s agricultural industry has increased in diversity, with many different crops having been grown and their seeds made available through the Confederation Seeds Company. As biodiversity in the agricultural sector grows, what steps are being taken by Leylandiistan’s government to protect it? Should we expect to see a seed bank created in your micronation?

I visited the Irish Seed Savers Association during the summer, and I was really taken with the great work they are doing to collect, catalogue and preserve Ireland’s old seed varieties. What sets them apart from other seed banks is that they don’t just store seeds, they grow them and produce even more, then sell their surplus to the public to increase the prevalence of older plant varieties. I want Leylandiistan & Gurvata to replicate what the ISSA are doing, albeit on a much smaller scale, by collecting tried and trusted varieties suited to our conditions, and preserving them in a national seed bank. In addition to protecting the genetic diversity of seeds, we want to enhance overall biodiversity. I am discussing with my fellow Co-President a strong set of legislation to designate protected species and areas of conservation. In the case of the former, we will identify native plants and animals which need some extra protection through the law, and in the case of the latter we will set aside areas which these species and others call home, and forbid commercial activity in their boundaries. I think we should also look at actively monitoring species within our boundaries, because we have some interesting native plants, and because some citizens have made very intriguing sightings of animals which we should probably record.

CS: Another means of revenue generation recently announced by your government is through the Municipal Waste Collection Act, which will direct any revenue from waste diversion, such as cashing-in recyclables to macronational agencies one assumes, to Leylandiistan’s coffers. Can you tell us more about what types of waste you hope to divert and the revenue potential of this scheme?

While cashing in valuable recyclables certainly comes to mind, and is addressed by the Municipal Waste Collection Act, revenue for the exchequer is not in fact the aim of said legislation. The main form of waste that is being targeted is in fact compostable materials. The Confederation’s waste services are, like every other micronation, provided by our neighbouring macronation. For example, brown paper is put in the recycling bin, teabags and vegetable waste go in the food waste bin, while bulky vegetation can be put in the landfill bin. All these things I have mentioned can, however, be processed on our own land for our own use, by putting them into compost bins and allowing them to break down into compost. If I had to pick out one import our growers rely on, it would be compost, so rather than discarding valuable compostable materials the government decided to start an official waste collection scheme to redirect such material from macronational waste services to our own compost producing scheme. This compost will then be provided free of charge to growers who need some. We have one composting site operational at An Fheirm, Leylandiistan, and we are identifying sites in Gurvata for a second one. We have looked at paper recycling as well, but this is more complicated. The revenue potential is minimal, but it will mean imports of compost from nearby gardening centres will be reduced, and hopefully eliminated, in the coming years. This scheme also fits into our overall scheme of reducing, bit by bit, our dependence on neighbouring macronations as a nation.

CS: In October, your government began discussion on energy independence through wind and solar generation, and some solar-powered lights were subsequently installed as a first step. What cost was involved in the deployment of those lights, what is the next investment planned by Leylandiistan in this programme, and what time frame are you planning for achieving the final goal of true energy independence?

I will firstly say that we will never achieve full energy independence, what we will do instead is work on making individual districts of the Confederation self-sufficient in energy, and the time frame for this is to make gradual steps every year, with projects funded by the National Contribution Charge which citizens pay every month to the Treasury. I funded the first solar power scheme myself, by purchasing a 5 metre length of solar powered fairy lights for the summerhouse of Orchardstown (which I hope will one day house a national legislature). This cost me €10, and every night since the exterior of the building has been lit up in spectacular fashion. With this success I am now willing to have the National Treasury cover the cost of rolling out this kind of lighting elsewhere in the Confederation, because we can see that small sums go a long way. The government will work towards an independent, self sufficient and where possible carbon neutral energy grid in areas of the Confederation.

CS: Leylandiistan is clearly working towards a carbon-neutral, environmentally responsible, footprint through its recent initiatives, such as those we have discussed, and it has accomplished much in this regard. What further initiatives do you have planned, and what challenges do you foresee in achieving this goal?

In this interview you have brought up our agricultural sector, our electricity scheme and our composting of certain waste products. In the future, our main priority will be to expand these projects. For example, we have set up an organic agriculture regulatory body, and though this has not seen activity this year, we will look to implementing it to bring our agricultural sector to even higher standards using it. Future initiatives would include actively assisting other micronations in agricultural, economic and environmental projects, as well as seeing where else we can apply our fundamental policy as a nation of self sufficiency. We will certainly find other ways in which we can enhance our environment as a nation in the future, and hopefully that will inspire other micronations to do the same.

One-on-One: Fionnbarra Ó Cathail

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