Castlerea sister and brother, Maria and Owen Hester, are forging bright futures in the agricultural sector having grown up on their parents’ farm at Meelickaduff, Castlerea. Maria (27) is currently working as a Procurement Assistant with Kepak while Owen (21) is studying Agri Mechanisation at Limerick Institute of Technology. Earlier this week, Roscommon People reporter, Dan Dooner, caught up with them at the Hesters’ farm in Castlerea…
Maria: ‘Many opportunities for women in the agri sector!’
Working from home, Maria Hester has been busy throughout lockdown with both her day job at Kepak and her work on the family farm at Meelickaduff.
“I live on a small suckler farm outside Castlerea. We run a mix of commercial and pedigree Limousin cows. My brother Owen is actively involved in the farm with our parents Ann and Micheál, and I’m also helping when I’m not working with Kepak,” she said.
The 27-year-old is a former Castlerea Community School student who went on to study Rural Enterprise & Agri-business at GMIT. She currently works as a Procurement Assistant with the Kepak Group.
“I work with Kepak’s Agricultural team across our Irish sites and I organise agricultural events as well as working on projects with a number of external bodies.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in farming from a young age and was lucky enough to have had everything from pigs to ponies growing up!”
Maria said GMIT was the perfect stepping stone into the workforce and believes there are more and more opportunities for young women in the agri sector.
“There are plenty of opportunities and I think International Women’s Day highlighted the many ways in which women can play a role in the industry and thankfully there are employment opportunities with companies right across the west of Ireland,” she said.
As for living in County Roscommon, Maria said Covid-19 has highlighted the advantages of living and working in rural Ireland.
“We have seen in the last year how quickly things can change and how employers and employees have had to adapt to those changes. I think there are many positives to these changes and it has meant less time commuting and much better work-life balance,” she said.
Owen: ‘I was working in a tunnel in Mumbai when Covid hit!’
21-year-old Owen Hester is now back on the family farm outside Castlerea following some post-secondary school adventures on the other side of the world.
“I finished at Castlerea Community School and went travelling to New Zealand,” he said. “The following year I went to Mumbai in India to work. I was working in a tunnel as part of construction for a new underground metro line when Covid-19 hit”.
Working twelve and fourteen-hour days, Owen says he was too busy to give the virus too much thought.
“I wasn’t too worried about because we still didn’t know what it was at that stage. But the mother and father were a bit worried and I decided to come home before things got worse,” he added.
Owen is now learning on the job with Brennan Forestry in Williamstown while studying Agri-Mechanisation and Engineering online at LIT – but travelling also helped to broaden his mind.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in school but my teachers helped me to fill out the CAO and I’m glad now to be studying something I’m interested in.
“There’s a lot of pressure on young people to go straight to college though and I would encourage more young people to go travelling when we’re allowed do so again.
“Visiting India in particular was a very humbling experience. A lot of people over there are just existing. What got me was the contrast between life in New Zealand and life in India and also the contrasts in India. You could drive past a Rolls Royce garage one minute before driving through a street filled with beggars the next,” he said.
His time in India gave Owen a new appreciation for life back on the farm in Roscommon.
“I do enjoy living here. The social aspect is gone for now but being away gave me a greater appreciation for our local community,” he said.
“I think Covid has shown us how vulnerable some jobs are but when working from home there’s less travelling time to work and it means you can have more time to do other things in the evenings,” he said.