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Botanist, organic farmer, Reiki master, life coach Mary Macrory: My Best Life in 10 answers

Mary Macrory is a mum, a Botany graduate, has run an organic strawberry farm, is a reiki master, an author and a qualified accountant. She wrote “Women, Work and Wellness”. Mary is also passionate about helping people be their best. She works with clients, particularly working women, to shift negative beliefs and thinking by providing effective life coaching combined with holistic therapies so that they can plan and attain their career, business and personal life goals.

  1. What has been your Best Life Project to date? 

Without doubt, my Organic Strawberry Project! By submitting a reasoned and comprehensive business plan to Kildare County Council in Ireland, I secured planning permission on a 11.5-acre field to build a house and to establish an organic smallholding. We were able to purchase the land at agricultural value. My husband Dan built the house and I looked after the finances and the strawberries! This saved an enormous amount of money as sites in this rural area, beside County Dublin were extremely expensive. It was also a great lifestyle choice as the field had a stream bordering it and was a safe, beautiful place for my young children, dogs and cats. We grow strawberries but have also established an orchard and grow many plants, flowers, vegetables, and herbs. 

Mary and her dogs

2. The unknown … what challenges did you have to overcome?

The first challenge was putting together a business plan that would be acceptable to secure the planning permission. I researched the County Kildare Development plan and ensured that I highlighted that the project was in line with their requirements. I included my certificates showing that I had a degree in Botany, was a qualified accountant with solid business experience, had worked on an organic farm and included a reference, a letter from Tesco’s wholesaler stating they would buy my produce, and finally attached independent analyses of soil samples to show the suitability of the soil for my plan. 

The next challenge was building the house! I did the financial and legal side selling our previous home, buying the land, getting a small mortgage, and costing various stages of the construction. Dan looked after the actual building end. I also had my second child, Shane, a few months after we secured planning, so it was a tight schedule! 

The third challenge involved the actual cultivation of the strawberries – sourcing organic plants, setting up a timed irrigation system in the 4 Spanish Polytunnels, growing green manure and obtaining organic manure. I secured several grants both for a service building we constructed to sort, weigh and pack the fruit and a REPS grant (Rural Environmental Protection Scheme) that was double for organic farmers at that time. I also did all paperwork and practical steps to ensure I obtained Organic Certification (with Organic Foods Ltd) and that I passed all the annual audits.

3. In hindsight….what would you do differently?

Perhaps I should have delayed having Shane for a few months but then again, I felt that my age could work against me. (I was 40 years old, two days after Shane was born).

I had help with the strawberries from a Spanish lady who understood and appreciated organic production and she was great. When she went off travelling, I regret the person I then hired and that I didn’t check the strawberries daily as I had been doing. I left the strawberry checking for three days. When I did check, no strawberries had been picked, some were over-ripe and rotten so botrytis (mould) spread through the tunnels like wildfire. I had sold to Tesco, Superquinn and at the Saturday Temple Bar market in Dublin so it made sense to stop as my objectives had been achieved. 

Mary, the coach

4. Next steps?

My next project is an Oak Woodland in addition to writing and coaching.  

The project has been approved so planting will begin in November 2021. I will receive a tax-free annual premium from the Irish Government and the forestry company, Green Belt Ltd will do all the ground preparation, planting, deer-fencing and will look after the trees for the first seven years. They will be paid grants from the Irish Government. More deciduous trees being planted helps the environment, sequestering carbon in the trees and in the soil, helps biodiversity in plants and animals and is a hugely beneficial influence on our mental wellbeing. Nature is therapeutic as well as being stoic, resilient, and grounds us in these troubled times.

5. What lifestyle changes has lockdown made you consider?

The Oak Woodland Project idea came to me during early lockdown when I realised just how therapeutic growing plants, fruits, vegetables and even walking outside is. It is so grounding and satisfying. It kept my spirits up. I also joined the Green Party and speaking with people in that group, made me realise it made perfect sense to do this. A much slower lifestyle and appreciating nature more will be the norm going forward so I live my “Best Life”!

6. Kissing frogs …. is there an unexpected person who has helped you and, if so, how did they do it?

Nay-sayers telling me that I cannot do something has been an unexpected source of help for me! 

Negative people can project their own limitations on to you – so don’t let them! Just because they may not be able to do something (like growing organic strawberries!) doesn’t mean that you can’t! 

7. My Inspiration ….who or what inspires you?

David Bellamy, that famous Botanist inspired me when very young and I watched him on TV. This  resulted in my studying Botany in Durham University where he lectured. 

In business, I worked in Dermot Desmond’s NCB Stockbrokers, and he inspired me to become self-employed.

Nature also inspires me hugely as do my family.

8. How do you relax, or do you struggle to relax?

I am an avid reader and I enjoy writing. I have featured in several publications – the Telegraph, Metro, Sunday Times, Sunday Business Post, Huffington Post and online in Wired, Ulster Bank and AAT (Accountants’ magazine).

Gardening and being in nature chills me out as do my two dogs and three cats, and they all accompany me on walks in the field down by the stream!

9. Guilty secret pleasure?

Fudge. There is a shop in Whitby that sells every type of fudge imaginable – fudge heaven!

10. Words of wisdom

Believe in yourself. Jot down your visions, make out your step-by-step plans and go for them! Seek out people who inspire and encourage you. Avoid the ones who are negative, critical and who drain your energy and confidence. Mindset in business and life, is key. That is why I am so invested in coaching and wrote my book to encourage people.

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