Huge scope for rural areas in our artisan food
Published 13/08/2014 | 02:30
I WAS Lucky enough to be invited up to the Taste of Cavan festival at the weekend.
Travelling up on back-roads on the bike, as I'm sometimes wont to do, it was hard not to notice the complete absence of tillage fields that are so prominent around much of the country at this time of year.
I often wonder if Meath farmers like myself would starve within the year if we had to make a living out of the Drumlin country that dominates our northern boundary.
However, the festival was proof that not only are many farmers in the region thriving, many are rapidly turning the county into a foodie Mecca as they diversify into countless different added-value enterprises.
There was the dairy farmer who had set up a brewery on his farm - he believes there's profits of €100,000 from the enterprise if he can get his product into 100 pubs.
There were the livestock farmers that are turning their stock into burgers and steaks, and the backroom-bakers that are thriving on demand from cafes and restaurants.
These artisan producers are also going to be playing a bigger role in our main retailers, with Super Valu relying on them to give their brand the edge. Their food academy programme expects to mentor over 400 start-up businesses in their first year. While only half may actually end up on the supermarket shelf, each is creating layers of employment in some of the most rural parts of Ireland.
The Irish cream liqueur Coole Swan was the one that stood out most in my mind. The brainchild of a beef farmer's wife, Mary Sadlier, this north Meath farm-based business has amassed a workforce of 40 in the five short years it has been in existence.
They even secured their first order for Russia last week, despite the latest ban on EU food imports. (President Putin knows what side his bread is buttered on, and that there is only so much pain his countrymen are prepared to take for the sake of national pride. So it looks like creature comforts such as alcohol imports will remain open for the foreseeable future.)
Could businesses like this provide part of the solution to avoiding a twin-track economy that appears to be gathering momentum?
Rural dwellers are right to be fearful that the life will be sucked out of the rural areas by turbo-charged urban areas that are driven the Googles and Facebooks of this world.
But the 40,000 punters that streamed into the grounds of the Cavan institute at the weekend are proof that we have little gold-mines all around us in rural Ireland, if only we have the courage and skills to go digging.