independent

Sunday 23 July 2017

Secret is now out about Clonroche petting farm

'HIGHER GROUND' TV PROGRAMME HELPS RURAL ENTERPRISES

Elaine FURLONG

THE SECRET is no out about Clonroche's Secret Valley Adventure Farm after it featured on RTE 1 last Wednesday night.

Proprietor Ann O'Connor from Robinstown, Palace East, was selected as one of just eight budding entrepreneurs from all over the country to feature on the second series of 'Higher Ground.

Located at Coolnacon, Clonroche, the Secret Valley Adventure Farm was put under the spotlight and Ann's business practice was scrutinised to see how she could grow her business, maximise her profits and increase her profile.

Mentored by Paul McCarthy, a Rural Business Specialist with Teagasc, and Peter Young who is best known for his 'On & Off the Farm' pages in the Irish Farmers Journal, Ann was guided and advised on how to give her venture the best possible chance of succeeding, especially in this time of economic uncertainty.

Since taking part in Higher Ground Ann's business has increased by at least ten per cent in just five months. However, it was only by chance that Ann was chosen to feature on the series.

'I entered a competition with Teagasc for an innovation award last December and I went for the interview in February. The two guys on the interview panel were Peter and Paul and at the time no one knew about the programme,' explained Ann.

'A week later Paul rang me and asked me was I interested on featuring on Higher Ground and of course I said yes straight away,' she added.

Ann was shadowed for seven days since last March with both Paul McCarthy and Peter Young joining her on the family-run open farm and visitors centre every fortnight.

Regarded as a busy mum and a very pro-active woman, Ann tried to make Secret Valley different to other open farms around the country.

She established the business just two years ago following many trips to Wales and England where she saw similar farms in operation.

'I decided to go for it - our farm is suited to it as we have an old farm yard, lovely trees and open spaces,' said Ann, whose grandmother Ellen Murray was born and reared on the farm.

Having studied in Kildalton College and subsequently becoming involved in B Young in Wexford for 12 years, Ann made the big decision to set up Secret Valley.

'I decided it was time for me to move on - I always had a big love of animals. It was a big decision for me but the time was right,' she said.

However, the business was not making the money that it should and Ann's goal was to develop the business as a working farm, producing goats milk and goats milk ice cream and she is also interested in the conservation of rare breeds.

Her foremost problem was publicity and raising the profile of the farm. Both Peter and Paul pushed Ann to develop a website, create new brochures, organise an outside broadcast with South East Radio and host an open day.

'Without the programme I wouldn't have done the website even this year - they pushed me to finish things off. We brought out a new brochure because I only had a temporary one and we created signage and maps. People couldn't find me before - now I can be found so the secret is out,' quipped Ann.

'I learned an awful lot behind the scenes. The programme put us on the map and got us more structured. It was great to have someone on the outside looking in,' added Ann.

However, Ann would argue that she is not quite the 'one woman show' as was depicted on Wednesday's programme.

'I wasn't quite as bad as that - I have other girls here as well helping me. I am on the farm a lot and I wouldn't get a chance to do the business end at the times normal people do it at - I used to only get a chance to do it at 10 p.m. so I now take the time to do the business side of things during work,' she said.

'They were a lovely gang and a brilliant group of people to work with and it was brilliant fun,' she stated.

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