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Independent.ie

Monday 22 October 2018

Why these farmers are happy not to sell their organic produce through supermarkets

 

Jenny and Pat McNally pictured at their organic Dublin farm during the recent cold snap - their crop of kohlrabi was the only bad weather casualty.
Jenny and Pat McNally pictured at their organic Dublin farm during the recent cold snap - their crop of kohlrabi was the only bad weather casualty.
Jenny McNally winning at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild last week
Jenny McNally

Ken Whelan

It's been 21 years since the McNallys decided to sell their organic vegetable produce directly to the market - and recognition of their sterling efforts ever since came with last week's accolade from the Irish Food Writers' Guild in Dublin.

Dublin-based McNally Family Farm scooped the award in the business organisation category.

"It came as a complete surprise to us. It's great to be recognised and we will get another lovely plaque for the wall at home - but don't tell anyone until after the awards dinner in Patrick Guilbaud's", Jenny McNally joked when we spoke before the ceremony recently.

Jenny, while from a farming family in Kilsallaghan in North Dublin herself, began her working career as a bank clerk but gave up the money-moving business when she married Pat, a fourth-generation farmer based in Ring Commons, just outside Balbriggan.

Jenny McNally and her husband Patrick See My Week - Ken Whelan
Jenny McNally and her husband Patrick See My Week - Ken Whelan

The couple switched from livestock to solely horticulture just before the economic collapse of 2009. "You must remember that the recession hit farming long before it hit everyone else," Jenny remembers.

Ever since, the whole farm has been covered in polytunnels growing vegetables of all kinds including potatoes, courgettes, white, red and Savoy cabbages, cauliflowers, artichokes, kales, beets and salads, as well as herbs of every variety - all grown organically.

Jenny McNally winning at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild last week
Jenny McNally winning at the Irish Food Writers’ Guild last week

More than 20 years ago, Jenny started seeking out markets for their organic crops, and the first stop was the Saturday Temple Bar food market in Dublin city in 1997 - as luck would have it, they cleared their stall at the first attempt." We finished that day with 70 old pounds earned and ready for the bank," Jenny recalls.

The McNallys gradually expanded their geographical reach in the capital to include the Leopardstown food market on Fridays and the Dun Laoghaire one on Sundays.

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Future expansion, however, depends on the farm's ability to keep production levels consistent with quality levels. "The quality of the produce cannot be compromised," Jenny insists.

Asked what level of production tonnage-wise is coming from McNally Family Farm, Jenny pauses and then replies, "I only think in terms of drills, which must be lifted every week from the tunnels to meet the demand at the weekend markets," she replies.

Jenny McNally See My Week - Ken Whelan
Jenny McNally See My Week - Ken Whelan

The recent weather halted business temporarily, with all the farmer markets in the capital called off during the snow storm.

There was just one casualty on the McNally Family Farm - the kohlrabi, a turnip and cabbage hybrid vegetable grown outdoors; though, as luck would have it, it was just about at the end of its production season.

But their main herb and vegetable drills were unaffected, as they are grown in the polytunnels, and what plants are currently in the ground were able to resist even the huge drifts of snow which covered the country side.

The McNallys are happy with the way things have turned out and more than happy that they are not selling their organic produce through major retailers.

Supermarkets are up there with fertiliser companies in Jenny's book of "no nos" because she believes that both are taking more out of Irish agriculture than they are putting in.

In any case, she prefers the customer-producer interaction at the markets and the fact the receipts from the stall can be banked when the markets close - meaning there is no long wait for payment.

"Market shopping is different from supermarket shopping. There is something personal going on at the markets and your customers know what they are buying; it is enjoyable meeting your customers," Jenny says.

It is a precision enterprise out in Balbriggan and Jenny and Pat are helped by three of their children - twins Stephen and Patrick, who are in their early thirties, and their younger sister, Aoife.

The couple's two youngest girls work off-farm, with Sarah a manager with the Butler's Pantry group, and Niamh just after graduating in culinary entrepreneurship.

Asked about her off-farm interests, Jenny takes a deep breath followed by a long pause. "I don't have any really. It's all about the farm and the markets," she says.

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