Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 18 December 2018

How this Waterford couple are reaping a healthy harvest with organic products from their farm

Forgotten apples yielding a windfall

Richard and Sheila Galvin grow organic oats, oil seed rape and apples on their farm near Portlaw and have now diversified into apple cider production. Photo: Garrett Fitzgerald
Richard and Sheila Galvin grow organic oats, oil seed rape and apples on their farm near Portlaw and have now diversified into apple cider production. Photo: Garrett Fitzgerald

Siobhán English

For over 15 years bruised and damaged apples from the organic orchard at Clashganny Farm near Portlaw were seen as little more than a nuisance and offloaded to local farmers as feedstuff for their cattle.

But last year the farm's owners, Sheila and Richard Galvin, spotted a gap in the market. They discovered they could use the discarded apples to produce their own organic apple cider vinegar which is gaining in popularity as a health and nutritional supplement.

They are now in full production stage and an estimated 20,000 bottles of Clashganny Farm Organic Apple Cider Vinegar are expected to be on the shelves of dozens of supermarkets and health food shops around Ireland in 2018.

"We supply wholesale to a good number of businesses and the quality of the apples is very important to us," says Richard.

"We usually sold off the bruised apples to local farmers for cattle, but felt there must be another way of putting them to good use by juicing them down.

"We did some research and found there was a lot of organic apple juice out there, but not so much organic cider vinegar, especially one that is produced in Ireland.

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"People have become very health conscious and want organic products. Apple cider vinegar is getting more and more popular every day.

"The fact that nothing is added to it, giving it the cloudy appearance known as the 'mother', naturally makes it more attractive to buyers."

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Food Academy

When the Portlaw-based couple began the challenge of getting the business off the ground last spring, they were thrilled to be accepted into the Food Academy Programme in nearby Waterford City.

Run by SuperValu and launched in 2014, the Academy works with small businesses throughout their journey, from start-up to getting their products on the shelves.

Each candidate must first put forward their proposal in a 'Dragon's Den' type interview.

There are currently more than 300 Food Academy small producers in SuperValu stores.

"Together with the Waterford Enterprise Board, the Food Academy has been great and they have given us so much support, from advice on labelling to marketing the product."

Richard explains that the process of producing the organic apple cider vinegar takes approximately four months.

There are 20,000 trees of the Jonagold variety at Clashganny Farm and harvesting begins in October, with the process ongoing as apples ripen to the required standard.

The apples which are sold wholesale are quickly distributed, with those suitable for the cider vinegar put into bins and sent to the processing unit near Cahir in Co Tipperary.

These apples are then left to ferment naturally for approximately four months.

The liquids produced are unfiltered and typically take on a brownish, cloudy appearance.

This process leaves behind the 'mother of apple', a cobweb-like substance found at the bottom of all bottles of organic apple cider vinegar.

It is thought that the mother of apple is rich in enzymes, proteins and pectin. Because of this, organic varieties are considered the gold standard when used to treat various health conditions.

So far the Galvins have seen their product accepted by Super Valu stores throughout Munster and Leinster, with a number of stores in Dublin now recently coming on board.

"Each week we visit new places to do tastings and meet potential new customers," says Richard. "There is so much more that can be done with the product besides just drinking it and at tastings we share recipes and new ideas."

From sugar beet and sucklers to organic tillage

When Richard Galvin took over the family farm at Clashganny in 1996 he was at a crossroads.

Demand for sugar beet was drying up and a suckler herd would not provide enough income for him, his wife and three young children.

It was then he first decided to go down the route of organic tillage farming, later branching out to organic apples.

In order to comply with strict regulations, it would take two years to convert to organic farming, during which the land would be cleaned of any herbicides or fertilisers.

Once the two years were up he began growing oats on some 80 acres for nearby Flahavans.

"I believe I was one of the first to supply organic oats to them," he says.

Richard has also diversified into oilseed rape, and a further 10 acres are harvested each spring for supply to Second Nature Oils in Kilkenny.

"The rape is grown in spring as otherwise the winter variety would flower the same time as the apples ripen and we would run into problems with bees pollinating the oilseed rape instead," says Richard.

Honey bees are important pollinators in orchards and on occasion farmers are known to introduce bee hives to assist the process.

The first apple trees were set at Clashganny Farm in 2001.

From small beginnings the orchard has now grown to spread out over 20 acres, with some 20,000 trees producing approximately 60,000kg of apples each year.

Accolade

Apples are supplied wholesale to such businesses as Begleys and Beechlawn and Castleruddery organic farms, with the surplus going for the production of cider vinegar.

In 2011 Clashganny Farm won the Best Organic Fruit and Vegetable accolade for their organic apples during the National Organic Awards, presented by Bord Bia.

"With apple trees you can have a good year and then a bad year if there is disease, but to date we have been very lucky all-round," says Richard.


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