Fresh-food farm sets the standard for local success
In an era of shrinking margins for vegetable producers, I spoke to William Ruiter, a grower who really does deliver from farm to fork.
The Ruiter family runs a 100ac farm near Ashbourne, Co Meath, where horticulturalist William Ruiter has been growing vegetables for more than 30 years, initially specialising in broccoli, scallions and leeks for supply to the major supermarkets.
However, despite his best efforts, in the late 1990s William began to realise that his hard work was not paying dividends. He was producing labour-intensive crops for an ever-shrinking margin. At 100ac, his farm was not big enough to give him the economies of scale needed for a marketplace with impossibly tight margins.
He made the decision to cease supplying to the major multiples and to concentrate on dealing directly with small wholesalers and retailers.
In 2004, he decided to open a farm shop, in the hope that consumers would like to buy vegetables that were sold on the day that they were harvested. His hunch was correct; people loved the idea of buying food that was fresher than anything they could buy in the supermarket.
Unfortunately, planning issues forced William to close the shop in 2006. However, he had seen the potential of the operation, and immediately submitted a planning application for a farm shop and an open farm. The opening of the nearby motorway had downgraded the road outside his gate, making access to the farm much safer. William was back in business.
Today, the business consists of a farm shop selling fresh produce from his own farm and from local producers, as well as an 80-seat restaurant and coffee shop known as the 'Donkey Shed'. There is also a child-friendly open farm stocked with everything from goats and pigs to ducks and chickens.
"It has turned out to be a food destination, with people coming for the experience as much as just to buy their vegetables," says William. "They meet their friends for coffee or lunch and load up their cars with freshly pulled carrots and onions that were in the ground just hours earlier. Mothers like to bring children to see the animals, with the pigs being especially popular."