Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 25 March 2019

Harvesting green gold from the fields of Meath

Stephen McCormack in Kitale, Meath
Stephen McCormack in Kitale, Meath

Ken Whelan

Stephen McCormack produces a massive yield of salad leaves and herbs year round at the family farm enterprise in Kiltale near Trim in Co Meath.

McCormack Family Farms supplies major supermarkets like Dunnes Stores, Tesco and SuperValu with micro greens and herbs from a network of leased farms and the 23-acre home farm. The hotel sector here and retail outlets in Northern Ireland are also valued customers.

McCormacks is a one-stop shop as it grows and then packages the greens at its production plant in Kiltale.

Stephen graduated from Warrenstown Agricultural College in 1989 and joined his parents Eddie and Laura, who had started a root vegetable enterprise supplying Smithfield Market in Dublin.

Stephen wanted to expand and spotted an opportunity in the late 1990s.

"It was the beginning of the economic boom and people were changing their diets with Italian and Asian food becoming popular. So we changed the produce at the home farm to leaves and herbs," he recalls.

Initially, the farm produce was for the restaurant and hotel trades, but it gradually expanded to the supermarkets as people's eating habits changed.

The demand was such that the McCormacks now lease 600 acres for growing within a five-kilometre radius of Kiltale.

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The enterprise now is a serious employer locally with 120 permanent staff, plus another 20 seasonal agricultural workers employed between growing, harvesting, packaging and delivery.

Stephen's brothers, Edwin and Padraic, have roles in the farm and production management and their parents also still take an active interest in the business.

Stephen and his wife, Catriona, have three young children - Charlie (14) Jake (12) and Abbi (8) - and the trio will doubtlessly join the farm enterprise when they grow up.

Asked if there had been a grand plan to expand a relatively small family farm into such a sizeable specialist producer of greens and herbs, Stephen says: "No, it was just luck".

And as luck would have it, demand for greens from Kiltale is as strong as ever, with consumers now turning to the greens for health reasons.

"When we began in the 1990s, there was a demand for our produce because people were going out to restaurants and because there was money in the economy, and today the same is happening but the reason for the demand is different. Now micro greens for juices are in demand from health-conscious consumers."

For now, McCormack Family Farms is solely focused on the island of Ireland, although there are obvious opportunities for the Co Meath greens in Britain, especially with the network of customers the company has here.

Stephen is happy to resist any expansion in the neighbouring island until the Brexit situation is cleared up.

"Nothing will happen on that front until the deal is done and we will see what happens then," he says.

Off-farm, his main interest is the GAA, especially the fortunes of the local Moynalty club, but with his busy schedule, his participation is generally confined helping out with his children's sporting activities.   

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