Sunday 15 September 2019

From grass to grub: farm that Brexit-proofs Croke Park

Vegetables growing on the GAA farm. Pic: Mark Condren
Vegetables growing on the GAA farm. Pic: Mark Condren
Clash: Kerry’s Stephen O’Brien and Dublin’s Michael Fitzsimons do battle two weeks ago. Picture: Sportsfile

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

Croke Park is preparing for the disruptive winds of Brexit with a new farm in north Dublin where the association grows everything from the grass to the grub for the stadium.

The 67-acre farm in Naul, which was bought by the GAA last year for €700,000, will produce turf to replace the grass damaged by stages at concerts.

Many of the ingredients in the food that will be served at Headquarters this evening are also sourced from the farm. Herbs, fruit, vegetables and honey are all grown in north Dublin and form an integral part of the menus dished up by Ruairí Boyce, Aramark Europe executive chef for Croke Park.

Menus have been created especially to reflect Dublin and Kerry, with homegrown ingredients providing that extra special touch. Prior to the purchase, the hallowed turf was sourced from a farm in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

Croke Park Stadium director Peter McKenna has spoken in the past about the threat posed by Brexit, as fears of a 20pc surcharge on agricultural products could add roughly €100,000 to the cost of replacement grass needed after a concert.

After the land was bought, a 40,000 sq m field was designated for the new turf. The hills and hollows were levelled out, before drains were dug every five metres across the width of the field. Gravel drains were also put in length ways all along. An irrigation system of automatic sprinklers was then installed using only the natural spring water found under the field. No mains water at all is used.

Pitch manager Stuart Wilson said that not only did the farm secure the future for the GAA's turf, but it also eliminated the risks posed by the long journey from England.

"With Brexit just around the corner we don't know what way that's going to go, so to be able to grow in Ireland is a great option so there's going to be some room to hopefully expand," he said.

"What was happening in the past is we were bringing turf in from the UK and there's a huge risk in that because the turf has to be transported for what could be up to 24 hours. There's a risk associated with the turf being rolled up for that period of time and some heat damage in the middle of the rolls and frost damage on the outside because these lorries are kept just above 0C.

"It has been an amazing investment. The first load was harvested at 7.15am and by time it was brought to Croke Park, it was laid down exactly three hours later. It could be 24 hours later when we get it from the UK, so it reduces all the risk."

Mr Wilson and his team are currently trying out several different types of sod and grass to get the perfect end product.

At the moment, they are growing only enough grass to replace areas after a concert. In the future, they will look to expand so they can even supply to other venues across all sports in Ireland. With export tariffs likely on the large-scale producers in England, they are considering the possibility of exporting throughout Europe as well.

Mr Wilson said the quality of the turf they were producing was better even than that of Croke Park's current hallowed sod. In the months leading up to its placement in the stadium, the grass at the farm in the Naul area is treated exactly the same as that in Croke Park so it matches in every way.

"It's literally immaculate when it comes into Croke Park. We can add that personal touch to it because we are highly qualified ground staff who have worked in Croke Park.

"When we buy from the UK obviously the standard is very, very good but when you're adding that personal touch to it, we know what we're designing for Croke Park."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News