My moggies led me to organic poulet
Lucinda O'Sullivan's Siamese cats turned up their noses at a cheap cheap lunch, which made her think
In the 16th Century, King Henry IV of France, a very popular figure, espoused the desire that all of the people of France would be able to have a poulet au pot on a Sunday for lunch. Indeed, many of us have memories of the smells wafting from the kitchen, after Mass on Sunday, of the Irish "poulet au pot" -- real succulent roast stuffed chicken and ham.
King Henry certainly didn't have in mind the poor old battery chickens of today. I had the opportunity to carry out a bit of my own homespun "market research", albeit somewhat unintentionally. I succumbed to buying a couple of cheap chickens for my Siamese cats. It is cheaper than the expensive little sachets of cat food! What a lesson. One cheap chook they wouldn't eat at all. The second chook made them violently sick! I decided rapidly that, if whatever was fed or pumped into those poor birds did that to my moggies, what would it do to me. So that was the end of the cheap cheap chooks.
Now we can't all afford organic produce all the time, and the advent of the recession has seen a drop in the sales of organic produce.
I am also sceptical of some of the "organic" produce I see. However, I have to say that undoubtedly there was a difference, a real down home taste of roast chicken and crispy skin, from the poulet I bought from Regan Organic Produce, a farm shop at Dranagh, Caim, Enniscorthy, in the shadow of the Blackstairs Mountains. Mary Regan is an amazing woman devoted to her small organic farm business, come hail, rain or snow.
"It's a niche market but something people like. They like traceability and food not pumped up with antibiotics," she told me.
"They are more expensive because the feed is very expensive and there is so much red tape and regulation."
Basically it is just going back to nature and away from the mass commercialisation of food which we all abhor nowadays.
Mary is a B Ag with a Masters in Food, and she runs a small mixed farm which is certified with the Organic Trust. After Mary qualified, she worked for an animal meal company. The company began to produce an organic meal, which sparked Mary's interest in the whole process. She started running what had been her father's old farm, of 46 acres, on an organic basis.
Mary says that you "couldn't really make a living out of 46 acres" so she is trying to keep her options open "not putting all her eggs in one basket", if you will forgive the pun, by varying her activities. She rears cows and calves, but the main enterprise is the chickens -- table birds, laying hens -- and laying ducks.
Mary loves animals, and her newest additions are some Tamworth pigs "as they were the other animal which have been farmed very intensively. Now they are rooting around happily". She explained, "When I was training I saw how pigs were reared; they would never see the light of day. Rooting around they get natural iron, whereas in piggeries they had to be injected with iron."
She rides a quad down to feed them, and "they are over like a shot to be fed. They are very intelligent animals -- they are divils -- and you get attached to them." Mary says that, contrary to popular belief, "they are very clean, and where they sleep is immaculate".
I could see these happy chappies lolling around and thought how lucky they were. Even if they do end up eventually on the table, they will have had a much better life than their counterparts in intensive farming.
Mary is a farmer first and foremost, and she has made one or two of her pigs into sausages using organic rusk, and also into pork roasts and rashers.
"Who does the job?" I asked tentatively, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"They are taken to an abattoir in Camolin which had to be certified also by the Organic Trust," said Mary.
The problem with me if I had them is they would be rooting around forever and never get to Camolin.
Mary also grows her own wheat and feed cereal, and straw from the wheat is used for bedding. She also grows some vegetables, and opens a farm shop every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from 1pm to 5 pm. She felt it would be really nice for people to be able to come to a real farm, be able to buy a variety of produce, see the cattle and pigs, and further to educate people into trying to get back to buying good food produced locally.
As well as her own produce she has a number of items from other local small producers -- such as Pauline Somers, who makes lovely brown bread and jams in a small way, using fruit from her own fruit farm. Turnips and cabbages come from Ben Sharkey "who is only a quarter of a mile over road". Mary has a couple of tunnels and grows tomatoes. "I love to be able to run over to the tunnel on a Saturday morning and pick what I have for sale."
At Mary's farm shop you can get organic chickens, ducks, turkeys, pork roasts, hen and duck eggs, bread, scones, jam, farmer's butter, buttermilk, honey, chutney, cheese, yoghurt, apples, juice, rashers and puddings. Mary Regan's chickens are also sold in Nolan's, Clontarf; A Caviston, Greystones; Doyle's in the Frascati Centre and the Organic Shop in Blackrock; Donnybrook Fair; and Pettitt's of Wexford and Enniscorthy. She also offers a local box service.
As I go around the country reviewing restaurants, it's amazing to see so many fantastic small business people who are the lifeblood of this country, but who are being strangled by the banks that they as taxpayers have helped to bail out. We should be out on the streets demanding that the banks support them.