Tuesday 19 June 2018

A berry nice romance... for Margaret and Des Jaffares

Between blackcurrants, horses and good food, the lives of Margaret and Des Jeffares are rooted in their farming backgrounds

Black is the colour: Des and Margaret Jeffares have just launched a new cordial drink made from blackcurrants on their farm. Photo: Tony Gavin
Black is the colour: Des and Margaret Jeffares have just launched a new cordial drink made from blackcurrants on their farm. Photo: Tony Gavin
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Margaret Jeffares, founder of Good Food Ireland, says her relaxed farmer husband Des grounds her, as when she comes out of work with her brain in overdrive, he gives her space to decompress and chill out.

"Des has all the earthiness I need," she says. "I love my work life, but also love coming home to Des and my horses and dogs. Although when I want to be speedy and he's in slow mode, it drives me mad. And if I ask him if something looks good on me, he will always tell the truth, whether I Iike it or not."

For his part, Des says that Margaret spurs him on to greater things, such as developing his new cordial, Mr Jeffares Blackcurrant Cordial from the blackcurrants grown on his Wexford farm. "I wouldn't be able to do it without her support," he says, adding that farm work can be isolating, so Margaret keeps him in touch with people and places.

The pair, both 47, live on Ballykelly Farm, and Des, the eldest of three, is the third generation of blackcurrant growers in his family. His mum Patricia was his teacher in national school, and he went to boarding school in Waterford. As his grandfather Shaun and then father Peter had the contract to supply fruit to Ribena, summers were spent picking blackcurrants alongside 350 other teens.

Des went on to complete a three-year degree in horticulture in Kildalton college, and then returned to work on the farm. He met Margaret at a party in Gooser's pub in Killaloe. "He made the first move because in the '80s, girls were wallflowers," laughs Margaret. "I spotted him straight away, as he was very tanned and had lovely dark hair. He had a green wax jacket on him and was my type of guy. He came over and asked me to dance, and his manner was very relaxed and easy."

Des noticed Margaret because she was bubbly and chatty and engaged with everybody. Her eyes also caught his attention. He rang her after that and invited her to Tagoat Steam Rally.

"Des invited me to stay the night at his parents' house," says Margaret. "I hardly knew this guy, and as I was driving down from Waterford, I was thinking, 'I have to remember what he looks like.' But there I was, sleeping in his house and getting to meet his mum and dad on our first date."

Margaret grew up on a mixed farm in Quin, east Clare, as the youngest of Tom and Teresa Frost's three children. Her dad also bred and showed horses. Margaret was going to shows and competing from the age of four, which helped her to develop a strong sense of ambition and desire to do her best. Later on, she would become involved with horses on a more commercial basis. "My dad was the influence around me being driven, and my mum taught me to respect myself and others," she says.

At 12, Margaret went to boarding school in Galway, although she missed her horses. After her Leaving Cert in 1985, she went to Massachusetts for six months and came back and started working in tourism. She worked in ground operations at Aer Lingus, and by 21, was a manager at Ryanair. She was working in Waterford when she met Des, and then moved to Galway and Knock, so their relationship was fairly long-distance for a couple of years. When she finished in Knock and moved to Wexford, they got engaged shortly afterwards on Bertra Strand. They were married in 1994.

Margaret then worked as sales and marketing manager at White's hotel in Wexford, and she and Des lived in a little cottage on Rosslare Strand. They named it Rose Cottage. and later discovered that this was also the name of Des's parents first house. His parents then retired and moved into another house on the farm, and Margaret and Des renovated the farmhouse and moved into it in 1999.

Having set up her own tourism and marketing consultancy, Jeffares Marketing, the concept for Good Food Ireland evolved from Margaret's work with the Les Routiers brand. "I got to experience the quality of our restaurants, the dedication of the people involved and their commitment to local food," she says. "I wanted to create a market for foreign visitors to eat in places that are using Irish ingredients and foods, which would create livelihoods for local people, like Des or my father. We launched Good Food Ireland in November 2006, and some people thought I was mad and said, 'Who cares if they are eating Irish food or not?' It was pioneering, as everyone is talking about local food now, which is wonderful."

For Ballykelly Farm, things changed dramatically when Ribena stopped sourcing blackcurrants from its Irish suppliers after 60 years. Des was growing 200 tonnes of blackcurrants to the highest standards annually, so he decided to continue on and make his own cordial drink, Mr Jeffares Blackcurrant Cordial. He spent all of 2014 researching recipes as he wanted to make it pure, so there are no preservatives or additives in it, and it has a natural sugar alternative added as a sweetener. Launched in April, the delicious cordial is making its way into shops nationwide. Their immediate plan is to grow the Irish market and start exporting."The blackcurrant is such an amazing superfruit, but people aren't aware of its benefits," says Margaret. "We're the only remaining blackcurrant farm in the country, and Des has an amazing skill at growing."

The Jeffares have experienced a lot of change and challenges over the years, between careers, moving and both being self-employed. Their personal lives are very much wrapped up in their business, and they also started a breeding programme for Irish sport horses together in 2000, Ballykelly Sport Horses, which is a shared passion. They enjoy travelling to horse shows at weekends, and enjoy rugby, although they have different allegiances. "I come from Munster and Des is from Leinster, so there is always great rivalry around the Heineken cup," laughs Margaret.


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