FIELDS OF GOLD A cereal crop in late summer, Kilcrea, Co Cork.
Were you fortunate enough to enjoy some apples, potatoes, cabbage or porridge oats grown in Ireland this week? Perhaps you grow some of your own food, or buy from a market stall. If you are relying on the supermarket, however, it can be very hard to find truly Irish produce. The dairy, meat and seafood industries are well-represented, but it turns out that many of the plant-based foods we are eating are coming into the country from elsewhere.
It’s hard to pin down exact figures for the percentage of foods imported, but there are informal estimates that up to 50 percent of food in supermarkets is imported. The causes for this include the Irish climate, a long-established trading relationship with the UK, and a farming sector heavily dominated by animal agriculture (CSO figures from 2013 showed that 81 percent of Ireland’s farmland is used for grass for pasture, hay and silage).
During the pandemic, many of us realised how dependent we are on imported flour for baking. According to Bord Bia, up to 90 percent of flour for sale and used in bakeries in Ireland is imported from the UK, and of this milled wheat, up to 45 percent was likely initially grown in Canada or other third countries.
The Irish Independent ran a story last month announcing the first Irish business dedicated to growing potatoes for chip shops across the country – although Ireland is a net exporter of potatoes overall, most varieties used for chips were imported.
So what Irish-grown food can we reliably source in Ireland? The main cereal crops are wheat, barley and oats, although most of these are grown for animal feed (Teagasc). There are a number of small farms around Ireland, mostly organic certified, growing and milling wheat, spelt and oats for us to enjoy: Ballymore Organics (Kildare), Oak Forest Mills (Kilkenny), Dunany Farms (Louth), Ballybrado (Tipperary), The Merry Mill (Laois) and Kilbeggan (Westmeath).
Several of these farms are also integrating peas for nitrogen-fixing, and we soon hope to see increases in the number of Irish-grown legumes in the near future. This would provide more plant-based protein. Perhaps we could eventually have our own Irish equivalent of British food retailer and producer Hodmedod’s, which sells only dried peas, beans and grains, including quinoa, grown in the UK.
Second Nature Oils in Kilkenny is producing Ireland’s only certified organic rapeseed oil, and there are several others growing conventionally: Newgrange Gold (Meath), Donegal Rapeseed Oil and Glen Field (Laois).
Although apples in Ireland can suffer some due to the climate, there are local producers of organic Irish apple juice – here in Mayo we have Sinead’s Orchard in Newport, while there’s also Irish Seed Savers in Co Clare. Ireland also has a number of producers of cider, apple cider vinegar and related products—Highbank Orchards (Kilkenny), The Apple Farm (Tipperary), Mulrines Orchard (Kildare).
Of course, there are a number of excellent veg growers in Connacht: Glasraí Organic Farm and West of West Farm, Mad Yolk Farm and Green Earth Organics, plus many more, that you can buy from at markets or via their online shops and delivery schemes.
So there are options; it’s just a matter of seeking them out and helping to increase the demand for more.
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.