Growing business: Search is on for Ireland’s next young food entrepreneur

BACK TO BASICS: Cullen Allen of Cully & Sully GIY’s Karen O’Donohoe at the launch of Grow2CEO, a secondary school competition designed to promote food awareness. Picture: Patrick Browne.

The search is on for Ireland’s next young food entrepreneur — but the up-and-coming breed of Dragons are being asked to go right back to basics and build their business from the soil up, writes Clodagh Finn.

In a sense, Grow2CEO and its search for 2019’s food entrepreneur is the perfect fit for our age, with its growing concern about the environmental damage done by modern food production, a point made forcibly last month by hundreds of young people who took to the streets to demand Government action on climate change.

The same fears were highlighted in a stark study published in The Lancet medical journal in January, which said meat consumption needed to fall by 90% to avert a climate crisis.

Researchers suggested limiting meat and dairy intake to the equivalent of just one cocktail sausage and a single glass of milk daily, making up the protein shortfall with dry beans, soy and nuts.

The study — and indeed the methods of food production — will be hotly debated over the coming months, no doubt, but what everyone agrees on is the need to include more vegetables in our daily diets.

That’s where Grow2CEO comes in. It is designed to give secondary school students everything they need to grow their own food, better understand what goes into it and learn how to make healthier choices.

In the process, they may even learn how to turn their growing experience into a viable food business.

And they are absolutely on for the challenge. Michael Kelly, founder of Grow It Yourself (GIY), says today’s teenagers are far more interested in food than their peers of 10 or 20 years ago.

To nurture that interest, GIY teamed up with Cully & Sully to launch a school programme in 2017. They had already collaborated on a food-growing campaign in the workplace and felt the time was right to reach out to younger people.

“We hope that the Grow2Ceo campaign will encourage more schools to make growing and nutrition a bigger part of the curriculum and encourage more students to consider food entrepreneurship as a possible career choice in the future,” he says.

Karen O’Donohoe, head of community development at GIY, said young people were already well aware of the effects of highly processed food — both its production and consumption — and were keen to learn more so they could make better food and lifestyle choices.

“Through the campaign, they meet with food entrepreneurs in their local area, learn more about the importance of nutrition, food-miles, sustainable packaging, branding, recipe creation — all underpinned by the real-time growing of food in the classroom,” she tells Feelgood.

Cullen Allen, of Cully & Sully, says he was impressed with the way the students threw themselves into the competition last year, doing everything from foraging for food, meeting local chefs and growers, doing research, marketing, photo and video-editing and coming up with some amazing recipes and concepts.

“I love the students really just going for it and not worrying too much about the problems. There are enough of them in real life,” he says.

He said Cully & Sully have always been keen to get people cooking.

“The recipes for all our soups are on our website and our little story is on our packs to encourage people to cook.

This is another great way to get people to not only cook, but think about what they are eating.

It is also hoped that the competition will help teenagers to connect with local food and seasonal ingredients and become more conscious of food production, packaging and waste — lessons that could have a real impact on their future choices as consumers.

In the final phase of the competition, students will be asked to come up with a soup recipe and a business plan. Three classes will be selected for the competition finale, a Dragon’s Den-style pitch at GIY, GROW HQ in Waterford in May.

The winners get a prize pot of €5,000 which includes a €3,000 food garden for their school. Free growing kits will be delivered to teachers who register by February 15. The kits include seeds, pots, soil, as well as tips from GIY and Cully & Sully.


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