GLENILEN Farm is not trying to change the world, just its small corner of it.
Sustainability, although they may not have used the term, has always been central to the Kingston family who have been tending a dairy farm on the banks of the River Ilen in Drimoleague, Co Cork, for generations.
As Alan Kingston explains: “Subconsciously, we were brought up this way. It was normal to practice sustainability and social responsibility, and our mission is to carry them on, to value and hold dear what’s good and what’s right.”
In real terms that means husband-and-wife team Alan and Valerie Kingston have put their heads together to come up with a range of measures, from solar energy production to rainwater harvesting, to make their farm practices more environmentally friendly.
“Sustainability is part of our DNA here,” Kingston tells. But, he adds, it’s not just about saving the environment; it’s also about saving money.
“Valerie does it because it saves the environment but I do because it saves money. The two of them have to work together,” he says. And, in the case of Glenilen Farm, they do. Being greener is good for the planet but it makes sense when it comes to the bottom line too.
The farm’s range of products, from yogurts and cheesecake to butter and cream cheese, are free of artificial additives and preservatives and come in recycled or recyclable packaging.
The farm, with its 40 staff, is dedicated to clean, simple food but its commitment to sustainability goes a lot further, as Alan Kingston explains:
“We recently installed 200 photovoltaic solar panels turning daylight into free electricity. We produce 60,000 kilowatt hours of energy from our roof, reducing our carbon emissions by 26 tonnes each year.”
Some 40 solar panels heat the water used in the factory while 320,000 litres of rainwater are harvested and filtered from the factory roof and used around the farm.
They have switched to LED lights, cutting the electricity they used on lights by about 50%. Their pigs eat all food waste and, after sowing a wild-flower garden and putting three beehives in situ, the farm is now home to 180,000 bees.
Glenilen Farm is also committed to sourcing its raw materials locally. All milk is sourced from its own and local farms, processing 1.6 million litres annually. Its milk suppliers are all members of the Bord Bia quality scheme, adhering to strict animal welfare standards.
Speaking of Bord Bia, Glenilen is one of 53,000 farms and 320 Irish food and drink companies that collaborate with the Irish Food Board’s Origin Green food and drink sustainability programme.
Alan Kingston thinks it’s a great initiative: “It’s not fluffy marketing,” he says, as each member is independently assessed and audited to ensure they are doing what they said they would do.
It has had real success, says Origin Green director Deirdre Ryan. Since its launch in 2012, the Irish food industry has made important progress in driving sustainable food production.
“The benefits of the programme are more environmentally aware farms, an important focus on community and more sustainable food and drink production, which ultimately contribute to sustainable livelihoods,” she says.
While Covid-19 has hit food producers particularly hard, it may yet bring some positive changes. The early evidence suggests sustainability now matters more than ever before.
Bord Bia’s Future Proofing Indicators study found that some 34% of Irish adults are now consciously trying to cut down on food waste as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, and 66% of those intend to do more in the future.
Better management of food waste looks like being the first big behavioural change as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, says Deirdre.
Bord Bia is continuing to monitor the situation, but it looks as if the crisis will strengthen rather than weaken the push towards sustainability.
“The role of the Origin Green programme and the importance of sustainability in the Irish food and drink sector will become increasingly relevant in the wake of Covid-19, through heightened interest in food and ingredients traceability and a consumer drive towards living responsibly,” says Deirdre.
To track how the pandemic is changing consumer habits, see updates on Bord Bia’s Future Proofing Toolkit.