Organic celebrates its finest producers

Beef and sheep farmers in the west will be a target for growth in the organic sector in the coming years.

This emerged from the speeches given by both Agriculture Minister of State, Tom Hayes, and chair of Organic Focus, Mel O’Rourke, at the 2014 National Organic Awards.

Mr Hayes was inspired by a recent trip to Germany, where he encountered significant demand for organic.

Indeed, he spoke enthusiastically and off-the-cuff about how easy it should be for beef farmers in the west to adapt to organic, and about how he would help.

Perhaps then, finally, the blatant advantages of organic production, with British and Irish breeds in the west, will be tapped.

He spoke of attractive support packages to help bring farmers into the organic scheme.

What farmers themselves will think may be another matter — no-one likes being pushed into things.

Likewise, the organic sector needs farmers who want to be organic.

Done carefully and methodologically, however, this could be the beginning of a moment of growth for the organic sector.

Further context is given by Food Harvest 2020 and a quota-related divide, whereby the imaginary line from Dundalk to Limerick, and down to Cork City, comes into play.

Above that line, so the story goes, ‘less active’ farmers, with poorer land, start but don’t finish animals.

They can maintain higher biodiversity standards, participate in agri-environmental schemes, and either be de facto or de jure organic.

Below that line, it’s all dairy, tillage and finishing continental animals, a hard drive towards production and forget about those agri-environmental schemes.

This schemata may be crude, but there are certain signs that drivers in agri-food are making this a reality.

How a potential drive towards an organic west of Ireland will leave Origin Green remains to be seen: would a large number of organic beef and sheep farmers, in the north west, complement or threaten Origin Green with its sign-up targets on sustainability?

Will Ireland export mixed messages?

Certainly, the market segregation in Europe, and elsewhere, can take both organic and Origin Green: Wholefoods and other east coast stores in the US only want organic meat, while there are dedicated organic-only outlets with significant market share in Europe. More standard supermarkets are full of both organic and other labelled produce, too, even produce with environmental-style labels.

As for the organic awards themselves, we saw a mix of some quite familiar and refreshingly new products.

Two standouts, perhaps a sign of the end of recession in Ireland by their very existence, were a raw, organic live Sencha Tea Kombucha and micro greens.

Two leading-edge companies, run by young, funky people with their fingers on the pulse, both of these should have a bright future ahead of them.

The Kombucha, from the SynergChi Company of Laura Murphy, and the micro greens of Joanne and Marty Brennan’s Mulberry Meadow Organic farm, are both living foods.

This means that when you consume them you eat the freshest possible version of the product.

With the micro greens — the Brennan’s grow kale, broccoli, beetroot, rocket, sunflower, pea shoots and wheatgrass — you literally cut the growing greens and eat a couple of seconds later.

Laura Murphy’s Kombucha — a type of fermented tea with a live culture of yeast and bacteria — is made without heat to protect its natural enzymes.

Both enhance and defy the earlier cliché of the great organic dividing line.

For both are from far into the north west: the top corner of Monaghan for the micro greens and as far as Gweedore for the Kombucha.

And yet, they are hardly beef, are they?


Louisa Earls is a manager at Books Upstairs, D’Olier St, Dublin, which is owned by her father, Maurice Earls.Virus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

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