Progress and produce: 50 Irish food producers that have embraced sustainability

Meet our local food pioneers — men and women who run their businesses with a desire to do right by the planet.
Progress and produce: 50 Irish food producers that have embraced sustainability

L-R: Virginia O'Gara of My Goodness; Ultan Walsh, Gort na Nain; Sally Barnes, Woodcock Smokery

The brief was 50 Sustainable Irish food businesses or producers but to be honest, the word, ‘sustainable’, has become deeply tarnished, even suspect as too many enterprises, in all sectors, pay lip service to the planet while putting their real energies into the pursuit of profit.

Too often in recent times, the word has been co-opted and rendered redundant, used as greenwashing for business as usual, to maintain the progress of a system driven first and foremost by economic priorities above all else, while continuing to deplete and even destroy our precious natural resources, and, tragically, we have wreaked havoc on the soil and waters of this once fair island, not to mind our own little contribution to the global problem of climate change.

In fact, there is really very little left to ‘sustain’ and we should instead be focusing first on regenerating, returning our natural resources to their once pristine state.

I’ll never tire of sharing a quote from the late great economist, activist and philosopher Kenneth E. Boulding who stated, ‘anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.’

We need a farming and food production system working with the environment, not against it. We need a farming system primarily charged with feeding the Irish people and adequately rewarding farmers for their work above the wishes of privileged vested interests. We need a food system that doesn’t contribute to global food waste, 1.3 billion tonnes each year—approximately the same number of people go hungry every day. Irish households and businesses waste a million tons of food annually, 2 ½ times Croke Park, filled to the brim.

In other words, we need to wind back several decades to an era before farming and food production became intensively industrialised but, this time, incorporating modern innovation and technical know-how to create a truly progressive and productive 21st-century agriculture. 

We need to embrace mixed farming, an infinitely more regenerative and sustainable model than the current preference for industrial monoculture, creating a patchwork quilt of smaller, inter-connected and sustainable circular farms and food production systems and networks.

So, instead, I have selected 50 Food Sustainability Pioneers, individuals, groups or organisations whose every professional endeavour is infused right through with a desire to do the right thing for the planet and all the people who live on it. 

Some of them are very small enterprises indeed, unlikely to ever end up on your local supermarket shelf but there are many more like them in your own locality (and my apologies to the too many I’ve had to omit due to space limitations) so seek them out and support them. 

Think of them as pathfinders pointing in the direction of a better future for our soil, our air, our waters and our communities, local and global.

Emma Clutterbuck of Oak Forest Mills and Sarah Richards Seagull Bakery
Emma Clutterbuck of Oak Forest Mills and Sarah Richards Seagull Bakery

Sarah Richards, Seagull Bakery & Emma Clutterbuck, Oak Forest Mills

The real embodiment of a sustainable food system is food businesses operating not in isolation but as part of an interconnected series of elements, each supporting the other, and the symbiosis of Tramore-based Seagull Bakery supremo Sarah Richards’ relationship with grain farmers Emma Clutterbuck and Pat Foley, of Oak Forest Mills, in Piltown, Co Kilkenny is a perfect example.

Sarah began baking in her kitchen, graduating to a log cabin in her garden, eventually opening Seagull Bakery in Tramore, in 2016. She and husband Conor have added a bakery shop and deli in Waterford city and now employ 18 people, with eight bakers including Sarah.

“It is 100% possible to create a sustainable business,” says Sarah, “It is really viable for one or two people to have a bakery and sell in a small rural area and support a family.”

Sarah has always sought to work with Irish grown grains, and is especially keen on Emma and Pat’s spelt flour, which they grow and then mill, in their Oak Forest Mills.

“[Pat] and I wanted to try something different,” says Emma, “and had been very interested in heritage grains, particularly, spelt. We’d also been concerned by the constant refrain that it was impossible to grow milling standard wheat here which was not the case at all. Teagasc reports show we were growing good quality wheat into the mid-80s, but it became cheaper to import flour from the UK mills.

“At the start, we went out to talk to people and ran into Sarah and she was so positive about what we were proposing to do. We quickly found out the artisan bakers had a real interest in what we were doing. Larger industrial scale bakers weren’t sure what to make of us, trying to be supportive but only really interested in large volumes.”

“I had a bit of playing around with it at first,” says Sarah, “but once I figured it out, that it required minimal handling and endless water, it’s amazing.”

While Oak Forest Mills would struggle entirely to supply the industrial sector, working with Seagull enables a sustainable route from field to table.

“We will never do anything but sourdough breads,” says Sarah, “and always use organic flours but too many times we were getting flours from France of varying quality and, with no communication with the grower or the miller, never knew what to expect. But Emma can tell you about a particular flour and what to expect from it. Sure, you can get flours, even organic flours, that are standardised to achieve consistency but I find they are lacking in flavour, they are more like industrial bread, fluffy and pappy.”

“On a broader level, for food security,” says Emma, “it is better to have more people involved in growing, including in this country. You could have massive weather damage in Europe, completely wiping out a crop or look at what’s happening with the huge rise in cost of inputs or the war in Ukraine and then you’re trying to source from elsewhere. Globally we are very close to the wire in terms of grain stocks.”

“Seeking out individual suppliers isn’t the easiest route,” says Sarah, “but I get huge joy out of it. It can be challenging but it is worth it because you are part of and helping to create a local circular food economy”

Valerie Kingston of Glenilen Farm
Valerie Kingston of Glenilen Farm

Valerie and Alan Kingston, Glenilen Farm

Probably one of the most recognisable ‘brands’ on this list, Glenilen is an example of taking a small business that began at Valerie Kingston’s kitchen table as she began producing her own yoghurt, cream, traditional farmhouse butter, quark, creme fraiche, cheese cake and other dairy related products and selling them at the local farmer’s market, in Bantry. 

Husband Alan was initially sceptical, but no longer: in the years since, the range has greatly expanded, available nationwide and even available in Harrod’s, and is acknowledged as a superb example of what can be achieved using premium Irish milk.

Yet it is all still produced in a modern production facility adjacent to the family farm, in Drimoleague, West Cork, where Alan grew up, and using the farm’s milk and that of neighbouring farms, all within a 20-mile radius.

Though a progressive and impressive business, they still cleave to traditional values that prevailed before the industrialisation of farming to inform the sustainability and environmental credentials of the business, illustrating that it is possible to achieve scale in business without sacrificing planet in pursuit of profit. Packaging is sustainable and recylcable, including glass jars while the cheesecake tubs are made from 100% recycled water bottles. 

Rainwater collection sees the business harvest about 320,000 litres per year from the dairy roof for use around the farm, and to promote biodiversity on the farm, they planted hedgerows and trees and created a wetland area to promote local flora and fauna. A wildflower garden is now home to 180,000 bees with hives to produce local, organic honey for personal use. 

They have also planted nearly 8,000 native Irish trees on the farm, including sessile oak, hazel, downy birch, cherry, scots pine, holly, hawthorn, crab apple, and rowan, and solar panels reduces their carbon emissions by 26 tonnes each year, while replacing the factory lighting with LED bulbs has cut lighting electricity use in half.

 Sally Barnes, of Woodcock Smokery
Sally Barnes, of Woodcock Smokery

Sally Barnes, Woodcock Smokery, West Cork

The very essence of a sustainable seafood enterprise, Barnes is one of a handful of women who have led from the front in the modern Irish food revolution. 

Not only is she a sublime smoker of only wild and sustainably caught fish, but she had found a second wind, committed as an educator to now preserving and passing on traditional methods in danger of being lost forever.

Sally has been mastering her craft for over 40 years and in 2006, was crowned Supreme Champion at the Great Taste Awards in London, recognised for the superlative quality of her smoked wild Irish salmon, the very first food producer from Ireland to receive the highly prestigious accolade. It is one of many awards and accolades from a storied career.

The business truly took flight and in the years that followed, awards and recognition began to pile up, but just six weeks after Sally had won the Great Taste award, in 2006, a ban on Irish commercial sea fishing for wild salmon was announced, set to commence the following year in 2007. Her business was no longer viable.

She sourced from a Scottish fishery for nine years and now sources her wild salmon from Irish draft net fishermen. She greatly expanded her wild fish range and her biggest seller of all is smoked mackerel.

“As I get old, my knowledge, what I’ve gleaned over a life’s work, has become my most valuable resource. Now I want to share the knowledge, pass on the skills of a very traditional process to another generation. The salmon, salmo salar, is a precious resource that we have relied on for thousands of years and there is no argument that it is in real danger of becoming extinct. But if we just forget about it, people will forget that it’s in trouble and allow those without any scruples at all to finish them off entirely.” 

 Ultan Walsh, of Gort na Nain farm in West Cork
Ultan Walsh, of Gort na Nain farm in West Cork

Ultan and Lucy Walsh, Gort na Nain, Co Cork

Almost two decades ago, zoologist turned horticulturalist Ultan Walsh was told he couldn’t grow aubergines in Ireland. That season he grew ten different varieties. Then again, Ultan and Lucy Stewart’s Gort na Nain farm is pretty special and not for nothing was it awarded Collaboration of the Year for their partnership with Cafe Paradiso restaurant at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in 2019.

“I need to be doing veg that is more challenging, less common, to be intellectually stimulated,” says Ultan, “I need to be experimenting. When I first grew the aubergines, a chef visited and asked, what’s that, what would I do with it?

“With my particular model, I am trying to offer produce that commands a premium regardless of the way I grow it, even though I grow organically and am very proud of that. My asparagus is the best example: customers are going to buy it and many wouldn’t know or care whether it is organic. All they really want is a premium, local product, that is ‘fresh’— flown in from Peru is never going to be ‘fresh’.

“Our model will never feed the world but we are topping up and adding flavour to your basic staples like rice, potatoes, plant-based protein or meat, if you eat it. Pragmatically, there are certain areas of the globe that are really good for growing bulk crops such as wheat or soybeans and I’d support continuing in that vein, because remaining habitats, pristine land and rainforest is being encroached upon to produce these crops or crops like palm oil, for industrial use. For now, it is a better use of these prairies to supply basic crops—but to feed humans, not animals.

“Globally, even just 150 years ago, meat was rarely eaten, and now we consider it a daily necessity—that is not sustainable. Also, the majority of produce from these prairies - soybeans and wheat - is going into animal feed and that is not sustainable.

“I don’t like the idea of a siege mentality, of closing off from the world. We are interconnected with every other country in Europe. I want to have olive oil and coffee. I think it is very important that we think of sustainability in European and even global terms and enhance those connections.

“I know farmers going down an organic route not because they are environmentalists but for the cost savings, once you stop paying out for herbicides, fungicides, fertilisers, even the diesel costs for spraying.

“‘Conventional farming’ is only an idea of the last 50 or 60 years—before that we put nothing on the land that wasn’t natural. Once you remove these added costs and the cost of environmental damage, your yields may not increase but they will be comparable depending on your treatment of the land and profits will definitely increase—it’s a no brainer.”

Donal and Virginia O'Gara, owners of My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.
Donal and Virginia O'Gara, owners of My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.

Virginia & Donal O’Gara, My Goodness Foods

Texan Virginia O’Gara met her husband, Donal, when both studied on the very excellent permaculture course at Kinsale Community College, the longest and most extensive such course available anywhere in the world and this year celebrating its 21st birthday. 

Ostensibly, they produce a range of vegan foods and award-winning and quite extraordinary fermented kombuchas and kefirs, that simply have no peer in this country, but that is to diminish the overall commitment to creating an entirely circular food business run on ecological principles. 

Virginia studied to be an ecologist and has remained a committed social and environmental activist ever since. 

The production unit in Cork’s Marina Commercial Park installed rainwater harvesting facilities several years ago, from which they make their drinks and they have long-established relationships with local organic growers and Virginia, an erstwhile queen of ‘kraut, ensures to use every single part of the plant, turning the most mundane of seasonal root vegetables into krauts and kimchees that are revered the length and breadth of the country. 

Having previously operated from farmer’s markets, they added to their retail potential by taking a stall in the English Market where their delicious vegan fare, employing Virginia’s Tex-Mex culinary propensities and applying them entirely to local, seasonal and organic produce, has cemented their popularity. 

They are of course one of the most popular food stalls at any music festival they attend in any given year, with a national following. Most recently, they unveiled an urban market garden outside their production unit on the commercial estate, building giant wooden planters and filling them with soil created in their alliance with the Cork Urban Soil Project, from food waste collected from farmers’ markets over the last year. In this list of environmental and sustainability pathfinders, My Goodness are to the very front of the pack.

 James Kelly, Ballymore Organics
James Kelly, Ballymore Organics

Paving the way: Ireland's forward-thinking food producers

Eoin Cluskey, Bread 41, Dublin 2

Eoin Cluskey trained as a carpenter but did the Ballymaloe 12-week cookery course, and founded Bread 41 in 2018, now one of the most popular bakeries in Dublin. 

All breads are baked with organic flour, and the new in-house eatery works only with local, seasonal, organic produce, where possible, and Cluskey is committed to running a zero-waste, carbon-neutral company and has installed solar panels and banned all single-use cups, Monday to Friday, and is operating a highly enlightened staff welfare policy. 

Plans are afoot for a sustainable expansion, next year, entirely funded by profits from the current business. 

Joe Fitzmaurice and Julie Lockett, Riot Rye, Co Tipperary

Joe Fitzmaurice is one of the gurus of Real Bread Ireland, universally revered for his knowledge and passion for real bread baked only with organic flour, water, salt and time for natural fermentation, and without industrial additives or chemicals. 

He and wife Julie pivoted their Cloughjordan Wood-fired Bakery into its current incarnation, Riot Rye Bakehouse & Bread School, based in Cloughjordan eco-village where they spread the gospel of real bread, educating and advocating for natural baking and bake 600 loaves a week in a wood-fired oven burning using sustainably sourced local beech and ash timber. 

Benjamin Le Bon, Natural Foods Bakery, Cork

The arrival of Breton-born baker to the iconic Natural Foods Bakery, in Cork city, returned in-house baking to the traditional roots of pre-industrial French real bread baking, achieving maximum nutritional bioavailability along with superb flavours and textures. 

Ben’s bread is produced with minimum intervention, without fridges to ferment the dough, primarily using organic and ancient grains, entirely handmade from barely worked dough proved for up to 20 hours at room temperature and where possible using ancient and Irish grown grains, including emmer, einkorn, rye, barley and Oak Forest Mills’ spelt. 

James Kelly, Ballymore Organics, Co Kildare

Ballymore Organics, set up by James Kelly, was the first mill to open in Kildare since Odlum’s 200-year-old Leinster Mills closed in 1989, after he had difficulty finding someone to mill his early crops of organic wheat. 

Working part of a farm in the family for several generations, Kelly has expanded his range beyond the wholemeal flour to also include plain flour and semolina and some of the finest oats in the world, all of which he grows and mills, selling to chefs, bakers and online.

Andrew and Leonie Workman, Dunany Flour

Leonie and Andrew Workman, of Dunany Flour, have been farming on Dunany Farm, in Co Louth, since 1981, converting to organic and entirely to tillage farming of grains (including wheat, spelt and rye) in 2004. 

They also operate their own mills and picked up an Irish Food Writers’ Guild producers award, in 2019. 

‘We felt the bakers liked the traceability aspect,’ says Leonie, ‘the idea of a local Irish product. It grows really well and because it’s Irish, it’s sustainable. We can also see it from start to finish: we grow it, we mill it, we package it, and the bakers use it.’

Kevin & Liz O’Donovan, Gloun Cross Dairy, West Cork

With up to 64% of Irish dairy farmers carrying debt and having to accept whatever the giant co-ops choose to pay per litre of milk, Gloun Cross Dairy is a great example of a viable alternative, ‘farm gate retail’, selling their own primary produce direct to the public and even adding value, so Kevin and Liz O’Donovan have made a viable business from their 44 acre West Cork farm, near Dunmanway, with just 80 cattle (Jersey and Friesian) producing excellent non-homogenised milk, cream, buttermilk and butter. 

Dan & Ann Ahern, Ahern’s Raw Organic Milk

Dan and Ann Ahern switched to organic production in 1999 on their farm in Ballysimon, Midleton, in East Cork where they now produce organic raw milk from their Jersey cows and organic eggs from free-ranging hens. 

Their organic raw milk has proved especially popular and is offers a taste of what milk once was before the industrialisation of dairy. 

Cáis Irish Farmhouse Cheese

Cáis is the association of Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers, an occupation which in itself is one of the most sustainable methods of food production in Ireland and kickstarted the modern Irish food revolution when Veronica Steele first made Milleens cheese, in Beara, in 1977. 

As a collective, Cáis represents the makers of truly world-class cheeses, fit to grace any table anywhere, one of the finest of all reflections of the innate quality of premium Irish produce. 

No kidding: Siobhán Ní Ghairbaith, St Tola Irish Goat's Cheese
No kidding: Siobhán Ní Ghairbaith, St Tola Irish Goat's Cheese

Siobhán Ní Ghairbaith & John Harrington, St Tola Irish Goat’s Cheese

We could have picked any number of Irish farmhouse cheesemakers but St Tola has been going that extra mile for over 20 years, with a highly proactive and comprehensive sustainability programme on the 60-acre family farm at the edge of the Burren, all the while producing delicious cheeses. nearly 20 years. 

The couple actively promotes the principles of conservation and responsible farming, helping to educate and inspire the general public. 

The Little Milk Company

The Little Milk Company is an innovative co-operative demonstrating that environmentally responsible small producers can thrive by working together as a collective which began with ten organic dairy farmers from Munster and Leinster, pooling their milk and adding value by creating a raw milk cheddar produced for them by Knockanore Irish Farmhouse Cheese. 

Today, they produce eight different kinds of cheese which are exported to 16 countries, using 70% of all the milk produced on ten family farms. 

Caroline Rigney, Curraghchase Farm

The only truly sustainable method of pig farming is free-range, which not only offers the pig a far superior quality of life but also results in premium meat that eclipses utterly industrially-farmed pork every single time. 

There are small free-range pork farmers dotted around the country and The Pig Society is endeavouring to add some collective energy to these individual enterprises but Rigney’s Curraghchase Farm, in Co Limerick, has always produced superb bacon, sausages, rashers, exquisite black and white puddings, and as befits a small, sustainable self-sufficient farm, she has added two very popular gluten-free granolas to her food output and the farm also operates as a small hospitality venture, offering B&B and is now moving into holistic therapies and wellbeing packages. 

The Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland

If small livestock farmers choosing an alternative route to market other than supplying the industrial meat processors for what is becoming a deeply unsustainable level of payment, then it is essential to ensure the survival and development of Craft Butchers and small-scale abattoirs and to maintain traditional manufacturing butchery skills in Ireland. 

Department of Agriculture tends to favour the industrial model ever time so the ACBI remain a vital organisation deserving of the unbridled support of every meat consumer in the country. 

Owen & Mimi Crawford, Co Tipperary

There is an ever-growing band of farmers choosing an alternative to the conventional mainstream farming model which is not only failing to adequately support the primary producers but is also wreaking havoc on the environment and Crawford’s Farm is an excellent example of the alternative in action: a small, certified organic farm focused on diversity and holistic management - integrating environmental stewardship with high welfare animal husbandry to produce healthy soils, diverse pastures, wholesome grains and the highest quality beef, pork and rich raw milk, cream, butter and buttermilk. 

Clive Bright, Rare Ruminare

Clive Bright produces and direct-sells (including online) the finest 100% pasture-fed organic beef and rosé veal through his company, Rare Ruminare. 

Farming in south Sligo, he uses Holistic Planned Grazing to manage animals and diverse grassland, and has a keen interest in the very progressive area of agroforestry, actively increasing tree cover to create a high welfare, resilient habitat. 

Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb

A family business, rearing superb lambs, slaughtering in their own abattoir and then selling from their own shop is a sublime example of bringing the carbon footprint down to almost zero. 

Their flocks graze on commonage areas, grazing and foraging on natural foliage, areas pure and uncultivated, unfertilised and unploughed, controlling several invasive species on Achill. 

Winners of the national Farming for Nature Award in 2018, an accolade of genuine substance, they have implemented multiple sustainability initiatives, especially commendable, their nose-to-tail ethos and regular campaigns to promote the eating of offal and other lesser-used cuts.

Gannet Fishmongers

Defining truly sustainable seafood and fishing is a head-wrecking argument that continues to rage, but Frenchman-turned-Galwegian Stefan Griesbach is a longtime fishmonger who makes a better fist than most in this country of not only defining an ethos you can support but putting it into practice in his business of selling fish, directly to the public and online with nationwide delivery. 

Mags and Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm, Co. Kilkenny
Mags and Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm, Co. Kilkenny

Mags and Ger Kirwan, Goatsbridge Trout Farm, Co. Kilkenny

There are many questions to be asked about the genuine sustainability and environmental soundness of marine fish farms at sea but the freshwater ponds on this second-generation offer a very viable alternative, which Mags and Ger have added further value by creating a premium range of trout products, most notably their Goatsbridge Trout Farm Caviar. 

Mary Regan, Regan Organic Farm, Co Wexford

Over the last 40 years, chicken has been so debased and devalued as a food product that it is near impossible for small independent poultry farms to survive, competing against a giant multiple-dictated industrial sector producing inferior and ridiculously cheap meat, laced with all manner of unwanted antibiotics and growth hormones. 

To offer an organic alternative is even harder again, a testament to Mary Regan’s spirit of endeavour and commitment to mixed (she also has dairy cows, ducks and free-range pigs), regenerative farming. That her chicken is of excellent quality is hardly surprising.

Ronan Forde & Méabh Mooney, Otofu

A more sustainable future will entail eating less meat, ideally buying directly from the primary producer ensuring the farmer receives a proper reward for producing premium meat. 

Also, we need to explore alternative protein sources and this excellent Irish-made organic tofu is just that, with the business developed along with strong ethical and environmentally sustainable guidelines. 

Ongoing experiments in soy growing in the UK suggest that it may be possible to develop a strain that would prosper here and a visionary North Cork farmer is already growing lentils and lupins in substantial volumes; should this eventually happen, expect Otofu to be the first to develop an entirely Irish grown and produced tofu. 

Olivier Beaujouan, of On the Wild Side, Co Kerry
Olivier Beaujouan, of On the Wild Side, Co Kerry

Olivier Beaujouan, On the Wild Side, Co Kerry

Using only free-range pork and often foraged ingredients, professionally trained butcher, chef and charcutier Olivier Beaujouan produces the finest charcuterie in Ireland, which he sells at local markets and Limerick’s Milk Market every Saturday, including salamis, cured and smoked meats, patés, fresh sausages and pickled seaweed. 

It may be a tiny homespun enterprise but it should be the benchmark model to inspire myriad more such Irish producers in the future, adding value to the primary product and evolving new Irish food traditions. 

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Thomas & Claire O’Connor, Manna Organic Farm & Store, Co Kerry
Thomas & Claire O’Connor, Manna Organic Farm & Store, Co Kerry

Thomas & Claire O’Connor, Manna Organic Farm & Store, Co Kerry

Thomas O’Connor is entirely focused on growing nutrient-dense and healthy foods, free from pollutants, pesticides, herbicides and man-made chemicals, which he and Claire then sell in their farm shop but beyond that, he is a committed activist and brilliant and passionate speaker, deeply involved with transitionkerry.orgtarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> for over 15 years, and with the farming organisation, is committed to finding an alternative model of regenerative and resilient agriculture creating a better food system in Ireland, with access to healthy, nutritious and affordable local food for all, while benefitting and restoring natural ecosystems. 

New Leaf Urban Farmers founder Kevin Wallace, holding some of his award-winning produce
New Leaf Urban Farmers founder Kevin Wallace, holding some of his award-winning produce

Kevin Wallace, New Leaf Urban Farmers, Co Limerick

Wallace grows vegetables and herbs in a sustainable and ecological manner on a 100% chemical-free farm which he sells to restaurants, retail clients and via CSA box schemes, all with an added social dimension, teaming up with Focus Ireland, with a longer-term vision is to provide training, voluntary and employment opportunities to socially marginalised people from Limerick city and the surrounding area. 

Paddy Frankel, Kilbrack Organic Farm, Doneraile, Co Cork

The Frankel Family have working on their organic farm since 1973, Paddy having taken over from his father and the mixed farm produces fruit, juices vegetables and livestock (sheep and cattle), which is sold locally and every Saturday at the Coal Quay farmer’s market in Cork city and to restaurants. 

The farm also uses large working horses, Percherons, which are worked using traditional methods. 

Cork Rooftop Farm

Born of a lockdown impulse, Brian McCarthy’s journey from commercial flower importer to permaculture urban farmer has been quite astonishing and shows no sign of stopping, as the rooftop farm in the heart of the city has been joined by a market garden outside the city and a zero-waste refill store downstairs at ground level, selling Cork Rooftop Farm produce. 

Michael Kelly, founder of GIY
Michael Kelly, founder of GIY

Michael Kelly, GIY International and GROW HQ, Waterford

Michael Kelly founded GIY in 2008, one of the most important activist food enterprises of recent years, supporting people around the world to live healthier, happier and more sustainable lives by growing some of their own food and the mission is to educate and enable a global movement of food growers whose collective actions will help to rebuild a sustainable food system. 

In 2022, GIY hopes to inspire over 1.8m people to grow, cook and eat some of their own food at home, school, work and in the community. 

Their GROW HQ market garden, orchard, cafe and resource centre, in Waterford City, is a brilliant vision realised in bricks, mortar and a whole lot of soil and plants. 

Fergal & Sally Smith, Moy Hill Farm, Co Clare

With a background in horticulture, former pro surfer Fergal and Sally were there for the start of Moy Hill as a small half-acre community garden that has now morphed into a 65 acre mixed regenerative farm, its mission, to feed as many people as with healthy nutritious food while regenerating land and ecosystems, and providing education and training on regenerative farming techniques. It is a true national treasure. 

Stephen Sinnott, Food for Humans

What began as an exercise in working with hydroponics for self-confessed tech nerd Stephen Sinnott has since evolved into one of the most progressive growing operations in Cork, not only entirely devoid of any chemical inputs, but using cutting edge organic bio-technology methods, to produce superb fruit and vegetables, including some of the best strawberries in Ireland. 

This year should see the country at large sit up and take notice as their experimental growth of some quite extraordinary Charentes melons last year will this year be sold on a commercial basis; expect a stampede. 

David and Lydia Bushby, Bushby’s

This father and daughter team produce the grand cru champagne of Irish strawberries and even more astonishing raspberries, in their family holding just outside Rosscarbery, and without the use of chemical inputs. 

Maria & David Flynn, Ballymakenny Farm Irish Heritage and Specialty Potatoes

A decision to change from growing the usual suspects on the retail shelves to specialising in Irish heritage and specialty potatoes, including purple Violetta, Red Emmalies, Yukon Gold and Pink Fir Apple, grabbed the attention of top Irish chefs soon followed by the general public, recognising a superb product for what it was, turning a business that usually requires growing at an enormous scale to survive, into a genuinely sustainable producer of a premium Irish food product. 

Con Traas, The Apple Farm, Co Tipperary

Started by his parents Willem and Ali Trass who moved to Ireland from Holland over 40 years ago, Con Trass is now one of Ireland’s horticultural gurus, dedicating himself to the to the Irish Apple Growers’ Association and the promotion of Irish apples, while farming organically 40 acres of fruit including 60 varieties of apples, seven types of soft fruit, four types of plum, three types of cherry and two types of pear, sold fresh or made into juices, jelly, cider vinegar, ciders and jams and sparkling apple juice. 

Steve & Claire Collins, Derryduff Farm, West Cork

Steve Collins is a trained doctor who has spent half his life working on the frontline of famine relief in some of the most troubled hotspots of sub-Saharan Africa but he is also an organic farmer, living with wife Claire and children Sean, Cara and Conor, in a stunning if remote eyrie, halfway up a mountain west of Bantry, in West Cork, raising Dexter cattle but also growing superb blueberries of a quality that makes a great case for designating the unique micro-climate of that part of West Cork as the ideal place to start a native Irish blueberry growing sector.

David & Martina Burns, Richmount Elderflower Cordial

David and Martina produce stunning elderflower drinks (sparkling and cordial) made from elderflowers picked in their prime from their sustainably-managed elder orchard, the largest elder orchard in Ireland. They also produce sparkling Elderflower drinks. 

In autumn, the elderberries are harvested to make Elderberry cordial. Their drinks are a delicious alternative to alcohol and suitable for many types of occasions. What’s more, there is a new product in the pipeline that we can guarantee is going to take the Irish food world by storm. 

Quincey Fennelly & Simon Lynch, Wicklow Wolf

Independent Irish craft beer brewers are automatically more sustainable and environmentally friendly than their industrial counterparts but Wicklow Wolf have taken their commitment to astonishing levels, too much to list here, covering four key pillars of sustainability (emissions, energy, waste & water), from growing their hops to installing state of the art systems to meet their goal of zero carbon footprint by 2023. 

Rod & Julie Calder-Potts, Highbank Organic Orchards

Rod and Julie Calder-Potts of Highbank Organic Orchards are renowned for numerous products including their Irish Orchard Syrup, made purely from apples with no added sugar or sweeteners and grown, distilled and bottled on Highbank Farm, converted entirely to organic in 1994 and over time adding two small lakes, woodlands and various wildlife habitats. 

They have expanded their range to produce organic apple juices and ciders, apple-based spirits (Crystal Apple Gin, Organic Pink Flamingo Gin, Organic Apple Vodka, Organic Orchard Liqueur and a calvados-style Organic Orchard Spirit), but even more, they have served as passionate and committed ambassadors for a regenerative and truly sustainable way of working the land for decades. 

Mark Jenkinson, Irish Cider Mill Slane, Co Meath

Mark produces one of the finest ciders to be found anywhere in the world, Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved Cider, and has dedicated himself to reviving ancient cider traditions from his organic farmhouse orchards, the only cider producer in Ireland to practise keeving, a traditional and fully natural fermentation process, he produces just 20,000 litres of Cockagee Pure Irish Keeved cider a year, and the entire farm is an exercise in fostering biodiversity and truly regenerative farming practices. 

Daniel and Géraldine Emerson, Stonewell Cider

Geraldine and Daniel make traditional, additive-free cider using only local, Irish-grown apples, all blends developed using Loire Valley born and raised-Geraldine’s father’s old cider press. 

Their ‘tawny’ is utterly stunning. Post-fermentation deposits are used to generate green energy and they are currently working on a project to use the pressed apples in a food product.

All About Kombucha, Co Galway
All About Kombucha, Co Galway

Emmett Kerrigan and Keith Loftus, All About Kombucha, Galway

Operating a carbon-neutral kombucha brewery, All About Kombucha produce bottles of unpasteurised, live and organic kombucha, hand-bottled and brewed in Galway. 

As a member of 1% for the Planet, they donated 10% of all brewery profits in 2021 towards planting Native Irish Trees & supporting regenerative agriculture. 

Brian Ó Briain & Alan Coleman, Anam Coffee

Roaster Brian sources single-origin coffees from around the world and is the only roaster in Ireland to only use organic beans. 

In addition, to producing truly gorgeous roasts, he ‘hedges’ when purchasing, guaranteeing a price in well in advance of purchase which allows the farmer to plan for future investment. 

Gary Grant, Imbibe Coffee

Even if Grant didn’t produce some of the very best single-origin coffees being roasted in this country, he would deserve inclusion for his brand of ‘conscious capitalism’ which involves donating 1% of annual sales, not profit, to charity and 1% of same to his staff, as well as supporting community development projects for the coffee producers from whom he sources. Last year, the 2% amounted to 16% of overall profits. 

Freda Wolfe, Intelligent Tea, Dublin

Inspired by traditional Irish herbalism and natural healing, chef and herbalist Freda Wolfe created a range of therapeutic Intelligent Teas, made from organic and wild herbs & plants are native to Ireland, prepared in small batches and packed in bio-degradable bags. 

Nettles, dandelions, elderflowers and hawthorn are among the loose-leaf plants carefully blended to create effective balanced curative and delicious teas, that taste great. 

She is also a beekeeper with husband Edward Bala selling their Clever Honey at local shops and markets. 

Allison Roberts, Exploding Tree
Canadian-born chocolatier Allison Roberts began her micro-bean to bar Clonakilty Chocolate Factory with her environmental and ethical manifesto dictating every single step from the off, committing herself to crafting with only 100% Fairtrade cocoa and coconut sugar, and over ten years ago switched to buying only 100% biodegradable, low-carbon and sustainably manufactured packaging, now only using packaging that can be composted or recycled, and even made from post-agricultural waste and plant-based cellulose. 

The business does not own a vehicle and all deliveries are made by post or bicycle and the boxes are made from post-consumer recycled card. 

Allison is also involved in Clonakilty Bike Circus Community Bike Workshop, Cut-the-rubbish, a documented zero waste year and Clonakilty Fairtrade. 

Gordon Greene of Wild Irish Foragers
Gordon Greene of Wild Irish Foragers

Sharon & Gordon Greene, Wild Irish Foragers

Working from Gordon’s 5th generation family farm, the pair have been creating fine syrups, jellies, shrubs and sauces from wild and foraged ingredients for years, eventually starting the business in 2013. 

They avoid horticultural cultivation, expanding the business by renovating an old farmyard mill to facilitate courses and events, creating sustainable employment opportunities for their family, neighbours and wider community. 

Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribben, Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms

Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms are grown in a unique microclimate in Co Cork. 

Applying a serious background in food science to a firm commitment living a sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle, the couple revolutionised the Irish food industry when Lucy unveiled her now multi-award winning home grown Irish exotic mushrooms allied which they sell along with an extensive range of wild Irish mushrooms foraged by Mark. 

They have made their business truly sustainable by adding a range of highly innovative and international award-winning value-added food products, the latest, Shiitake Bites, a mushroom crispy snack food set to be a monster smash. 

Irish Seed Savers Association, Scariff, Co Clare

Another hugely important Irish food activist and educational organisation dedicated to growing and saving varieties of food crops traditional or native to Ireland, to preserve agricultural heritage, safeguard genetic biodiversity, and ensure food security for Ireland. 

The Association focuses on propagation of varieties relevant to Irish conditions, to preserve those conditioned to Irish conditions. 

The collection consists of 48 varieties of native Irish grain, 50 varieties of heritage potatoes, 140 distinct apples and a seed bank of over 600 varieties of rare and endangered vegetable varieties. 

In the orchard they have 33 self-rooting types of apple trees that need no grafting for propagation and the 20-acre seed farm, orchards and a new seed processing and storage facility are open to the public, with seeds and apple trees available for purchase online. 

Ailbhe Gerrard, Brookfield Farm
Ailbhe Gerrard, Brookfield Farm

Ailbhe Gerrard, Brookfield Farm

Ailbhe’s Brookfield Farm near Lough Derg, in Co Tipperary, serves as an ideal exemplar of the type of sustainable, regenerative approach to farming required to make the essential adaptations and alterations to the current deeply unsustainable model of industrial monoculture that constitutes global agriculture. 

Farmer and beekeeper, Ailbhe has an academic background in sustainable and organic farming and also lectures at Gurteen Agricultural College, and the farm serves as a ‘teaching aid’ as much as a food production centre, welcoming visitors for open days to view broadleaf forestry, wildflower meadows, lambs, crops, hives and craft demonstrations. 

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