Monday, June 20, 2011

Making organics part of our food future

At the National Organic Conference in Limerick last week I grabbed this photo of Peter Ward with a large basket of potatoes wrapped lovingly in brown paper to hold in the steamy goodness. Peter provided lunch on the day(more pictures below) and what was particularly lovely was both the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the free range pork from Crowe's Farm in Tipperary but also the use of flowers to dress the meat and salads. It was a beautifully simple effect and one which summed up much of the philosophy of the conference itself.

I met a lot of great people on the day and learned
so much from the wonderful speakers, who brought expertise from both Ireland and abroad to the event. I particularly liked Henry Tucker's insights into the way consumers think and how food companies can exploit it. Basically when it comes to us consumers, it's all about ME. He pointed out how food producers sometimes neglect to aim their product at some need or desire the consumer has in their immediate sphere rather than appealing to the philosophical or ideological ideas behind organic or local food. We all want to eat food that has an "x factor"; and one of the ways producers can keep this to the forefront of what they are doing is to make sure the food they make tastes great. Really great.

Another speaker from the UK, Adrian Dolby explained the workings of the 7000 acre organic holding he manages in the Cotswolds. The farm keeps 2500 ewes outside all year on a diet of little more than grass. No supplementary feed, no worming doses, just pretty much them and mother nature out on the mountain; even for lambing, and the farm is a highly successful commercial enterprise. In fact the decision to change the farm to organic status was a commercial one rather than a "green" decision.

One of the highlights of the day for me was learning about how a group of ordinary families in Skerries County Dublin came together and approached a farmer to grow produce for them. It's a fantastic scheme, one which provides organic veg for consumers in Skerries which couldn't be more local (the farm overlooks the town) and provides a fair return to the farmer. The scheme is working well for everyone involved and could be replicated in areas all over Ireland; cutting out the middlemen, excessive packaging, transport and waste. Other workshop sessions on the day featured expert presentations and discussion on topics ranging from supports available to those considering organic farming to export markets for Ireland's produce.

One of the strong feelings emanating from the conference was the need to reach the consumer with a clearer message about what organic food stands for and the possible need for an over-arching group to represent organics in Ireland. There's no doubt consumers are sometimes put off by price but this message is not a simple one as organic food isn't always more expensive. They are also sometimes confused by its benefits.

Whatever the often conflicting research has said about polyphenols and the health properties of organic vegetables, I've always thought the point of organic food is that it comes without the pesticide and herbicide residues left behind by conventional farming. It is also much kinder to the environment and managing the fragile biodiversity of Ireland is essential for all of our food futures. The sales of organic food in Ireland are currently holding their own despite the recession, and the conference was another reminder of the passion, energy and innovation in the sector. A big thanks to Bord Bia, the Department of Agriculture and Limerick Institute of Technology for organising such a fantastic event.

I feel that organics in Ireland are now in the second generation; we now have big players like Glenisk selling organic food successfully in a tough economic environment to a discerning consumer. The green message is often not enough; the product has to compete with so many others that it has to be simply great in itself. But producers understand this and ideology has become reality; organic food is here to stay. It won't feed all of us all of the time, but it has a centrally important place in Irish food production and one that consumers are supporting with their buying habits. The conference presentations should soon be available to read at the bordbia website ( and as always I will keep you posted on news and industry trends for local and organic food. Happy eating x


  1. That is a great recap and it certainly sounds promising to hear that the organics sector is holding it's own during the 'current economic climate'.If only I could get my local Supervalu to carry Organic Milk.......

  2. That's a pity! Glenisk is such a great product - I've no problem saying this as I buy it myself and always have stacks of the milk and their natural yoghurt in the fridge. Tell your local Supervalu to step up their organic range, they actually have quite a commitment to organics in Ireland as it has a "halo" affect on other products. There you go, so it's not just for greenies....