The Hungry Gap

Ok so this is a little longer than usual please bear with me…. We grow carrots on our farm, a small amount to supply fresh carrots from August onwards. The old crops from last year are gone now. Our main carrot grower is based in Offaly and we have an agreement with him to grow our organic carrots. He supplied us the last of last year’s carrots at the end of April.

What then? You will see some of the big supermarkets are importing their carrots from Israel. The sun is shining, and the expectation is we can harvest carrots right now here in Ireland.  Well maybe on a small scale we can, early grown carrots from a polytunnel but in general we use approx. 1tonne of carrots per week we would need fields of polytunnels to supply all our early carrots.

So right now, at this moment we are getting our organic carrots from Spain. Is that ok? Is that what you would expect? Well, the expectation may understandably be: we can grow carrots in Ireland why aren’t they Irish? They are a seasonal crop, and whilst our carrots will be Irish for 70% of the year for the other 30% we still need organic carrots and they are imported.

Right now, you would be forgiven for thinking there should be more Irish produce available, the weather is great where are the Irish tomatoes?  Heat applied greenhouse grown conventional Irish tomatoes may be available. But again, in supermarkets you will see tomatoes with country of origin from all over Europe.

We pride ourselves on our cherry tomatoes, we are very good at growing them, and they are amazing, we have 1100 plants in the ground they were planted at the start of April (taking a major risk with frost threat, we had to put heaters in our tunnels to ensure they survived). These seeds were sown back in late January in heated polytunnels. Here we are nearly 4 months later, and our plants are about 1 meter high and have tomatoes on the vine. But give or take a couple of weeks (weather dependent), each year we harvest the first tomatoes mid-July, no earlier and the season runs to end of September. So, what to do? Well right now we have the most amazing organic cherry tomatoes (they are so sweet and nice) from a partner farmer in Spain.

Why is this? Right now we are in the middle of a the hungry gap and June is actually a difficult month to supply Irish produce, it is frustrating.  It is coming and soon it will be coming hard and fast, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, scallions, spinach, chard, onions, kale, courgettes, cucumbers, leeks and all the other vegetables you would expect from our own farm and farmers up and down the country we partner with.

When it comes to food security, we need to be realistic, all crops have their season. But to encourage an industry to invest in tomatoes back in January or for our conventional cousins in November or to invest in the infrastructure to be able to feed a nation with carrots then a fair price needs to be paid for the produce. End of story.

The supermarkets push, squeeze and destroy our industry it is their nature to push to the bottom to feed through the produce at the cheapest possible price to their customers. They create a mindset of devaluation of fresh produce by loss leading. Basically, saying it is worthless, not pleasant for those who work so hard to produce it.

They all do it. Is this a good thing? Well, it is causing farm after farm to close, it is unsustainable, farms can’t put up their prices, and yet all their costs go up. The long-term impact is unsettling.  If we want to have Irish carrots for 70% of the year or more then we need to protect our horticulture industry with fair pricing and fair practice. How else can we survive?

So as our season is on the cusp of really kicking in, all our investment is in the ground, and the schools from next week are closing and we will see a marked downturn in orders, that coupled with the fine weather (which is amazing) has a very negative impact on our business.  Please if you can at all don’t forget about us, the supermarkets won’t miss your custom, but we will.

And if you want to see and find out what is happening, on our farm come to our farm walk tomorrow Saturday the 03-June at 11am.  There will be a farm walk followed by a food demo by Lou Robbie our chef. Our farm shop will also be open 10am-5pm. So come and see and ask all your questions and see our farm.