Ireland Part 2 of 3: Glenilen Farm

 
 

Glenilen Farm is located just outside the small village of Drimolegue in Co. Cork Ireland. They are a relatively small, family owned dairy farm with a large cheese house. The farm is owned and run by Alan and Valerie Kingston. They live on the property with Valerie’s mother and their three children: Ben, Grace and Sally. Alan’s brother Peter Ross owns a vegetable farm down the road. None of the Kingston land is certified organic but it is evident that animal welfare, social integrity and environmental stewardship are at the forefront of what they do there. The cows are free of growth hormones and non-therapeutic anti-biotics with lush green pasture and abundant space. The employees are happy, appreciated and well taken care of. Outside ingredients are responsibly sourced. The cheese house/factory has solar panels, water reuse systems and plans for more low to no carbon energy production.
The land for both farms has been in the Kingston family for countless generations, as has most of the agricultural land in this area. In fact, it is said locally that agricultural land only becomes available for purchase every 80 to 100 years in Cork. Alan’s mother and father still live on the property and “Granddad” can be found, most days weeding somewhere in Peter’s vegetable fields or tending to his own flower gardens. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Granddad weeding side by side. His passion and love for the land of his forefathers is palpable. He said “if the day is fine, you should be working and getting your hands into the dirt.” He is the epitome of an old Irish farmer and truly never wants to find himself idle. Maybe that is why he is still able to get out and work each day at the age of 86.

 
Glenilen milks 60 of their own cows and purchases the rest of the milk from other neighboring dairy farms. The milk is transported to the cheese house where it is made into yogurt, butter, a soft cheese, clotted cream and cheese cakes for sales in various shops and supermarkets in Ireland and the UK. They also participate in local farmers markets and sell their milk by bottle refill. The farmers market is where this once small business started. Sales from markets now comprise little of the farms over all annual income but still keeps Glenilen present in the local community which is very important to them. Valerie began experimenting with cheesecake in the late 90’s and sold them at the local market. The cheesecakes were quickly popular and the business grew from there. They now employ 35 people that help with the cows and run the day to day operations within the cheese house. Alan still works most days and likes to oversee pasteurization etc., Valerie still experiments in the kitchen and their two daughters have also begun to help with the milking shifts. The family is adamant that no matter how large they grow, it is important to stick to simple, wholesome recipes with no additives or artificial ingredients. The welfare of their animals is also very important to them as is evident by their happy grazing cows.
 
I arrived there late on a Monday night and was greeted by the Kingston family. They were all wonderfully welcoming and there were hot scones on the table to fill my belly. These scones were just a token of the amazing baking that was to come. Valerie Kingston is a prolific and talented baker. She was often just “throwing something into the oven” and coming out with perfect biscuits, baguettes and scones. I spent my first day with them on the farm. In the morning I helped Valerie with the family’s large kitchen garden, harvesting the last of the currants and gooseberries for the season. In the afternoon the farm had a visit from the Minister of Agriculture for Shanghai. He and his group were there to learn more about dairy from the land that knows dairy best. It was interesting to hear the groups’ opinions on the relatively new dairy industry in China. Though the industry is new, it is already quite large and growing very quickly. Dairy seems to be thought of as a new health product for a culture that isn’t used to having it in their main stream diet.
The next morning was spent finishing some work in the kitchen garden and making preserves. We made a black currant cordial that Val was hoping to hang on to until winter (good luck, that stuff was delicious) and a black currant coolie to go with homemade ice cream. I spent the afternoon with Grace. We went and weeded a long row of peas in the rain in one of Peter’s fields. It was a great afternoon spent with a truly lovely young woman. We talked about her future and what she would like to do with life, she mentioned that farming may be one of her future ambitions and of course, as a female farmer, I thought that was great and made sure to tell her so. The time passed quickly though we were mud from head to toe when finished. Day three was an early morning for me. I went into the cheese house with Alan to start making the butter and pasteurize the milk for yogurt. Soon after that I was picked up to help with the morning harvest in one of Peter’s vegetable fields. I went with Peter and his employee Yannick. Both men were efficient in their work and not too much for chat. We harvested a van load of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in just a few hours. We drove to a few of the local shops and grocery stores to drop off the fresh produce. The shops in town were proud to sell Peter’s beautiful produce and seemed very happy to have something so local and fresh. I made it back to Glenilen just in time to see the last batch of butter finished for the day in all of its bright yellow glory. That afternoon was the one I spent with Granddad and as I stated before, it was time well spent. That evening we made Carrageen Moss Pudding. (Recipe to follow)
 
 

My last day with Glenilen was spent at the Cork City Farmer’s Market. The market was pretty similar to those found in foodie areas of the US. County Cork is the foodiest area in Ireland with many local and artisanal food producers. There were several vegetable and fruit farms, a fish monger, cheese makers, bakers, and prepared food producers present. It was great to see how proud the locals were of Glenilen’s success. They seemed to love the products and we were mostly sold out be the end of market. I spent the day refilling milk bottles and being made fun of for my American accent. (All ribbing lovingly given, I assure you). When the market was over, my partner and I packed up and headed back towards the farm, dropping off a few local deliveries on the way. That night the Kingston family treated me to a production of Wuthering Heights on the lawn of the historical Bantry House. I spent a large portion of the visit wandering around the estate gardens as well as enjoying the play.

 
 

My interview with Valerie Kingston:

Me: Why did you choose the path of sustainable agriculture and what was your journey to get there?
Valerie: Most farmers in Ireland be they dairy, meat or cereal farmers are totally reliant on subsidies from Brussels to make their enterprise commercially viable. Though we didn’t refuse the subsidies that we were entitled to, we were blessed with a ways and means to produce a viable product on our farm and sell it directly to consumers. It’s the hippie in me that loves that way of farming as well; using what you have, quality ingredients that are available to you cheaply and turning them into a value added product that the customer likes. I spent 5 years here in the kitchen developing my product before we realized that there was a market for it.
Me: What do you think of the current food system in your country?
Valerie: I’m quite proud of it, we have a great system of traceability in this country. Farmers often complain about all of the paper work that they need to complete about medications, pesticides etc. that are used on the farm, but that has given customers, both inside and out of Ireland confidence in the food that we produce.
Me: What do you see for the future of food in your country?
Valerie: I would love to see Ireland as a niche producer of high quality, minimally processed foods though I’m not sure if that is economically viable in terms of the problems that will exist with feeding the world. We will need to find a balance between feeding the world and doing it in a sustainable manner.
Me: Are you concerned about how climate change may affect your business in the future?
Valerie: I’m not particularly concerned for our business, but as for the rest of the country; we did lose 250 acres of Ireland in the winter storms this year. I’m just going to do the best that I can with our farm and the rest is out of my control. Ultimately, I believe that God is in control and it is my place to do my little part in my little corner.

What is your definition of sustainability?

 

Carrageen Mould

Last but not least we will have the recipe for Carrageen Moss Pudding or Carrageen Mould. Carrageen Moss can be found in the ocean around Ireland and often on the washed up on the shore as well. This will be a little difficult to make if you cannot get a hold of the seaweed that is required to make it but it is an interesting recipe anyway and one that has passed down in Valerie’s family for quite a while. It is a desert but it is also often used medicinally for sore throats.
What you will need:
1 pint of milk
¼ ounce of dried carrageen moss
1 whole vanilla bean
½ ounce sugar
1 pinch salt

1. Wash the moss and allow to steep in warm water for about 10 mins
2. Put the milk, the moss, the vanilla and salt into a saucepan
3. Bring it to a boil slowly and cook until the milk will coat the back of a wooden spoon
4. Remove from heat
5. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
6. Rinse a glass bowl or mold under cold water
7. Strain the mixture into the mould
8. Place the mould into the fridge and allow it to set
9. Loosen around the edges with a few gentle shakes
10. Slide the pudding onto a glass plate and serve alone or with fruit

 

That concludes my visit with Glenilen Farm. If you are interested in learning more about them and what they do, please visit www.glenilenfarm.com
Next post, we will have a visit with a sea salt factory and Ireland's best micro veg farmer. Again, if you would like to stay updated of the things that I have been doing; subscribe to the mailing list on the home page.

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