I left Glenilen Farm in the afternoon and took a bus up to Cork city. I spent that night in a hostel and caught another bus back up to Dublin in the morning. I was on my way to a meeting with Brian Fitzpatrick. He and John Delaney are in the midst of starting a new organic sea salt company. I met Brian in Dublin and we took a ride up to their factory in Cloggerhead. Cloggerhead is considered to be the geological birthplace of Ireland. It was here that the land was thrust up out of the ocean to create the island. It is with this history in mind that Brian and John chose this as the place to start their business Oriel Sea Salt. Oriel only recently began to sell their sea salt and it has been a long road to get here. They began the business back in 2010 and started some small scale extraction in 2012. After several trials with different equipment, they settled on the method they are currently using. The sea water is taken up through a long pipe that goes deep down into the ocean and beyond the Cloggerhead port. It's then pushed through various filtration systems and into holding tanks. After that it goes through a series of evaporation and separation techniques. At various points along this process, they are collecting several products. As well as the salt, which is the bread and butter of this operation, they are also collecting deep sea minerals and another more refined, crystallized salt that falls out of the sea mineral solution as it cools. They are hoping to market the minerals as a health and beauty supplement and the crystallized salt to high end chefs. The Sea minerals come in a concentrated liquid. The liquid contains large quantities of Magnesium, an important mineral to the human body that many people lack in their modern diet. The salts crystals were really tasty all on their own. The finished, kiln dried sea salt is going to be sold in several forms. They are creating pressed salt blocks that can be used in charcuterie and other types of food preservation as well as a granulated, kiln dried version that can be used in the kitchen or at the table. The salt I saw in the factory is truly a beautiful product. Brian and John have big vision and big dreams. We went for a little walk into the town and up over the cliffs.
As we walked Brian and I talked about all of the things he and John hope to accomplish with their project. They are only at the beginning but Brian is full of ideas and it seems there will be much more to come. For now the salt is only retailed at one place: a small fish shop in town and it's popular enough that they have a hard time keeping it in stock. Brian sent me home with a vial of the concentrated sea minerals to supplement my water as I continue to travel. Probably a good idea since traveling always does take a lot out of you.
For more information please visit www.orielseasalt.com
After our walk, Brian took me on to the next destination of my tour that day. We went to meet up with his friend Brendan Guinan of In Season Farm. Brendan and his partner Margaret are Irelands premier micro veg farmers, they also preserve quite a bit of their produce, canning relishes and a variety of pickles. Brendan started the farm because he was sick of seeing all of the produce being imported into Ireland’s best restaurants. He spent a lot of time with chefs talking about what they would like to see and how frustrating it was for them to be forever importing food from mainland Europe. He started by selling directly to chefs and though it was going really well, he found that between phone calls and deliveries, he was losing a lot of time on the farm. He recently tried going through a local distributor to sell his produce but sales went down. He found, as I have that when dealing with chefs, the best person to sell the produce is the farmer. You both share a passion for the food and the feedback gained during delivery is priceless. He’s back to direct marketing now and things are going really well.
Brendan is determined that he can grow anything in Ireland. He grows a lot of varieties of beautiful, tiny produce. Baby rainbow carrots, tiny turnips, sprouting broccoli and fingerling potatoes just to name a few. He recently purchased at huge set of old glass houses. He is growing in a couple of them at the moment but the rest need some rehabilitation before they will be useful. He hopes to fill them with heat loving crops and diversify his vegetable menu. He was very excited to show off his new planting of sweet potatoes. When he is successful, as he is determined to be, he will be the first producer of sweet potatoes in Ireland. I think I found a kindred spirit in Brendan. We spent most of the afternoon geeking out about micro greens, obscure vegetable varieties and the best way to grow in glass houses. He sent Brian home with an armload of veggies for a surprise dinner for his wife and I headed back to Dublin.
For more information please visit www.inseasonfarm.eu
For my last night in Ireland I decided to stay outside of the big city. I went to a town called Swords because it is close to Malahide Castle. The head chef at the Avoca restaurant located in the castle and I had recently become Instagram friends and so I went to pay him and the restaurant a visit. I thought that swords was really close to the castle, but after arriving I found that I was wrong. As it turned out, it was a little over 5 km to the castle, the buses didn’t run very frequently so I decided to walk. I’m so glad that I did! On my way to the castle I happened to walk by The Malahide Allotments. It is the largest set of allotments in all of Ireland with over 250 plots. 70 of the plots are set aside for people with Epilepsy and Autism. There is a small farm store on the property selling transplants and gardening supplies. All of the profit for both the allotments and the farm store go towards Epilepsy Care Foundation. I spent a little time wandering around the plots and talking with some of the folks that were there to tend to their garden. The atmosphere of the place was jovial. In general people were being neighborly and chatting to one another about their yields, they were trading veg and very happy to talk to “the American farmer” It was truly a lucky happenstance for me.
For more information please visit www.malahideallotments.ie
I did eventually make my way to the castle and it was as beautiful as it had been purported to be. There were incredibly ancient trees and a beautiful flower gardens. The restaurant is on the property of the castle. Avoca is a market as well as a restaurant and there are quite a few of them in Ireland. They pride themselves on using fresh and locally produced ingredients. My new Instagram friend treated me to an incredible lunch and gave me a lift back to Swords.
That's it for my trip to Ireland. The folks there that are involved with the local food system, as both consumers and producers, are proud of what the country has to offer. It can be a difficult climate in which to grow food. There is rain and cool weather most of the year, but there are folks working hard to diversify their crops and really show what Ireland has to offer. People that are feeding their local community with fresh, nutritious food and a huge percentage of people that are growing their own food in both the cities and in the country. Thanks so much to all of you that hosted me and let me into your world, I'm grateful for the learning experience.
Up next: Manchester, England.