So last week I got to go to a Fashion Trail and this week I got to go to a Food Trail, this blogging craic is great! Seriously though, the best thing about it was that since they were both held in Galway and showcased local producers and businesses I got the opportunity to see for myself what’s going on in Galway and to be honest I hadn’t realised just how successful, and how varied the pool of entrepreneurial talent is here. The fact that these events also give people the chane to meet and interact with the people behind the businesses is inspiring as I really do think that anyone who has to guts to go out on their own, follow their dream, put in endless hours of work and not even be guaranteed a salary at the end of the week is inspirational and I’m not using that word lightly. Even more impressive is anyone that can grow that businesses, take on employees and be responsible for other peoples and their families livelihoods. It’s not an easy to thing to do.
The Local Enterprise Office in Galway are hugely supportive to businesses and offer everything from simple advice, grants, workshops, events, mentoring and courses, most of which are free. It was them who organised last weekends hugely successful Local Food and Craft Fair in the Black Box. They also organised this Food Trail with Sheena Dignam who runs the Galway Food Tours (well worth going on if you’re planning a trip to Galway and want an insiders tips of the best places to eat). Thanks to the Into the West Blogger Network, myself and three other Foodie Bloggers (Becky, aka Cuddle Fairy, Ciara from How to be Fed and Anna-Jane from Thyme to Eat) were invited along on the trip. Despite the absolutely, unbelievably, torrential rain (I can’t even emphasize it enough!!) we had a fantastic day visiting local producers Green Earth Organics, The Friendly Farmer and Galway Hooker Brewery.
First up on the trip was Green Earth Organics in Corandulla. They supply a lot of the restaurants and cafes in Galway as I’ve seen them mentioned on a lot of menus (you know somethings good when the restaurant wants to list their supplier on the menu). We were met by Kenneth and although he had planned to take us out on to the 25 acres of organic farmland it was so wet that it actually would have been like doing Tough Mudder all over again! Instead we got into some of the polytunnels and I was in my element surrounded by spinach and listening to the chemistry of food production. I’m actually not joking, I’ve probably eaten a polytunnel of spinach myself and secondly because I’m currently doing an essay on the active anti-carcinogenic compound in broccoli (I kid you not, if you’ve been following my snapchat you’ll know it’s been taking up a lot of time) so when I heard we’d missed out on seeing the broccoli fields I must admit the inner nerds heart broke a little. Anyways it turns out Kenneth has a degree in Chemistry and used to work in the pharmaceutical industry, so rather ironically when he took over the running of his grandfathers farm in 2004 he got it certified as organic and hasn’t used chemicals since…
For example, instead of using chemical fertilizers he uses seaweed and chicken manure supplied by other farmers (which in turn reduces farm waste). To control blight in plants they use a mix of washing soda and copper sulfate which, unlike the non-organic counterparts, are not absorbed into the plant and therefore our bodies. On the farm they try to grow everything outdoors and in season but during the Winter when there’s low light they use the polytunnels. To keep up with the Irish demand for various fruits and vegetables which are out of season they import them from other countries and despite what you might think, studies have shown that the carbon footprint of importing these during the off-season is less than if we were to try grown them here.
Kenneth and his wife Jenny have turned their farm into a national success with their produce being sold all over Ireland. Apart from running a farm shop and stall at the Moycullen market they have gone digital and now also run an online store where you can place an order for a vegetable box to be delivered to your door every week or month with the added bonus of allowing you to pick and chose exactly what you want and substitute out what you don’t want and they deliver all over the country.
Next up on the trail was The Friendly Farmer poultry farm in Athenry where we met Ronan Byrne and his bitches, five of them and one male Polish Tatra Sheepdog (the only male of this breed in Ireland and the UK). The dogs are an integral part of the farm operation as they are specially bred and trained to protect the livestock they live amongst from predators (both human and animal). This is massively important on Ronans farm as one of the things that sets it apart from the large commercial poultry farms is that the birds are free to roam outside and run around (if birds can even run?) 24/7 and are never locked into a shed. Without the dogs, which also include sheepdogs and beautiful Pyrenean Mountain dogs this wouldn’t be possible.
Again, due to the weather conditions we couldn’t have the talk on the farm itself but luckily enough the abbatoir was free for us…Which actually wasn’t that bad. It was small, spotless and very efficient and if you’re going to eat meat then it’s good to know exactly how it gets on to your plate. Ronan rears Hubbard chickens which arrive on the farm as day old chicks. They are then raised under 36C lamps to simulate the mother hen before being let outside at 5-6 weeks where they spend the rest of their days. Ronan and his team also rear Alyesbury ducks, geese and Bronze turkeys (which we got to see – It was the first time I’ve ever actually seen a live turkey and I have to say that they’re fairly impressive looking creatures).
Another unique aspect of this farm is that all produce is either sold directly to the customer or the restaurant which cuts out the need for a middle man meaning he can sell the poultry at a reasonable price and make a profit but maintain a very high standard of quality.
The last, and highly anticipated stop was the Galway Hooker Microbrewery in Oranmore where we were given a full tour and run-through of the brewing process by Headbrewer Aidan Murphy. The brewery was established in 2006 by Aidan and his cousin Ronan Brennan. Originally situated in Roscommon (because they were able to take over an old brewing premises) they eventually relocated to Galway in 2014 where they continue to produce their award winning craft beers.
Their flagship product is an Irish Pale Ale, which we got to sample and which I can confirm is delicious as can whoever stole the bottle I bought afterwards out of my fridge! I’m in no way a beer expert but do love trying out various craft varieties, largely due to the fact that they always have such unusual names, Galway Hooker being no exception!
Although there was no beer being made on the day (it’s a small business so the brewers need days off too!) we did get a tour of the production site and all the machines, which are huge! We also learnt about the craft beer brewing process, which still follows the same traitional methods as it did in the past, except now they use fancier machines which enable them to produce 500,000 litres of the stuff a year!
To make beer firstly barley is malted and then mashed to convert the starch into sugar. This provides the sweet taste in beer but also acts as the substrate for the yeast which is added in later and converts the sugar into alcohol. To balance out the sweetness and confer some antimicrobial properties to the beer, hops are added. Hops are flowers (of which there are hundreds of varieties) with a bitter taste. The variety and amount used can alter the bitterness/sweetness of a beer.
Luckily for us we got to sample some of the Irish Pale Ale which paired nicely with our fancy ham and cheese sandwiches from Builin Blasta cafe in Spiddal, some delicious raw vegan caramel squares from my favourite dessert makers in Galway Bliss Bites Bakery and the Clean Green juice from Juicy Lucy (who are one of the local businesses taking part in Galway Local Enterprise Offices Food Academy Pogramme).
After the trail we headed back to the Black Box and got to have a look around all the stalls. There was so much on display and it was fantastic to see so many local businesses, new and old. In Galway we’ve got a great mix of businesses who have someone managed to battle through and survive the recession and then we’ve also got a huge influx of new entrepreneurs who the recession seems to have just motivated to work even harder. From artists, writers, restaurateurs, professionals, food producers, shop owners, brewers, tea makers, jewelry designers and skincare producers to milliners it seems like whatever your passion is that if you want to, you can turn it into a business. As a community I think the easiest way to support them is by incorporating a few local products in with our weekly shops, the fact that many supermarkets already stock these products is a bonus but many of them are becoming more innovative and are retailing online, making it easy for everyone to have access.