Since beginning our “farm to fork” experiment back in 2012, Christmas Dinner has taken on new meaning for us and this year never more so. Since the opening of our Farm Shop and Farm Kitchen in Boyle this past year, and the gradual evolution of our enterprises here on the farm by Lough Key, every element of our 2015 Christmas meal could be represented by concentric circles of connectedness to us, and brought to mind a memory and a collaboration.
In the outer circle, the wider Irish artisan food community we have taken great pleasure in discovering this year, through the products we have stocked in the Farm Shop alongside our own produce. From our Christmas starter of Hanlon’s Smoked Salmon, Llewellyns Orchard balsamic cider vinegar in our salad dressing and the Irish farmhouse cheeses of Cooleeney Cheeses, Coolea Cheese, and Knockanore Farmhouse Cheese that made up our cheeseboard. For us, these are aspirational products – representing families who have successfully overcome the many challenges of building a small business and a brand around a product made by hand, in small batches from, often own-farmed ingredients, with fast disappearing traditional skills.
The next of our concentric circles encompasses the products of new friends closer to home. The brown bread with our smoked salmon starter, baked by Nessa and Cliodhna of the Ardcarne Garden Cafe, organic roast potatoes and roast carrots with our main course, grown by Tom Browne just a mile or two around the lake from us, the beautiful mince pies for dessert, made by our good friends and neighbours at Clerragh Catering, and real ice cream by the fantastic Fabio’s Homemade Italian Ice Cream in Sligo. Also, truly local raw milk cheeses from the freezer on our cheeseboard: raw goats milk cheese with fennel seed from our lovely next door neighbours at Harmony Farm Smallholding and James Gannon’s Cloonconra Cheese raw milk cheese from his herd of endangered Irish Moiled Cattle in Castlerea.
And finally, taking pride of place at the very centre of our food circle and our Christmas table, the food we have produced ourselves here on Drumanilra Farm. The story of our organic goose with its sausage-meat stuffing flavoured with sage and crab-apple, our brussel sprouts and winter greens, is the story of the evolution of our farm, our animals and garden, and the many people who have helped us here at home over the last twelve months. From the long awaited award of organic status by the Organic Trust in May, our ten year old son Fionn’s first real responsibility on the farm: to waddle with the geese down to the orchard in the mornings and back to their shed in the evening; the litters of organic Tamworths and Berkshires produced by our two pedigree sows Rosie and Dolly; morning and evening feeds; late night farrowing, the transformation of our polytunnels and orchard from the straggling chaos whilst under my command, to order and bounty enough to supply our Farm Kitchen as well as the family, under the skilled hand of our organic gardener Julia Lehman. Fond memories of the 6 year old twins in summer, sent to harvest strawberries and tomatoes, arriving back at the house with juice smeared faces and little to show for their efforts, and carrying piglets down to a new field after the litter’s out-growing of the farrowing shed.
The network of organic farmers that Liam has built up, this year too, scouring the country to find other organic farmers to supplement our own pig, cattle and sheep herds for the Farm Shop; Gerry Burns in Sligo and Stanley Taylor in Boyle, whose small family run abattoirs ensure a swift, quiet and stress-free dispatch for our animals; and the skilled hand of Rory Quinn in the Farm Shop Butchery who prepares our meats ready for sale.
There is so much more to the story of the farm, not featured at our own Christmas meal, but on the plates of the wonderful customers who have supported the Farm Shop and Kitchen this year. Our pedigree Dexter herd increased to 20 breeding animals this year, ensuring a supply of organic Dexter burgers to our Farm Kitchen for the year to come. Our Jacob/Shetland cross sheep herd continues to grow. Our Bronze turkeys arrived as day old chicks in July and left us with a strangely silent field, at Christmas, plumper than planned.
We have lots planned for 2016 and beyond. On the farm: finishing our new timber-framed family home, new sheds for calving, farrowing, lambing and over-wintering; new accommodation for the turkeys and poultry and the general streamlining of our operations on the farm with a view to less traipsing around in the mud!; developing plans for an eco-tourism element to the farm too, incorporating farm-visits and a farm walk. At the Farm Kitchen site in Boyle: a new coffee machine; the opening of a retail space; and working on plans for the site’s long-term redevelopment; also the building of a website and online shop.
We also hope to continue building relationships with local craftspeople and artists. This year we have been lucky enough to have beautiful prints by local artists, Matthew Gannon and Susan Mannion of Yew Tree Studio, hanging in the Farm Kitchen dining room. We hope that other local artists will take up the invitation to hang their work in the space. We were also lucky enough to meet many local craftspeople through our Christmas Fairs this year. From basket-weavers, felters, jewellery and print-makers, blacksmiths and wood-turners, Boyle has many skilled crafts people living in its hinterland. We would love to see the garden at the Farm Kitchen evolve into a space that people can come to display their products and skills. We are working on various events for the summer with this in mind.
We hope all of you who have visited the Drumanilra Farm Kitchen and Lough Key Farm Shop in 2015 will pay us a visit in this coming year and want to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported our business along its journey so far. If you haven’t yet called in, we would love to see you! A very happy, healthy and prosperous 2016 to everyone from all of us here at Drumanilra Organic Farm!