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IRISH EXAMINER: RAY RYAN: Farm to festive fork — why it’s so important to keep it local this Christmas

December 14, 2020 Profiles and Interviews
A Festive Food Heroes campaign by Agri Aware highlights the work of farmers in producing the food that we all enjoy this festive season

AN explosion in online shopping has led to a big increase in delivery van traffic across rural as well as urban Ireland.

Rural roads have never seen since such activity since the days of the Circuit of Ireland motor rally and the Rás Tailteann and other cycle races which brought cavalcades of service trucks, vans, motor bikes, and cars through remote places.

Christmas shopping is being done in a different landscape this year due to Covid-19 restrictions with a greater emphasis than ever on buying local whether in store or online.

The food chain from farm to fork is among the sectors which has responded in style to the growing demands of consumers.

With the mere click of a mouse, or a simple telephone call, people can order their food, groceries, and other products from the comfort of their own homes.

  They can also be assured of prompt deliveries to their front door due to the increasing use of individual postcodes or even avail of click and collect services.

The food chain includes those who are in farming and fishing, those who process and market the products, drivers who deliver to shops and supermarkets and staff who stock shelves and operate counter and checkout services.

All links in the chain, which also includes butcher’s shops, have helped to maintain food supplies during the public health restrictions and are continuing to provide valuable services as they adapt to Christmas 2020 after ten challenging months.

A Festive Food Heroes campaign just launched by Agri Aware aims to show the work of farmers in producing the food that is eaten and enjoyed by millions of people at Christmas.

It involves farmers explaining to consumers how they look after their animals and crops to the highest standards all year round to ensure families can enjoy fresh and sustainable Irish produce.

Agri Aware chairman Alan Jagoe said this year more than ever, it is important that consumers buy Irish locally produced food and realise that farmers are the backbone behind the food eaten at Christmas.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who visited vegetable growers in north County Dublin, last week to coincide with the campaign launch, urged consumers to consider their responsibilities as well as their options when it comes to choosing their vegetables.

“This is not just about the excellent quality of the Irish root vegetables which are available.

It is also about sustainability.

“I believe that as consumers we all have a responsibility to buy local so that unnecessary food miles, which are a significant factor contributing to climate change, can be eliminated,” she said.

Ms Hackett, who has responsibility for horticulture in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, outlined the range of vegetables available.

“While vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage thrive all year, this is also the season for root vegetables.

“Fresh Irish carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, swedes, sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli all are both delicious and versatile, and can make up a wide range of dishes,” she said.

It's been a difficult year for the foodservice industry.It’s been a difficult year for the foodservice industry.

According to Bord Bia, it has been a difficult year for the Irish food service industry which is expected to lose over €4bn in consumer spending, a 47% drop.

However, it predicts that, even in a worst-case scenario, there will be some bounce back next year in market recovery.

The sector covers everything from pubs, restaurants, cafes, and hotels to catering services offered in institutional settings such as workplaces, hospitals, and educational institutions.

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said despite 2020 being a tough time for many in the sector, there were also amazing examples of resilience in the face of adversity.

Some of these were shared with almost 500 delegates at its virtual food service seminar broadcast from the RDS last month.

They included a restaurant chain driving increased sales through off premises activity and ‘cloud’ kitchens, a city centre-based salad bar partnering with a suburban coffee shop to reach customers working from home and a handmade dessert producer that developed a direct-to-consumer channel.

“These are just some examples of the grit and determination that the Irish food and drink industry continues to display and ultimately a testament to those that rise to ongoing challenges day in, day out.”

Good Food Ireland founder and chief executive Margaret Jeffares also stressed recently that choosing to buy local is needed now more than ever.

“If 2020, has shown us anything it is the strong sense of solidarity that the public feels for our local hotels, restaurants, food shops, cafes, food and drink producers and other local businesses within our towns and villages,” she said.

She added that Good Food Ireland members are committed to sourcing ingredients locally in support of local farmers, food producers and fishermen, ensuring local jobs and businesses continue to remain viable.

Love Irish Food executive director Kieran Rumley said Covid-19 has been an unprecedented challenge to the sector.

Farmers need our support now more than ever.Farmers need our support now more than ever.

As a material contributor to the local and national economies, it faces significant uncertainty, He said Irish food brands are increasingly being supported by shoppers, but Brexit will bring further complexity to an industry already over-burdened by the Covid-19 fallout.

Love Irish Food has called on shoppers to increase their support for locally produced food brands to ensure a strong, vibrant, and independent supply to supermarket shelves at a vital point in our economic history.

As the Christmas shopping spree intensifies, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has urged people to shop local and safely this Christmas.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, noting that small businesses employ over one million people and are a crucial part of the economy, said: “I hope we can all get behind them this Christmas.”

There are already signs that those appeals are having an impact. Recent research by Visa showed that shoppers are keen to repay local businesses for their work during lockdown, including the delivery of essential food and other items to vulnerable customers.

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