‘Happy Pear’ brothers seek meeting with minister on community farm

The energetic twins behind the well-known ‘Happy Pear’ vegetarian and vegan brand have sought a meeting with Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, to discuss the possibility of establishing a community farm.

David and Stephen Flynn were among the business owners present at the celebration of the fifth year of the Food Academy programme which is expected to generate €50 million in sales annually for emerging Irish food producers within the next five years.

Food Academy is a joint initiative between Bord Bia, the network of local enterprise offices and SuperValu, and was established to support early-stage Irish food businesses.

The Flynns echoed the agriculture minister’s sentiments in praising the programme’s value.

Since the programme’s inception in 2013, Food Academy graduates, supported by their local enterprise offices, have sold €78 million worth of produce in SuperValu stores, with the 329 suppliers involved growing to provide approximately 1,500 jobs.

With parents Donal and Ismay and younger brother Daragh involved, the Happy Pear business has made a huge impact since it started in 2004 with a small vegetable shop.

“We want to set up a community farm where the focus would be very much on local and organic produce. It would be an education centre where schools could come and visit,” said David.

“It could function with a social role but it could also be a commercial business. We hope that it would be on a large number of acres; we would have to raise a decent chunk of money to do it properly.

“We would see it as using best-in-world techniques and being highly effective with production,” he said.

We have been discussing this within the business for the last number of years and we have looked at farms but it didn’t quite happen. As a society, it would be great if we could get people more interested in where food comes from.

The twins are vegans for the last 16 years, having switched to a plant-based diet within a week of each other while travelling on opposite sides of the world.

Renowned wholefood and plant-based chefs, their Wicklow-based business employs 170 people.

It now includes: cafes; a farm in Kilcoole which produces wheat grass, “healthy living” sprouts and microgreens; a manufacturing and distribution business; a coffee roastery; and a fermentation kitchen.

The YouTube stars also moved into learning with both classroom and online ‘Happy Heart’ courses which they said result in an “average 20% drop in cholesterol levels and a decrease in blood pressure”.

“A lot of dairy and cattle farmers have been brought along to our courses by their wives. They would start off with arms folded but by week four they admitted that they couldn’t believe how good the food tasted.”

The brothers have found that horticulture tends to be in the shade in this country.

“From my knowledge, Irish agriculture is focused on raising cattle and dairy. It’s hard to get Irish fruit and vegetables at the same price as you can from Holland,” David said. “However, we are right beside Marc Michel, one of the first organic farmers in Ireland.”

The Happy Pear purchasing approach is multifaceted, with seasonality the top priority. Then it goes by: local and Irish sourcing; organic, where available; and after that, to source the best quality at the best price available.

Despite their passion for vegetarian and vegan food, the brothers – who are brand ambassadors for Super Valu and have worked with Jamie Oliver on his FoodTube network, Food Revolution Day, and at his annual food festival in the UK – said they don’t want to push it on people.

They avoid getting involved in hardline ‘them and us’ thinking. “Our business is not about making anyone become a vegetarian or vegan. It’s about getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Eight out of 10 Irish people don’t eat enough fibre. Fibre is only found in fruit, veg, beans, legumes and whole foods.

“It’s not found in animal foods and it’s very low in refined foods,” said David.

The brothers, who are known for their ‘swimrise’ tradition, said their approach is all about being healthier and happier. “Studies have shown that, to be happy, you have to prioritise your health. Our new book is called ‘Recipes for Happiness’.

“We are seeing growing interest in where food comes from and there is more education on the subject. With the demise in religion generally, people are looking for other things to find meaning in, and many are focusing on healthier lifestyles incorporating yoga and healthy eating.”

They are seeing increasing demand for vegan products in the UK, particularly among millennials. “That is where the real growth is. There have been a huge amount of documentaries on the environmental impact of our food choices, personal health and animal welfare,” David said.

There is a huge opportunity for everyone. You can either stand there and throw rocks at it or look at things differently.

“When we first became vegans, mum was extremely resistant. Yet she’s been eating a vegetarian diet for 10 years and feels healthier. She still runs half marathons at 67. Ultimately it’s all about being happy. We’re not trying to upset anyone.”