Roscommon organic enterprise in expansion mode

The Roscommon couple behind the Drumanilra organic enterprise is in expansion mode.

Liam and Justina Gavin relocated to Boyle from the UK in 2012 to build up a successful organic farm, organic burger bar / cafe and kitchen farm shop.

“On the farm, we still have a good bit of work to do to streamline the various enterprises and make them more efficient and cost-effective without compromising on the principles of high-welfare, low-input, outdoor-reared animals,” Justina said.

‘Economy of scale’

“We feel there is an economy of scale to reach, in terms of market for our produce and size of the holding.

“Liam is on the hunt for another chunk of quality land with a good set of farm buildings, where he can over-winter animals, produce organic hay and silage and possibly also grow oats and barley for feed. Organic feed costs for pigs and poultry are especially prohibitive,” she said.

“As our Dexter herd and sheep flock grow, we also need more space for grazing. This in turn means growing the market for our produce.

We are actively looking for new sites for the Drumanilra Farm Kitchen, in addition to our one in Boyle. We hope to open a cafe and farm shop in high-footfall locations in Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo. A major challenge has been securing premises in these towns.

“We also hope to redevelop the site in Boyle, eventually taking down the old building and putting up an energy-efficient timber-clad barn-style building housing: a larger restaurant; organic butchery; bakery; deli; and farm shop – perhaps incorporating a smokehouse, nano-brewery and a juicer to process apples from the farm.”

The Gavins are in the process of preparing a planning application for Boyle and a property in Carrick-on-Shannon which is subject to contract at the moment.

Tourism

The couple has a further ambition to build a boutique lodge-style guest accommodation on the farm, with a restaurant serving the farm’s produce.

“Also, we would like to develop visitor access to the farm – so that people can see for themselves how our farm works and learn a little bit about the principles of organic farming.

“We feel that Boyle and the surrounding area has so much little-exploited potential in terms of tourism, with lake and mountain activities on the doorstep and wonderful cultural and heritage sites to visit,” she said.

“We would love to add agri and food tourism into the mix for the town. Hopefully, we will see exciting things happening in the life of our business and the town of Boyle, over the next 12 to 24 months,” said Justina.

Step by step

So, with expansion on the cards, what advice would they give to others interested in following in their footsteps?

“I think it is a question of scale and level of investment. We started out knowing that we wanted a self-sufficient lifestyle for our family, involving producing as much of our family’s food requirements as we could from the land we lived on,” Justina said.

“However, we also knew that we wanted to establish something that was commercially viable and able to provide us with a sustainable income.

“The first objective could be done with a relatively small investment, especially if you are lucky enough to live on or inherit a piece of land, but would require an off-farm income,” she said.

Justina described it as a labour intensive lifestyle, but a hugely rewarding one.

“The second objective is much harder and much more expensive. It is still a work in progress for us, but also a passion. Perhaps if we were starting from a family holding with an established infrastructure, where the only challenge was creating a direct route to market for produce, the process might be more straight-forward,” she said.

Our experience has proved to us that there is increasing demand and interest from consumers in organic and low-input, high animal welfare and high nature value farmed food, and people are prepared to pay a premium for it.

“As we were literally starting from scratch – no infrastructure, no product, no route to market for that product – the challenges have been significant.

“However, of all the businesses we have worked together on, over the years, this is the one that has captured our imagination and taken all our creativity and problem-solving abilities,” said Justina.

“We spent a lot of years talking into the night about doing something like this. We now spend a lot of late night hours, working to make it happen.”