A Co. Tipperary-based family that closed its mushroom business in 2016 as a result of Brexit, has just completed the organic conversion period and is awaiting organic status for its vegetables and salad leaves at Clonmore Farm in Cahir.

“We both grew up on dairy farms in Co. Monaghan so farming and work ethic was in our genes,” said Barbara Quinn, who runs the Clonmore Farm enterprise alongside her husband, James.

Daughter Aisling, who has a background in culinary arts, has also joined the business, focused on food safety and marketing.

Clonmore farm background

“We set up our first mushroom farm in 1992 in Monaghan at a time of high unemployment in Ireland. From there we moved to a new 9ac green field site in Tipperary in 1999, establishing our new mushroom farm,” Barbara said.

“Following numerous expansions and years of hard work, we were employing 55 staff and selling 35,000kg of mushrooms weekly.

“In autumn 2016 we were forced to close the business as a result of Brexit.”

“This situation allowed us the time to look at our options and everything came back to our passion for food – good healthy food that we couldn’t always find in the shops,” said James.

“We were always quality orientated with winning the quality and hygiene awards on many occasions with Bord Bia for our mushroom production.

Organic farming

“We registered and entered our farm into the conversion period with The Organic Trust in 2019 and began our journey towards organic farming. We have recently completed this conversion period and are awaiting organic certification this weekend. All our produce is chemical and pesticide-free,” Barbara said.

“We are currently producing from four polytunnels and 1ac of our land. We will continue to expand production and adjust our range of produce in line with market demand,” she said.

This year they have grown: salad; spinach; rocket, kale; chard; broccoli; cauliflower; beetroot; garlic; red onions; white onions; scallions; shallots; round and pointed cabbage; leeks; French climbing beans; mangetout; green and golden courgette; cherry and large tomatoes; carrots and potatoes.

“We also grew a small range of herbs – basil, parsley, dill, coriander, fennel – fresh cut and potted,” said Aisling.

“We are halfway through our Musgrave’s trial after graduating from SuperValu’s Food Academy earlier this year. We currently supply seven SuperValu stores in Tipperary and Laois, with our mixed salad leaves and spinach leaves,” she said.

“We continue to supply a number of local shops and two farmers’ markets – Cahir and Clonmel – with a range of our salads and vegetables. We are also supplying into Cahir and Clonmel Neighbourfood online farmers’ markets again with a range of our salad and vegetables.

“Just prior to lockdown we had planned a range of salads for the foodservice but plans had to change quickly due to the closure of the hospitality and food service industry. We started planting a range of vegetables to sell locally.

“So Covid-19 actually gave the enterprise a new direction but either way, we were determined to provide the most nutritious food for our customers locally,” Aisling said.

Covid-19 pandemic

“Lockdown, along with Brexit, brought with it a fear of food shortages so we wanted to be sure that would not happen for our customers or us. We began increasing our planting and broadening our range,” Aisling continued.

“This, along with support from our Local Enterprise Office, Micro Finance Ireland and others, meant we were able to create our brand and presence by setting up two farmers’ market stalls.

“We completed our website/online shop which will be operational soon, and set our food safety standards to a level that will give the consumer confidence in our products,” Aisling said.

Barbara added: “This enabled our customers to purchase our produce in a safe outdoor shopping environment. Covid really made us realise how important it is to fuel our bodies with nutritious, chemical-free food. If you have your health, you have everything.”

The family is currently in the middle of the busy growing season. “We are doing lots of planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, preparing and packing,” James said.

“We currently do all our own deliveries to ensure our product is delivered chilled and on time. With natural and organic growing, weeds are controlled manually which means a lot of hoeing and weeding at this time of year.

“Hot spells of weather increase demand for our salad so we must always be prepared for an unexpected surge. We are also preparing our winter planting schedule with the aim of having it all planted by September,” he continued.

“We plan to increase our production and extend our range to suit our customers’ needs, creating more employment in the area. We appreciate all our customers and their loyalty in supporting local.

“We also plan to be more sustainable and are currently researching new packaging etc. For us all, Clonmore Farm has only just begun and we will explore lots of different avenues in the future,” James concluded.