Meade family ‘gleaning’ up to keep sustainability at core

Meade Potato Company won on the double at the recent Food and Drink Business Awards, taking home the ‘Fresh Produce Company of the Year’ and ‘Sustainable Factory of the Year’ awards.

The family firm’s Robert Devlin and Eleanor Meade rushed to the awards ceremony on Wednesday evening, September 5, after a busy afternoon spent ‘gleaning’, a joint initiative with FoodCloud community foodbank and Lidl Ireland corporate social responsibility (CSR) volunteers.

With ‘gleaning’ on the schedule for the following day, as well as a research visit the following week from the European Commission EIP-Agri focus group on on-farm food loss, it was fitting that they ended up taking the sustainable factory award.

‘Gleaning’ is the collecting of produce that has been left behind in the field after the harvesting has been done.

It is a word that crops up in the bible in the context of asking that the ‘gleanings’ of a field be given to the needy,” said marketing communications manager at Meade Potato Company, Jeni Meade.

“‘Gleaning’ is currently very popular in the US and UK but has yet to become that widespread in Ireland.

“The recent ‘gleaning’ days at the Meade farm were the result of FoodCloud’s commitment to establishing a ‘gleaning’ network in Ireland,” Jeni added.

Meade Potato Company had already worked with FoodCloud on ‘Feed the 5,000 Dublin, ‘Feed the 5K Cork’ and other projects on preventing food waste.

When FoodCloud asked the Meade farm to come on board to help pilot the scheme, it fitted in perfectly with the ethos of waste prevention and efficiency that the family had espoused when founding the company, Jeni said.

“The business has had sustainability at its core since it was first founded over 35 years ago; Philip Meade snr, like many farmers, hated seeing the hard work put into crops go to waste,” she said.

“When the potatoes started being packed in clear plastic bags and washed, people were less inclined to buy a wonky spud or one with a bit of scab, even though they were perfectly safe and delicious.”

Faced with increasing volumes of class II going straight for stock feed, the farm approached St. Vincent de Paul 15 years ago to see if any charities would like the surplus potatoes.

This led to a long relationship with Crosscare community foodbank and subsequently FoodCloud. “‘Gleaning’ is another way of giving to those in need, only earlier on in the supply chain,” said Jeni.

The Meade farm commitment to preventing on-farm food loss has led to its expansion into prepared foods.

The company’s work has earned it the reputation of being hailed as “an excellent example of best practice” in the field and precipitated a recent visit by the European Commission EIP-Agri focus group on on-farm food loss.

25 researchers from throughout Europe, led by Prof. Shane Ward from UCD’s School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, looked at ways the company has prevented on-farm food loss in order to provide the commission with recommendations going forward for all EU member states.

Prof. Ward called the business “an integrated company embedded in a rural community but with very outward-looking and innovative ethos”.

Eleanor Meade, business operations manager, said: “With ‘gleaning’ days lined up throughout the harvest, as well as other related sustainability projects in the pipeline, it appears that becoming smarter, leaner and greener is the way forward.”

Any growers and/or wholesalers interested in getting involved with FoodCloud should contact: [email protected] for more information.