What was the inspiration behind setting up a market garden based in Northern Ireland?
I bought a small plot in 2018 that was empty, just rocks and weeds. I have a passion for growing and wanted to turn this plot into something valuable. Before the pandemic, I was working as an airline pilot but the lockdown gave me the opportunity of extra time to spend working outdoors in the garden. I never had a plan, it felt like a bit of a mad idea, but I tried to just see if I could scale a living out of it and it evolved from there. This was around the time I was looking into our food system and the mess it’s made and that took me more down the route of wanting to make a difference.
I have a no dig approach in the garden which improves soil growth which in turn increases the yield and quality of my vegetables. All the growing I do follows organic principles and all the vegetables I grow are seasonal. In the springtime, I grow a lot of fast crops like salad leaves and spring onions. In the summer, outside I have, baby carrots, baby turnip, beetroot, sprouting broccoli, courgette (and courgette flowers). In the polytunnels we grow lots of varieties of tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, chilli, and cucumber. Then for the rest of the season it’s onion, kale, cauliflower, and jerusalem artichokes.
Who buys your fresh, local, and seasonal produce?
For the majority of the time, we supply 3 local greengrocers and some cafes/restaurants in Belfast. We also have a small scale veg box scheme.
Have You Noticed an Increase in Interest in Sustainable Food After the Pandemic?
Yea, I’d say the movement has started. People take notions in waves and, if we can carry on grabbing their attention, we can create an even larger opportunity for ourselves. I have people getting in contact with me through my Instagram (@pickedorganic) about my food and how I grow it, I can see people becoming more curious. We’re excited that, in the new year, a cafe called Lunchbox will be opening in town and all their vegetables will be sourced locally, which should attract more people and act as a hub for people who are already interested.
What do you do that you believe has the biggest impact on changing local food systems?
The veg box scheme, because it gives us the opportunity to have one on one chats with our customers and they can ask questions about how the veg is grown. This helps to highlight the contrast between buying locally and buying from the supermarket. People then share what they learnt and their experiences with us with others, through word of mouth. For a moment there, people are listening and seeing the issues in our food system which are usually hidden in plain sight. I feel like I'm competing sometimes with convenience food but, with each person I meet and chat to, I make a difference on how they see the food system and I help them to see how they are a part of it.