Organic milk is big hit with health-conscious consumers
Dan and Anne Ahern have been farming organically since 1999 and have been regular fixtures at Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers’ markets since both began, initially, selling their own organic poultry and beef.
But their shift to dairy in 2015 saw them debut their raw milk — sold in an iconic glass pint bottle, complete with red foil cap — to huge acclaim in 2016, especially with older customers who remember the taste of high quality grass-fed milk from before the advent of homogenization. ( This writer made it his Irish food product of the year for 2016.)
“We began in Spring of 2015 when the quotas went and started bottling the milk at the end of July 2016.
“It took a long time to get set up, we had to get the bottling setup from England. We had been sending some milk to Dairygold but since March of this year, my milk is also going to Village Dairy, in Carlow.
“They make specialised products going to Avoca and places like that. Business at the markets has been quite good. We sell about 1,000 bottles a week [ at € 1.50 a bottle, including 50c bottle deposit] at the markets. It is raw milk. We have researched the health benefits but don’t push that side and with certain people, pregnant women, we’d clearly state that the advice is not to use it but we leave people make up their own minds about it. We’re not really pushing wholesale at the moment.
“We are farming as well and it is hard to do it all. We have people looking for it from all over the country but it is awkward and expensive for us to go down that road at the moment.
“Selling to the markets gives immediate cash flow because you’re getting paid on the day and there’s a feel- good factor from the markets, a huge feelgood factor because of the response. It is very positive.
“As well as the older people, we find a lot of people who start using it, their kids end up refusing to drink anything else. Pasteurisation adds about ten days to the shelf life—that’s the only disadvantage to the raw milk. A lot of people still don’t see the value of good food — the people who shop at the markets have obviously been converted but a lot of people still just go for the cheap and then we wonder why so many are ill and sick? If a farmer thinks they have something worth trying to sell direct to the customer, they should try the markets. We are very lucky to have such good markets near us.
“It is very hard to drive sales from the door and unless you have something unique, it is hard to get into the markets. Country people, in particular, don’t see the value. You might be selling organic eggs but sure they know a fellow up the road who has the few eggs … so you have a better chance in urban areas. At a market we can meet the customers and talk to them and learn what they like and don’t like, it is great to help you guide a business along.”
Anne Ahern of Ahern’s Organic Farm in Midleton, who sell raw, unpasteurised milk from pure Jersey Cows. Our food writer, Joe McNamee, made it his Irish food product of the year for 2016.
Dan Ahern and Kevin Kennedy, dairy farmers who are adding value to their produce.