Branch­ing out Food tourism presents big op­por­tu­ni­ties for farm­ers and ru­ral busi­nesses, re­ports

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

FOOD tourism has opened up new op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­duc­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and restau­ra­teurs to put their re­gion on the map and show­case what they do to a wider au­di­ence.

Hol­i­day­mak­ers to this coun­try spend an es­ti­mated €2bn on food dur­ing their stay, Fáilte Ire­land es­ti­mates. Yet Ire­land is still not con­sid­ered a “food des­ti­na­tion”.

Ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions World Travel Or­gan­i­sa­tion fig­ures, around 10pc of the world’s tourism mar­ket is made up of gas­tro-tourists, those who will travel to a par­tic­u­lar re­gion be­cause of its food.

It is es­ti­mated that 30pc of the av­er­age tourist spend is on food and with tax re­ceipts of €6bn from tourism, this equates to a spend of €2bn on food alone.

John Mulc­ahy, head of food tourism at Fáilte Ire­land, says vis­i­tors are not com­ing here for food but it is a key driver in how sat­is­fied they are with their hol­i­day.

“Our re­search shows that over­seas, Ire­land is not seen as a place you would go for food, de­spite our mar­vel­lous green im­age.

“Ir­ish food is still seen as tra­di­tional things like brown bread, Ir­ish stew, Guin­ness and whiskey,” Mr Mulc­ahy says.

“When peo­ple come here we do know that food is a driver of sat­is­fac­tion and if the food is not right they don’t go home happy.”

To this end, the tourism body is more in­ter­ested in mak­ing sure the food vis­i­tors ex­pe­ri­ence is mem­o­rable and above their ex­pec­ta­tions and re­flec­tive of the place they are in.

“There is an in­creased role for ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to get in­volved here and our aim is to shorten the jour­ney from farm to ta­ble and we re­ally want to up the game on break­fast. Some­one run­ning a B&B should not be go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket for cheap ba­con and eggs when these are avail­able down the road.”

Gen­er­ally, sat­is­fac­tion rates are high on Fáilte Ire­land’s top three prod­ucts; the Wild At­lantic Way, Ire­land’s An­cient East and Dublin, that are tar­geted at four main mar­kets; Amer­ica, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many.

The holy grail of be­com­ing a food des­ti­na­tion is a longer jour­ney but al­ready com­mu­ni­ties have their sights set on this.

For one, it has of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether and de­velop its own food story that com­bines her­itage, nat­u­ral re­sources and na­tive tal­ent in a sus­tain­able way that will ben­e­fit all its stake hold­ers.

Dur­ing the 18th cen­tury, one of the main ex­ports from Ire­land was but­ter, which was trans­ported from the dairy farms to the but­ter ex­change in Cork by don­key and cart over bad roads.

The Muskerry, Avondhu and Duhal­low ar­eas of north and west Cork had strong links with the but­ter trail that can be traced back to 1730 un­til their role faded in the 1920s and the small cream­eries took over.

Martina and Pa­tri­cia Cronin of the Square Ta­ble restau­rant in Blar­ney, Co Cork re­mem­ber their grand­fa­ther pointed out one of these but­ter roads to them, a small boreen that tra­versed his land in Kil­na­mar­tyra, when they were chil­dren.

They got to­gether with Máire Ní Mhurchú of Ac­tiv­i­ty­ and farm­ers, food pro­duc­ers and other restau­ra­teurs from Mal­low, Bal­lyvour­ney, Blar­ney and Mitchel­stown — ar­eas the but­ter road would have passed through — to talk about how they could de­velop a tourist food trail.

The sis­ters opened their res- tau­rant in Blar­ney three years ago and their ethos was to sup­port as much lo­cal pro­duce as pos­si­ble.

“We felt the re­gion wasn’t known for food and yet it was full of food pro­duc­ers but there was no one pro­mot­ing it for food tourism,” Pa­tri­cia said.

This was about 18 months ago but in the past few months the But­ter Roads Trail has been given an added boost and the new tourist ini­tia­tive was of­fi­cially launched by Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Michael Creed ear­lier this sum­mer.

Pat Mulc­ahy and his daugh­ter Sheena from Ballinwillin House and Farm near Mitchel­stown were among those who saw the po­ten­tial in the ven­ture and were ea­ger to get in­volved.

Pat has a herd of 800 deer, 350 wild boar, 150 goats and 40 beef cat­tle. The pro­duce from his or­ganic farm is sold on­line, mainly to the UK and Europe, and into ho­tels and restau­rants around the coun­try.

All the pro­cess­ing and pack­ag­ing is car­ried out on the farm so what goes out is a fin­ished prod­uct. The pro­duce from the farm is also served in the B&B.

“We had this idea that we would start trad­ing with each other and in­ter-trad­ing and try to cre­ate a few jobs in the area by work­ing to­gether,” Pat ex­plains.

“The whole ethos is about the farm­ing com­mu­nity and busi­nesses work­ing to­gether to try to cre­ate jobs.”

Pat bought Ballinwillin House in 1985 and started im­port­ing deer and wild boar from Hun­gary about 10 years later and now has two fine breed­ing herds that pro­duce all the meat that’s pro­cessed and pack­aged on farm.

“If you go back 30 years when we started do­ing this first, it was a hard enough sell and in some cases, Ir­ish peo­ple can still be very tra­di­tional about the food they eat.

“Chefs now want to sam­ple and see where their pro­duce comes from and it’s chefs like that who know what we do that give us the name we have now.”

Pat sees the big­gest chal­lenge in set­ting up some­thing like the But­ter Roads Trail is get­ting peo­ple to see the fu­ture.

“Peo­ple ask why they should join it and I’d tell them it’s for the fu­ture and try­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter fu­ture for their area and their fam­ily.

“Al­ready it’s pay­ing div­i­dends. We would be deal­ing with about 10 restau­rants and ho­tels that we didn’t deal with be­fore the But­ter Roads Trail and we’re also buy­ing stuff from peo­ple we didn’t know ex­isted be­fore this,” he said.

Now when his guests are look­ing for rec­om­men­da­tions for places to stay and eat, he refers them to other peo­ple on the But­ter Roads Trail net­work.

“Tourism is ram­pant and there are huge num­bers com­ing into the coun­try for busi­ness and food tourism and if you have places they can eat and stay you try to hold them in your area for an­other 24 hours

Mak­ing a buck: Pat Mulc­ahy with some of his deer on Ballinwillin House Farm near Mitchel­stown, Co Cork

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