Or­ganic milk is big hit with health-con­scious con­sumers

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Dan Ah­ern, Ballysi­mon Farm, Mi­dle­ton, Co Cork

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.

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