Small food producers for rural development

S
Recently, Éamon Ó Cuív, T.D. Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs met with representatives of organisations, agencies and Government Departments who work with small food producers.  Minister Ó Ćuiv called the meeting within the context of his remit as Minister with responsibility for rural development, to discuss the difficulties faced by rurally based artisan and traditional food producers with up to 50 employees. 

The Minister believes, quite rightly, that there is a huge potential in this industry for rural areas, but he recognises the need to identify the barriers to development in this sector.

“It has long been recognised that many of the traditional ways of making a living in rural Ireland are no longer sustainable.  Economic structures have changed dramatically in recent years, but many of our rural communities are finding it very difficult to adapt quickly enough to meet the changing demands of our modern society.  It’s time for those of us who live in rural areas to put on our thinking caps and come up with viable, imaginative solutions to these issues.  However, no more than the man or woman on the street, no Government has the power to provide magic solutions to these problems.

The Irish nation has produced some of the most innovative, talented and hard-working business people in the world.  I believe that the spirit of entrepreneurship that drove them is the very essence of what rural Ireland is about.   There was a time when every rural community was self-sustaining.  Farmers,  thatchers, tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths, even the travelling dance master, the tapestry of skills and workers was rich and vibrant.   Every one of those people were entrepreneurs.  I believe that encouraging small food production is just one of the ways in which we can nurture the self-starting sense of entrepreneurial spirit in a rural context.”

Michael Gleeson, a rural resource worker with Éirí Corca Baiscinn in West Clare presented a study of the local food economy in the county to the assembled group.
The study identified some of the problems facing small food producers, such as:

·     the perception that many of the regulations governing the industry are designed for production at a large     scale industrial level,
the difficulty of accessing finance,
the difficulties relating to distribution and branding and
the need to encourage farmers to accept small food production as a viable method of diversifying and sustaining traditional farms.

If small food producers in Co. Clare cornered 5% of the county’s food market it would inject approximately E10 million directly into the rural economy of the county, he said.
Mr Gleeson also said that a survey he had conducted of tourists in Co. Clare showed that they were prepared to pay up to a 20% premium for local produce, but that because of poor marketing and branding, the purchaser in many cases found it very difficult to identify whether a product was locally produced or not.  In order to help overcome this problem, he appealed to retailers to designate particular shelves or areas in their shops for locally produced food. Based on the results of a survey carried out in 2002 by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture and Food, Ciara O’Reilly (FSAI) identified:

achieving satisfactory profit margin distribution costs,  as the two main obstacles facing small producers. Joint third were
building a brand, building a production facility and the cost of compliance with food safety regulations, while 75% reported  insurance costs as very high or high.

This survey also revealed that by far the highest concentration of small food producers were based in Co. Cork, but that there appeared to be a startling dearth of producers based in Connaught.

Patrick Wall, CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland acknowledged the difficulties which small food producers face in complying with food safety regulations.   Food safety regulations have become more and more stringent in recent years, he said, particularly in the wake of BSE and other major food scares.  Although small food producers didn’t cause these problems, the resulting regulations are threatening their commercial viability, he continued.   What is needed now is risk-based regulation, he said.   We can’t compromise on food safety, but E.U. regulations shouldn’t be akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. While we don’t want to give a carte blanche on food safety issues, as long as consumers’ health is adequately protected, regulations proportional to risk are what is needed, he concluded.

One of the most significant developments in this regard in the recent past is the announcement of the Hygiene Manual for Domestic-Scale Food Production.  This document which has been a few years in incubation,  was drawn up during a series of meetings. Manus O’Brolchain of National Standards Authority and Ray Ellard, now of the Food Safety Authority, spearheaded the initiative with the help of a Working Group which included representatives of Euro-Toques (Myrtle Allen), Farmhouse Cheesemakers, (Mary Burns of Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese)  Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association,(Michael Woulfe from Midleton)  IRD Duhallow Rural Development Organisation (Timothy Lucey), Independent Small Food Producer Peter Ward of Country Choice, Nenagh, Home Baker, Jill Bell and myself.  The Country Markets organisation also had an input throughout the development process.

A workable document was painstakingly compiled.  The Environmental Health Officers validated the guidelines recently and the standard was launched on 9th December 2002 .For avoidance of doubt the crucial message is that people can start a business in their own domestic kitchen using these guidelines.

Each section is divided into sections –

What can go wrong
How it can be prevented
Recommendations:
The latter are not obligatory, but are suggestions to strive for as soon as possible.
  Hygiene for Domestic-Scale Food Production  (I.S. 344.2002)
Published by NSAI 2002 -
Available from ILI, Northumberland House, 42/44 Northumberland Road, Dublin 4
Tel. 01-857 6730  email:info@standards.ie Price 25 Euro plus postage of 4.62.
  On a practical note – this is the time for making Seville orange marmalade – the Seville oranges are in the shops just now, so get some and make some delicious fresh-tasting marmalade.   Here are a few marmalade ideas –

Old Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for 4-5 weeks.
 Makes approx. 7 lbs (3.2kg)
2 lbs (900g) Seville Oranges
4 pints (2.3L) water
1 lemon
4 lbs (1.8kg) granulated sugar
Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips, tie them in a piece of muslin and soak
 for 2 hour in cold water. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.
Next day, bring everything to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours until the peel is really soft and the liquid is reduced by half. Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.
Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil rapidly until setting point is reached 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 220F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it's done.
Allow marmalade to sit in the saucepan for 15 minutes before bottling to prevent the peel from floating.   Pot into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.
N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will become very hard and no amount of boiling will soften it.

Marmalade Popovers

Makes 14 approx.
7½ fl ozs (213ml) milk
1 teasp. grated orange rind
oil or lard for baking tins
½ teasp. salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
8 teasp. home made Orange marmalade
Icing sugar
Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk and the lightly beaten eggs.  Mix to a smooth batter. Stir in grated orange rind and whisk really hard with an egg whisk until the surface is covered with air bubbles.  If possible leave to stand in a cold place for about an hour, then stir in the melted butter and beat again.  Grease deep patty tins really well. Put them in the oven until they are hot.  Pour in the batter, filling each tins half to two thirds full,  put straight into a hot oven, 220C/425F/regulo 7, for about 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C/350F/regulo 4, and bake for about 25 minutes longer, until the popovers are well risen, crisp and golden brown. Put a small spoon of marmalade into each one.  Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Rory O'Connell's Marmalade Tart

Serves 8

pinch salt
5ozs (140g) butter
2 teasps. castor sugar
1 egg yol
Filling;
4ozs (110g) butter
4ozs (110g) castor sugar
2ozs (55g) ground almonds
1 large egg, beaten
4 tablesp. marmalade

Set the oven to 200C (400F/regulo 6)

Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub in butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar, beat the egg yolk with 2 teaspoons of cold water.  Use to bind the pastry, adding a little more water if necessary to form a soft but not sticky dough.  Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.    Roll out on a lightly floured surface and use to line an 8 inch (20.5cm) loose bottomed, fluted flan ring.   Prick the base lightly with a fork, cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper.  Fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and discard the paper and beans.
Meanwhile prepare the filling.  Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy, then beat in the ground almonds and egg.  Warm and then sieve the marmalade.  Reserve the liquid, stir rind into mixture and beat well until thoroughly mixed.
Turn the prepared filling into the pastry case.  Smooth over the top.   Reduce the oven temperature to 180C (350F/regulo 4) and bake the flan for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Glaze with reserved marmalade.   This tart is delicious hot or cold. 

Serve with softly whipped cream.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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