My name is Catherine Hayes & I grew up on a dairy farm just outside of Gort, Co. Galway. I am currently running a market garden business ( free from chemicals) on some land 2 km from Gort and selling my produce at GortFridayMarket every Friday morning.
How did you get started in this business?
I started growing properly about 1.5 years ago (January 2015) and my first market in Gort was July 2015. Previous to this I had studied analytical science to PhD level & had spent a number of years working in research in Sweden as well as Ireland. At some stage I decided I wanted to come home & managed to find a position that would suit me. As circumstances would have it, on returning to Ireland the position fell through & I found myself at a loose end. I decided to take a year out from science & try something new. I got a place as an intern on BeechlawnOrganicFarm in Ballinasloe and remained there for 1.5 years (till Nov 2015) when I took up my own enterprise full time. At present I am also attending a Market Garden Course run by Jim Cronin in Bridgetown Co. Clare to improve my skills in this area, with a view to expanding my business and market.
How do the social, economic, environmental, technological, legal and political environments impact your business?
It’s hard for me to comment on outside influences on my business as I am not very long “in the game” but if I were to guess the main influences would be social & environmental – people need a certain amount of disposable income to buy fresh vegetables, and its hard to compete with the loss-leaders that the multinational supermarkets advertise on a weekly basis. However environmental issues are making people more aware of what they are consuming & more concerned about buying vegetables that have been grown without the use of chemicals.
Do you know who your competitors are?
At present in Gort the main competitors are the large supermarkets – however I do believe that a certain amount of competition is necessary & if anything people are becoming more aware of naturally grown, organic vegetables and this raises demand.
How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?
I market my business in two ways at present – FaceBook & word of mouth. I have an active FaceBook page for my stall HayesVegGort & GortFridayMarket, where i post at least twice weekly, with my product range, recipes or updates on how things are going on the farm. But I also find that in a rural community such as Gort, word of mouth is very powerful. I have numerous customers who come & say “I heard you had lovely carrots” or something like that. So consistently good quality & good customer service are working for me as well at present.
Any special things planned for 2016 or further ahead?
I hope to expand in the next year or two. At present I have one large polytunnel (20 ft x 64 ft) and about 1/4 acre of outside veg – this will grow to another large tunnel & maybe another 1/4 to 1/2 acre outside. In 5 years I hope to maybe have grown to 3/4 tunnels & also have one full time person in employment. In 10 years – hard to say, but i should have a very successful veg (and possibly fruit) business with perhaps a shop.
Do you plan to compete in the global market place? If yes, how? If no, why not?
The global market is not a viable option for me as my product is perishable, but I can envisage competing on a national scale within Ireland.
How has technology, such as computers and the internet, impacted on how you conduct business?
Computers, technology etc are very important to me, in all aspects: communications, marketing, sales, record-keeping, finance, research etc. Overall technology is an integral part of my business. Working outside (or inside in the tunnel on a rainy day).
What do you love about the area you live in/do business in?
The satisfaction of seeing something grow, of sitting down to a meal of my produce. I also love the interaction with the public at the market – its my favourite part of the week. The people of Gort & the surrounding area have been very supportive of me in this venture & they show this support by consistently turning up at the stall every week.
Whom do you seek advice from for your business/ do you meet up with other business owners? If so, where?
I have a network of other organic farmers that i have developed over the course of my internship. I am also in the process of setting up a network of small growers in Ireland specifically to cater for people like me who are starting out or are early-stage. We have already met a few times and are currently setting up a schedule of Farm visits around the country so we can chat about successes & problems on small market garden holdings.
Can you describe your customers & why do they choose you over other suppliers.
My customer base, geographically is Gort & its hinterlands. I have every age group and social economic background but the thing they have in common is they all seem to appreciate the taste & quality of my produce. They understand that I sell mostly my own veg and I stand over it all, its grown locally without the use of chemicals, and freshly harvested for the market. It is a physically demanding job.