When Siobhán Sloane dreamed up her Farm to Fork Experiences in the foothills of the Sliabh Aughty mountains in Co Galway, the only transport she considered was the coach to the artisan farms and restaurants. Now she has swapped coaches for couriers, turning her food tour into an online farmers' market store delivering farmhouse cheese and wildflower honey.
The Sliabh Aughty region of east Co Galway is one of Ireland's largest mountain ranges and an area of traditional agriculture. The mix of farming land and rugged mountain gives a great range of flora from the peaty and limestone soil. Yet, until recently, the artisan producers working in its lush grasslands and wildflower meadows were little known. Siobhán Sloane's farm to fork experiences are about meeting these producers and tasting the food right there at the farmhouse kitchen or in the cheese house.
“The focus is on honey, dairy, and meat alongside some foraged plants, just as our ancestors would have eaten," she said. "I describe it as being like a wine tour but with bees and cows.”
Farm visits are off the table for now, but work continues on the farms. The dairy cows at Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese still need to be milked. Bees continue to gather nectar from wild flowers producing raw honey carefully managed by the Leahy family. Vegetables still grow and need to be harvested and eaten or potted and preserved. Looking for ways to continue to support local food producers, Siobhán Sloane came up with the Farm to Fork Box. The Sliabh Aughty picnic box, priced at €35, includes a selection of Kylemore Farmhouse Cheese, Sliabh Aughty hot honey, Gran Grans Food chutney for cheese, and Foods of Athenry multiseed toasts. Standard delivery within Ireland is €7.
“For the farmers I work with, the main outlet for their produce is farmers' markets and the food service industry," she said. "Welcoming visitors to see the milking parlour, cheese house, beehives, and orchards is another source of income. With the temporary closure of markets and restaurants and the restriction on travel into and around Ireland, the food and tourism sectors are among the hardest hit. I hope the Farm to Fork Box will in some way support the farmers and producers and encourage people to explore closer to home.”
Siobhán Sloane is hopeful about resuming the on-farm tours in the future and believes that it will begin with people looking for activities in their locality. “We have almost been too modest about our food story," she said. "Now, more than ever, is the time to celebrate and sustain the traditions and innovations of our farmers and producers. Ireland's food culture has been described an expression of the land and the sea; that's what I aim to introduce people to, whether by enjoying a cheese board or picnic with the Sliabh Aughty produce at home or planning a farm to fork experience when we can travel again.”
Farm to Fork Boxes are available at essentialfoodtrails.com/farmers-market-store/