IT’S been one helluva year, but as we welcome in the final few weeks of 2020, never more optimistic for a new start than with 2021 firmly in our sights, it’s time to review what has been good about this year — in spite of you-know-what!
Our achievements, losses, challenges; fun times, sad times; the kindness of strangers, unshakeable friendships and family ties. My word of the year is: Resilience.
For some, simply keeping everything together and getting through the year has been an act of tremendous resilience.
For others, resilience manifests in an ability to bounce back pivoting and reimagine business, work and home life. Or, in amongst the chaos, grabbing an opportunity to start something new — and succeeding.
This is exactly what happened with five plucky enterprises I’ve been following this year. I’ve admired their optimism, looking past the crisis to a brighter, more positive future, and at the centre of it all is a commitment to community — something shown up as so important to our collective resilience in 2020.
Neighbourfood grows to over 50 hosts across Ireland
In December, 2018, for The Echo, I wrote about a new community-based food initiative called Neighbourfood, established by Jack Crotty of Rocket Man. Billed as a virtual farmers’ market linking small/local/artisan food producers directly with consumers via an online shopping platform — weekly collection points with a community vibe — it was easy to see Neighbourfood’s potential.
That potential was truly realised in 2020. As restaurants and cafes shut their doors in March overnight, the order books of farmers and producers dried up, and yet cows still need to be milked, eggs have to be collected and vegetables planted months ago still need to be harvested.
As a ready-to-go platform, Neighbourfood stepped into that void, and new collection points were rapidly created.
From just a handful of markets dotted around Cork, Neighbourfood now works with over 50 hosts across the country, connecting thousands of customers with hundreds of small scale food producers — a lifeline for both.
Foxglove Cocktails — selling out their product in two hours
In spring, Tara Copplestone returned home to Baltimore from New York city where she had been working in a fast paced midtown bar to ride out the two-week lockdown, but it soon became clear that her stay in West Cork would be much longer.
Tara’s brother, Rory, studying for a degree in Hotel Management in NUIG, also found himself at home.
“There is a 10 year age difference between Rory and I, so the first lockdown was a fun and enjoyable time to spend with each other, especially as I had been away from home for so long,” said Tara.
Brother and sister began experimenting with cocktails and soon realised there was a market for their craft cocktail mixers.
An outing at Skibbereen Farmers’ Market saw them sell out within two hours, and then linked up with a few Neighbourfood hosts and selling through the platform.
Most recently, the duo set up a collection point at Lancaster Quay in the city every Friday.
“We started getting a lot of interest and orders from people in Cork city during the summer, and even though we are based in Baltimore, we were happy to drive up weekly with orders, and build on that customer base,” says Tara. “In October, we took over a vacant space on Lancaster Quay (between Records & Relics and Lancaster Barbers), which we use every Friday afternoon/evening for pick-up orders.”
Cork Rooftop Farm continues to grow
In May, while we were all basking in glorious spring weather, I wrote about Cork Rooftop Farm for The Echo — a project that took a barren flat roof of a car park near the Coal Quay and turned it into a verdant and productive urban farm using nothing but sheer will, brute force and time.
Raised beds, polytunnels, potting sheds, state of the art GrowTowers and even chickens have all made the roof their home, and as produce came into season, a bevy of local cafes and restaurants were ready to support them, such as Izz Café.
Just a few weeks ago, farm founders, Brian McCarthy and Thay Carlos, launched the next stage of their vision — a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (or CSA).
“We have recently started renting land on a farm near Coachford, working to set up around 1300m2 of permanent beds for our new no-dig market garden.
“We will also be starting a pasture-raised egg laying enterprise with 800 hens moved daily onto fresh pasture,” says Brian.
“The food we produce will be available through our CSA subscription running for 20 weeks from May, 2021.
“Different options mean members can enjoy weekly or bi-weekly shares of fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables, microgreens, herbs and eggs.
“Members can have the peace of mind of knowing that everything is grown using organic methods. While we are not certified organic, we will never use chemicals, synthetic pesticides or herbicides on any of our crops.
“We want our members to have a true understanding of our farm and how their food is grown.
“We will be growing for them so it’s important to us that they are engaged in the process.”
Brian has also been selected as a Nuffield Scholar in 2021 by the Nuffield Trust in Ireland. This is a project that will keep going from strength to strength.
Sage 2gO — relaunch cancelled, but there was a reincarnation
In March, Kevin Aherne, pictured below right, was preparing to launch a reimagined Sage restaurant in Midleton, calling it Sage 2.0. I interviewed him about this in early March, just a few short days before experiencing the first jolting halt of lockdown 1.0; and suddenly Kevin’s plan to turn his fine dining restaurant into a neighbourhood eatery with a laid back vibe, good beer and great music hit the buffers.
Tools were downed and the relaunch cancelled. But this wasn’t the end, just another opportunity to pivot, reset and reopen as Sage 2gO.
Out went the linen cloths and in came deli fridges packed with produce from growers, farmers and producers.
In came a To Go menu — bistro quality food for heating and eating at home.
When the summer permitted eateries to reopen, Kevin and his team set to work on the walled courtyard, providing outdoor seating under the grape vines.
Despite a very different operation, this reincarnation remains committed to Kevin’s 12-Mile ethos.
Marina Market Cork — Christmas Market opens this week
Hyped as the vibrant cosmopolitan market that a city rising like Cork needs and wants, Marina Market got off to a flying start on its opening weekend in late September.
Located on Centre Park Road, within walking distance of the city centre, Marina Market is a food and craft market, with some stalls running seven days a week (such as the Instagramable Guji Coffee Bar).
Some activities have been scaled back since tighter restrictions came into play, but the vast repurposed old Ford industrial buildings lends itself to a vibrant community space. A dedicated performance area for music, arts and theatre makes for an exciting proposition for when such events are possible once more.
Marina Market wears its environmental credentials on its sleeve. A rainwater harvesting system flushes the on-site toilets; a solar panel array on the buildings flat roof, a biodigester turns food waste into a usuable soil, bio-fuel burner transforms cardboard and wooden pallet waste into fuel for heating, and there’s even a community garden initiative with a local community group.
A Christmas Market is due to launch tomorrow, December 3, running 7-days a week until Christmas Eve — now, that’s definitely worth putting in the diary!