My Goodness... it’s a whole new adventure for Cork raw-vegan food company

KATE RYAN talks to the duo behind My Goodness about revamping their English Market stall, an innovative zero waste project, and branching out to Dublin
My Goodness... it’s a whole new adventure for Cork raw-vegan food company
Some of the team at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork (from left) Siobhan Catinot, Donal O'Gara, Tara Hegarty and Wayne Dunlea.Picture Denis Minihane.

FIVE years ago, My Goodness was established above a disco that subsequently burnt to the ground, followed by two robberies.

This unfortunate sequence of events may have put some people off picking up and starting again, but not Virginia O’Gara, her husband Donal and the community of workers, friends, creatives and supporters that seems to follow wherever My Goodness go.

Cork’s beloved raw-vegan food company, My Goodness took over an old vegetable stall in the English Market, ironically in the heart of its meat district, almost two years ago. An unshakeable belief in their ethos and products has ensured this group of renegade producers have found their niche to become a beacon of delicious, vibrant and healthy food by all Corkonians, whatever your foodish disposition.

Everything that My Goodness does is alternative — not because they thrive on being the awkward vegans in the room, but because of their genuine belief that it is the right thing to challenge the status quo, and to strive to prove that there is always a better, healthier, ethical and sustainable way to live and be in business. To at least try, that is Virginia’s mantra.

Virginia O'Gara with a special delivery for the new seasonal shop in the English Market.
Virginia O'Gara with a special delivery for the new seasonal shop in the English Market.

The decision to take the permanent stall in the English Market enabled My Goodness to offer their range of tasty and nourishing foods and fermented drinks to a wider audience — one that might not be able to make it out to a daytime Farmers’ Market due to the reality of busy lives.

Of course, you can still find them, loyal as ever, trading weekly at Mahon too, but it was seeing their farmer friends packing up the vegetables they hadn’t been able to sell that sparked an idea for a revamp of the city stall.

“I realised that a lot of my friends who were farmers were going home with loads of vegetables that they had spent all season growing. There is only a four-hour window to trade well at a Farmers’ Market, and not everyone can make it out, so we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy the seasonality of what I get to see all the time at the Farmers Markets, and provide that in the city centre?

“It’s the one thing that I saw was lacking a little bit in the English Market: fresh, seasonal, Cork-grown produce. We wanted to find a way that we could help them out and provide whatever they had in excess to the people of Cork through the stall.

“It’s this nice marriage of having a new avenue to try things we want to experiment with, encourage growing new varieties of vegetables in Cork, and a different place to sell them.

“People will be able to come and buy just what they need so they don’t have a bunch of food waste waiting to happen in their refrigerator. The stall is now a dynamic seasonal shop of Cork-grown fresh produce that is changing every week.

“We’ll have three shipments in a week from our network of local farmers, who will be selling us their excess that they couldn’t sell at market. Whatever they have that they have extra, we’re gonna take it. And if we can’t sell it, then we’ll just ferment it!

“It’s a really fun time for us in the kitchen because farmers know we’ll take almost anything and we’ll try to make fun things out of it, and with the shop we have the perfect venue where we can make small batches of seasonal ferments and sell them, including a seasonal Kimchi.

Donal O'Gara, co-owner, with some of the fresh local produce at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Donal O'Gara, co-owner, with some of the fresh local produce at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

“Last year, we made a 100% Cork Kimchi. We foraged every single element of our Kimchi either from local farmers or from our fields around our kitchen.

“This year, we’re going to make a Cork Kimchi which we will sell and all the proceeds will go towards the CUSP Project.”

WHAT IS CUSP — CORK URBAN SOIL PROJECT

Virginia’s background is in gardening, specifically permaculture — an agricultural philosophy that looks to make best use of limited resources by finding a secondary use for any would-be-waste: Zero Waste and Closed Loop Systems. The premise operates from the acknowledgment that in nature there is no such thing as waste (zero waste), and that everything should have a primary and a secondary use (closed loop).

CUSP will be a year-long social experiment, based out of Mahon Farmers’ Market, harnessing food and compostable packaging waste and utilising an anaerobic bio-digester to create soil.

Raw vegan gluten free treats at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Raw vegan gluten free treats at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

It has three goals: to change people’s behaviour and attitudes to waste; to analyse the nutrient content of the soil produced by food waste, and to assess whether similar projects are manageable for small community groups.

“We are trying to create a closed loop system where would-be waste becomes a resource for the community that creates the would-be waste. Cork is my favourite town in the world, and one of the main reasons I like it is that we are really proud of where we live, and we want to make it the best it can possibly be.

“In Mahon Farmers’ Market, we have a particularly tight community. A lot of us have worked together for years through hail and wind and sideways rain and you always find a way to push each other to be our very best.

“Rupert Hugh Jones has curated an incredible market where he picks people not just for their product, but for their character, and he encourages us to be our best at all times.

Two members of the team at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork, Siobhan Catinot with raw vegan carrot cake (left) and Tara Hegarty pouring a glass of the award winning Gold Finger rain water kefir.Picture Denis Minihane.
Two members of the team at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork, Siobhan Catinot with raw vegan carrot cake (left) and Tara Hegarty pouring a glass of the award winning Gold Finger rain water kefir.Picture Denis Minihane.

“The people who shop there know that, support that and it brings out the best in them too. It’s the perfect test area to launch this social experiment where we give the option to make the right choice, which is: to not create waste. We are asking people for a window of just four hours once a week to have a plastic free zone. Every trader in the market has agreed to go plastic free and we’re taking the rubbish bin away!”

Instead of a bin per se, traders and shoppers alike will be encouraged to dispose of any food and compostable packaging waste in a container that will be taken away, sorted and placed into the bio-digester. Within 48 hours, the waste will be transformed into a useable soil.

The science side of CUSP is two-pronged. First of all, Sociology students from UCC will be looking at how CUSP helps to change behaviours and attitudes to waste. The survey will be continuous during the year-long experiment, and includes surveying behaviours not just during the four hour window of Mahon Farmers’ Market, but at home and at work too.

The survey will create a benchmark from where it can assess the success, or not, of a project like CUSP to effect behavioural change.

Secondly, the soil generated from the waste will be analysed by Teagasc for its nutritional quality at the cellular level to find out how well it can be used to cultivate future crops.

“We will be completely transparent throughout the experiment about what we are doing and how the project is going. None of us involved are truly experts in this, and nothing like this has ever really been run before in Ireland. There will be a weekly blog, we’ll keep people informed about how much trash has been diverted from landfill and how much soil has been created from the diversion.

“We’ll establish a set of pointers about how we can continue to improve the system — for example, how much plastic we found in the CUSP material, which could answer questions about the efficacy of some compostable packing materials, or if people are getting confused about what materials to put in what bin. It’s great that the community came together for this, because it truly is a community problem that requires us to come together to solve it.

A glass of the award winning Gold Finger rain water kefir at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
A glass of the award winning Gold Finger rain water kefir at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

“With Brexit on the horizon, food sovereignty is going to become a reality for people in Ireland. We’re a small country, but a country that has the ability to grow a lot of food. We’re an agrarian country, but for some reason we forgot that we also eat vegetables. If we are going to work towards food sovereignty in Ireland, Brexit might actually kick us all into shape. We’re going to have to figure out how to support local vegetable farmers, and programmes like this, with our new shop, is one tiny miniscule way to work towards that.”

There are two bi-products from the anaerobic bio-digester: CO2 and heat. My Goodness hope to be able to use the CO2 for bottling their rainwater Kefir and the heat to power their fermentation room creating a completely closed loop system.

“In CUSP, we believe that there is no “away place” to throw something into. When you take away the convenience of having a bin, of just tossing something away, it reminds you that waste still exists somewhere, but we’re basically passing our problem off onto someone else.

Some of the fresh local produce at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Some of the fresh local produce at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

“One of the best parts of this experiment is not only that we will produce some great soil, which is much needed in the city, but we are also retraining ourselves to be responsible in our community, something that we’re not necessarily always encouraged to do. There’s no sustainability in someone else solving the problem for you. There’s incredible strength and positivity that comes from a DIY culture: coming together as a community, to figure out ways in which we can solve it together.

“We want to inspire this action in other smaller communities. We’re a team of volunteers and food producers — we’re not experts. If we can do this in Mahon Farmers’ Market, anyone can do it, and that’s what we’re trying to encourage.

“We’re going to collect in all the data and show the highs and lows of what we go through throughout the year, and then we’ll be able to know if this is an applicable strategy for a hospital, a neighbourhood, a nursing home or a school.”

CUSP has been participating in the Social Enterprise Academy of Ireland for the past six months. This week the core CUSP team head to The Mansion House in Dublin to pitch their concept to those who will be deciding this years’ awardees for a significant bursary.

Wayne Dunlea, one of the team at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork, with some of the local produce and a Kombucha vinaigrette.Picture Denis Minihane.
Wayne Dunlea, one of the team at My Goodness in the English Market, Cork, with some of the local produce and a Kombucha vinaigrette.Picture Denis Minihane.

A reality check that, no matter how much goodwill there is, or how many volunteers you have, there is always a price tag associated with projects such as this.

“Social Enterprise is something that is new to us. We hadn’t considered CUSP to be a project that would be an enterprise as such, something that would earn us money. We’re not starting CUSP for that reason, but as part of this programme we are having to pitch in that way. People are hungry for knowledge and education, so if we can put this together in a package documenting what we have done for a year, showing others how to do it and help to bring the convenience of choice of living a green lifestyle to them, then that is a positive way to push CUSP forward and to branch out into other communities.”

The work of CUSP will in effect hand people the template to create a zero waste, closed loop system in a community situation that they can follow. No one has ever done that before. One further motivator to CUSP being a success is the English Market’s ambition to become the Green Heart of the City with the English Market Traders Group looking at ways to ‘green itself up’.

“At the end of the CUSP Social Experiment,” says Virginia, “depending on what we find and what our results are, the English Market has agreed to take on a bio-digester too!”

Cork, yet again, leading the charge in an innovation approach to food — this time through waste reduction and sustainability.”

Virginia O’Gara, co-founder of My Goodness
Virginia O’Gara, co-founder of My Goodness

THE REBEL VEGAN TAKEOVER OF DUBLIN

For anyone following the Dublin food scene, there was much wailing and nashing of teeth on news that The Bernard Shaw pub in Dublin was closing, and with it, Eatyard — a heaven of food truck good vibes and creativity. But now, the team behind Eatyard and a variety of other quirky food and drink Dublin-based festivals, Bodytonic, announced Eatyard Mark II - Racket Space, located near Glasnevin.

What has this got to do with Cork, boi? Enter My Goodness. In the halcyon days of Ballymaloe’s LitFest, Virginia and Donal connected with The Fumbally, another revered Dublin-foodie hub.

“They began to invite us up to Dublin to do various markets in their café because we jived on fermentation and they really liked our food. That was the beginning of our Dublin exposure. Two months ago we got an email from Bodytonic who asked us if we were interested in checking out a spot for their new Eatyard, and we said, sure!

“We wanted to make sure we could do everything right in Cork first, that we could provide our service the way we wanted to the people of Cork before going anywhere else. In the past five years, we’ve been working hard to build a company we could believe in, that was pretty right on ethically and created a really good product. We still have a long way to go, but we feel we’re finally at the point where we can branch out into Dublin.

“For years, people in Dublin have been asking if they could stock our stuff. But the problem with that is none of our products are prepared in single use containers; we have jars that we always want to reuse and refill but the logistics of that are difficult. There aren’t any distribution companies that are willing to take our bottles to an area and bring them back to us so we can process them in a safe way in our own kitchen, rebottle and send out product again.”

“So we were in a quandary about how to get our product up to Dublin without driving up there all the time. But now that we have this extra boost by going to the Eatyard every week, Thursday-Sunday, we’ll be able to distribute to all the shops, pick up all our bottles to bring back to Cork, and serve our gluten free raw vegan food in a funky pub in Dublin!

“It just becomes one extra loop within our system, and is a way to keep sustainable within our ethics of zero waste, reusable containers and supplying small shops with a product we believe in. We’ll be launching right before Christmas, and we’re looking forward to being a part of something new that is growing.”

For more about My Goodness see https://www.mygoodnessfood.com

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