Does this Cork woman have the best food truck in Ireland?

CHRIS DUNNE chats to Niamh Hegarty, who features in a new TV show
Does this Cork woman have the best food truck in Ireland?

Niamh Hegarty's food truck, which is based at Ballybrannigan beach.

WHEN East Cork woman Niamh Hegarty had a light-bulb moment during the first lockdown when Covid hit, she came up with a novel idea, providing and delivering picnic boxes for people availing of the great outdoors.

Thinking outside the box, Niamh contacted more local food producers, who signed up to a Neighbourfood, offering folk local produce to purchase and to pick up at a designated venue.

“I think lots of local food producers came up with great ideas to get their produce to market during Covid,” says Niamh.

“We had to think outside the box.”

Now Niamh is appearing on ‘the box’ in a new six-part RTÉ Player Show, Battle of the Food Trucks hosted by James Patrice.

“It’s really exciting!” says Niamh, who studied in Japan after leaving college.

She knew food on the go was the way to go.

“With everyone making the best of the great scenic outdoors at the seaside, the forests, the mountains, the lakes, and the rivers, I came up with the idea of providing fresh organic picnic boxes for couples, families and individuals who enjoyed staycations during the summer. They proved very popular.”

They proved even more popular when Niamh started delivering the freshly made-up organic food boxes.

“I’d meet people half-way on the road and give them the boxes for their outing,” says Niamh. “They were delighted!”

Locals were even more thrilled when Niamh set up shop in a horse box near their home on Ballybrannigan Beach, supplying breakfast, brunch, coffee and home-made goodies.

“It’s going really well,” says Niamh.

“The good weather brought people out in droves.”

Niamh Hegarty, who features on Battle of the Food Trucks.
Niamh Hegarty, who features on Battle of the Food Trucks.

Niamh’s Larder was spotted from land and sea perched high up on Ballybrannigan beach.

“I was spotted on social media and the producers of the show Battle of the Food Trucks, got in touch with me,” says Niamh.

“Now I’m going to be on the telly!”

The series is now on the RTÉ Player.

Niamh’s novel ideas garnered a lot of interest on and off air.

Jack Crotty, aka Rocket Man, is behind the Neighbourfood model, which now runs in towns and villages all over Ireland. He collaborated with Niamh to establish and run Neighbourfood in Midleton, providing local food for local people.

“It’s about local producers and local food,” says Niamh.

“They produce or grow a range of fresh vegetables, fruit, real bread, cheeses, dairy produce, meat, fish, poultry, preserves, and other locally sourced produce offering their wares for sale in one place to collect on a designated day at a designated time slot.”

Neighourfood Midleton operates every Thursday, 5.30pm to 6.30pm, from John the Baptist Parish Hall, Church Lane.

The clickable convenience of online browsing, collecting your purchases at a time that suits you, seems like the perfect way to shop during lockdown when people can be in isolation due to Covid or who are living alone perhaps unable to go to the supermarket.

“It is a clever and easy way to buy great food while supporting and connecting to local producers,” says Niamh.

The marketplace is a good place to shop.

“Neighbourfood creates a market place for sellers and buyers to interact with. We create a market place for sellers and buyers to link up with one another and connect to fellow producers and connect with their customers,” says Niamh.

Neighbourfood encourages local people to support their neighbours while reducing their own carbon foot-print and food miles.

“People can purchase items, then head along to the collection point to pick up their goods,” says Niamh.

“The goods can be brought to the boot of your car and we can deliver within a 12 mile radius if anybody is unable to collect their shopping.”

The advantages to consumers are obvious.

“Great, local, fresh quality food, available at a central convenient venue, is very appealing,” says Niamh.

“The goods are all in a box ready to go with minimum packaging.”

Is Niamh selling produce from her larder?

“Yes, I am!” she says. “My soda bread is a good seller and people seem to like the home-made water kefir. We cater for coeliac requirements and for people who are gluten-free, as well as offering lots of vegan food options for sale.”

Locals from all walks of life are delighted with Neighbourfood.

“Local food producers and traders, like Kevin from Sage and Jack from the Granary, sell some of their products on Neighbourfood too,” says Niamh.

“Currently, we have 45 local producers on board and the number is continuously growing. Two new producers recently joined us and we welcomed Ballycotton Seafood as well.”

Variety is the spice of life.

“The choice of fresh locally produced food is amazing,” says Niamh.

“It is fantastic that local people can avail of the service and of the quality produce on offer that is just a click away. People can log onto the Neighbourfood site from Tuesday to Friday to do their shopping. It is all in a box ready for collection Thursday evenings at 12, Church Lane.”

Is Neighbourfood profitable?

“80% goes to the producer, 10% to the host and 10% to Neighbourfood,” explains Niamh.

Neighbourfood has a stamp of approval from those in the know.

“The Allen family shop with us!”

Now Niamh, since appearing on Battle of the Food Trucks, is famous too!

“I’m not so sure about that!” she says.

“I had a wonderful time shooting the programme. The crew and the other competitors were really nice and James Patrice is amazing!”

Will she win the €5,000 prize in the Battle of the Food Trucks competition?

“I have stiff competition!” says Niamh.

“When I was approached to take part in the programme, I really liked the idea.

“I think the popularity of the food truck around the country has really been reflected during Covid. The trucks provide great food and they provide a way of meeting people.”

They provide the bread and butter for the owners.

“That too!” says Niamh.

The show works on a challenge arrangement and the judges vote one participant off the show each week.

“We had to go through an interview process to appear on the show,” says Niamh.

“Then we were whittled down to six.”

She made the final cut.

Will she be the last one standing?

“I can’t tell you that!” she says, laughing.

She made a good stab at it though?

“Ah yes, we all gave it a good go. It was a brilliant experience!

Niamh works well outside her familiar box.

“One of the challenges, episode 4, ‘The Pressure Cooker’, was where we had to swap food trucks and cook and produce a dish in somebody else’s truck.

“Being on TV is a bit daunting, but I met some great people and we had a blast filming the Battle of the Food Trucks.

“It is an experience to remember!”

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