Meet the man harvesting the best of Irish produce

Harvest Day’s 100% Irish-sourced food delivery service helps customers throughout Ireland to shop for sustainably produced, organic Irish vegetables, while supporting small-scale Irish farms and producers.

Entrepreneur Fergus Halpin is behind the business, founding it in May 2020 during coronavirus lockdown.

“I worked at fruit delivery company Fruitfellas here in Dublin and then worked in Australia for meal kit company Marley Spoon [in 2018-19] where I was sending boxes of produce across the country,” says Halpin. “That got me interested in the concept of putting food in a box and sending it to people.”

Back in Ireland, Halpin was drawn to farming initially but soon realized that it was more difficult than he had anticipated. “I’d never planted anything in my life, had no hands-on experience – and I quickly discovered that the capital required was very substantial.”

While researching this angle of the market, he discovered that there were lots of vegetable producers growing top quality Irish organic produce, but with limited access to the market. He particularly noted the lack of Irish organic potatoes available for sale in supermarkets. The only ones that he could find were from Britain which, to Halpin, simply didn’t make sense.

“Supermarket produce was primarily imported and the Irish organic offering was very small, mainly a few farmers in SuperValu. It was not so easy to buy Irish organic.”

A zero-waste approach

His solution was to set up Harvest Day as an online farmers market, buying direct and delivering the produce to customers. Initially he thought that it would just be a part-time business, with plenty of downtime for extracurricular activities. “I was going to work Tuesday to Thursday and go surfing at the weekend.”

That wasn’t quite how it worked out for Halpin: “We went from zero to 300 boxes a week in six months, riding the wave of coronavirus. People really wanted to shop local, to engage with and support smaller farmers.”

It wasn’t all straightforward though. “The growers all thought I was mad,” laughs Halpin. “When I was doing my research I was driving to Wexford, Limerick and Roscommon to get supplies. There’s no way in hell that anyone can get access to this range of products unless they’re constantly on the road.”

Now Harvest Day offers a range of just-picked and pulled seasonal veg from small producers like Riversfield Farm in Co Kilkenny, Larkin’s Hill Farm near Nenagh, Ballinasloe’s Beechlawn Organic Farm and Coolnagrower in Co Offaly.

“Everything is harvested to order and we work very closely with farmers to avoid waste. There are two harvest schedules per week and this morning [Tuesday] we closed orders for Thursday/Friday. The farmer will send us exactly what we need – for example, 84.5kg beet and 384 leeks. Everything is harvested, sent to customers and nothing is left over.”

In contrast, Halpin says, a sizable proportion of fresh produce on supermarket shelves goes to the bin. “There’s a level of waste built into the supermarket system but everything we harvest is already pre-sold. We’re constantly in communication with farmers. If there’s a glut of something, we find a way to make it work in our boxes.”

Fergus Halpin: “Simply having vegetables in your fridge every week pushes you to eat more” Picture: Marin Bramblett

Eat your veggies ASAP

You can “genuinely taste the difference,” says Halpin about the vegetables that he distributes through Harvest Day. Nutritionally he feels that these veggies score highly. “Once vegetables are harvested, they start losing their nutritional value. The closer they are to harvest, the better nutritional density. Basically, it’s 48 hours from harvest to delivery. You get them at peak freshness so they will last longer and be nutritionally good.”

Also, he points out, just having vegetables in the house makes for a healthier way of life: “Simply having vegetables in your fridge every week pushes you to eat more. Having that connection to the veg that you buy. We tell people that the broccoli is grown by Dan and Una in Tipperary, for instance, [it] makes you more likely to cook them.”

The deliveries also come with recipe cards and ideas for including more vegetables in your meal. Harvest Day offers a flexible weekly subscription or a one-off delivery for customers, with nationwide deliveries on Tuesdays and Fridays. It has recently expanded its offering to include a selection of Irish-produced pantry items, including bread made with organic flour, organic eggs, milk, juice and porridge oats.

“We don’t expect people to not go to the supermarket but we are trying to give everyone the ability to make the choice to buy Irish organic. If 25% of your weekly grocery spend can go through Harvest Day, that’s the first step.”

Passionate about getting quality Irish produce to customers, Halpin wants to make organic Irish produce more affordable and accessible. “We want to bring it to the mainstream. There are ways that we can do that. We just have to make sure that everyone – the farmer, the consumer, us as the retailer, and the environment wins.”

Five tips to make the most of your organic Irish vegetable delivery

1. Store appropriately: Onions, garlic, potatoes: keep in a dry, dark place. Keep potatoes away from onions. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips go in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Mushrooms: store in a brown paper bag in the fridge.

Lettuce and other leafy greens: wash, spin dry and store in the salad spinner on a low shelf of the fridge or wrap in a damp tea towel and store in the vegetable drawer. For tomatoes, place on the worktop. Avoid the fridge at all costs.

2. Stock up: save all trimmings. Carrot peels, leek tops, onion roots go in a bag in the freezer to flavor your next batch of stock.

3. No-waste recipes: a mixed vegetable soup or frittata are great ways of using up some getting-slightly-sad vegetables.

4. Soffritto-style: cook excess chopped onions, celery and carrot gently in olive oil then freeze in portions as an essential base for any stew or soup.

5. Embrace the newbies: when unfamiliar veggies arrive, take the opportunity to research a new recipe and play around with a new ingredient like celeriac, pak choi or rainbow chard. Who knows – you might just find a new favorite.

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