Based in the Dublin mountains is Olly’s Farm, producing award-winning, 100% raw, local irish honey. With options like heather, blossom and soft-set honey, it’s no surprise that Olly’s Farm have won a range of awards, from Blas na hÉireann to McKenna’s Guide, to Great Taste and more. Not only is Olly a passionate beekeeper, but he also produces some great quality Dexter beef, pork, eggs, vegetables and much more.
We had a chat with the owner of Olly’s Farm, Olly Nolan, all about the business, his passion for Irish honey and everything in between.
Olly’s Farm are part of the Euro-Toques Ireland community of Irish producers.
Can you tell me about your own background in the food industry?
I have a degree in horticulture and part of that was growing fruit & veg. I had a brief encounter with bees back in the Botanical Gardens in 1998 while on work experience in the vegetable garden.
What inspired you to set up your business?
It kind of happened organically, I moved up to a small farm in 2012 to grow and rear all my own food and live more sustainably and beekeeping was only meant to be a very small part of that, maybe 2 or 3 hives. It was after family, friends and some members of the public were interested in my honey through my blog that I thought about creating a small business.
Did you notice a gap in the market?
Yes, after looking around a lot of the local supermarkets and smaller speciality stores I found that there was very little in the way of local natural Irish honey. Most honey in Ireland is still imported, with the majority from outside the EU. Many people think that the honey they buy is from Ireland but in fact a lot of the time it is not. Some of the brands have very Irish names to try and make it feel or appear Irish but it could be from anywhere on the planet. My mission is to try and create awareness around this fact.
How did you set up the business and how has it been growing over time?
In 2016, I had no idea where to start, so I decided to do the Food Academy with SuperValu, and after completing that they offered me 10 local stores. I decided to take on my 2 local stores and look after them, keeping them stocked all year round and then sustainably grow into more as production increased. In 2012 I had 12 beehives and now in October 2023 I’m going into the winter with 281.
Where do you source the ingredients used to make your product?
All my honey is produced by my bees in my different apiaries around South Dublin and North Wicklow. It is 100% raw honey. I do not add any sweeteners or mix it with any other honey. It comes straight from the hives that are all in Ireland. I am very proud of this and want to ensure that my product is 100% local and Irish and that my customers get the highest quality of pure Irish honey.
Can you tell me about some of the benefits associated with your product?
All my honey is single origin, meaning it’s bottled from one apiary. From the beginning I thought it would be great to give customers local honey. So, for example, my honey from my bees on the Powerscourt Estate is bottled as such. Every apiary is unique with its flora so the honeys taste quite different from each location.
My Heather honey is also quite unique; it’s a mono-floral honey made from the nectar of the ling heather that flowers all over the Dublin & Wicklow mountains in August and September. Research carried out by TCD & DCU a few years ago has shown that it’s got the same level of polyphenols as Manuka. These are the healthy bits that help keep us strong and healthy.
It’s also well-known that consuming local natural honey is great for you for many reasons, from helping with allergies to general, overall health. I’ve got plenty of customers that swear it’s helped or even cured some ailments. As it’s not medically backed up I’m not allowed to advertise it but I ask them to leave a review on Facebook or Google about their experience.
How has working with Euro-Toques Ireland impacted your business?
I’m relatively new to the Euro-Toques community and it’s been an amazing experience so far. I had been aware over the years as I followed events such as the Young Chef of the Year awards but always thought it was for chefs. It wasn’t until I was nominated this year in the food category and attended Dunbrody House that I got to see how supportive all the members, are from the chefs, to other producers, and the Euro-Toques team in general. I think it’s given me more exposure into the chef world and shown them my different products.
What has been your favourite part of working with Euro-Toques Ireland?
Just meeting all these amazing people. At the recent Young Chef of the Year Awards, my softset honey was used on the cheese board course and when I saw all the waiters coming out and saw my jars on the centre of the cheese board, that was definitely a pinch me moment. I’m delighted to be a producer member and look forward to taking part in other events that are organised.
How important has social media been for you in spreading the word?
Social media is a massive part of spreading the word, I am getting better at it and always trying to take great pictures and videos. I want my fantastic customers and followers to enjoy what I post.
What makes your product unique?
All my honey is made by my bees and can be traced right back to the apiary in Ireland that it came from. It’s a sustainably-produced natural product with very little processing and very few air miles. It is unique because it is 100% local and raw.
Where can people get your product (shops, restaurants?)
Are there any other small Irish food producers you admire?
There are so many that I don’t want to single out just one. Every week I meet fantastic local food producers who are out on their own journey and it is great to speak with them about our goals and food ambitions.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since going into business?
I only recently quit my previous job, it got to the stage where the beekeeping was taking up more time than my job. The biggest challenge is trying to get everything completed that needs to be done. It’s difficult to visit my stockists as often as needed during the busy beekeeping season as the time is needed with the bees.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date with this business?
Getting to where I’m at now as a business, reaching 300 hives and being able to produce the best quality honey without any compromises. From the beginning I said I’ll never take the easy way and buy in someone else’s honey like other beekeepers do to meet demand. I’ve got full control and traceability over everything produced at Olly’s Farm. I would never compromise on the quality or value of my products. I am committed to producing the highest quality honey in Ireland. It is hard work and takes up all my time but I am very proud when I see the positive reviews and feedback from my customers and see how happy my product makes them.
Could you ever have imagined doing anything else with your life?
Never, owning a smallholding and producing all my own food sustainably has always been a dream and the beekeeping business is a natural extension of that.
What does the future hold for your business?
I’m looking forward to expanding my number of hives and getting more natural honey out to new customers. I’m excited about all the other avenues that I could go: candles, cosmetics… the list is endless.