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A Five Minute Chat with Ireland’s Small Food Producers: Coole Farm

Part of our series with Euro-Toques Ireland is a proud community partner of Euro-Toques Ireland, and we are delighted to relaunch our Producer Series together, where we shine a spotlight on the passionate people behind Ireland’s exceptional small-scale food producers. We kick off this series with Coole Farm, a family-run market garden in Louth, where Helen McManus and Mark Durnin, both with deep roots in farming, have been cultivating fresh, flavourful salad leaves and vegetables since 2019.

Fuelled by a love for local, seasonal produce and a desire to fill a gap in their local market, they embarked on this journey, transforming a piece of unused land into a thriving micro-farm. Join us as we delve into their story, their commitment to sustainability, and their dedication to providing the freshest, most delicious produce to their community.

Can you tell me about your own background in the food industry?

Mark and Helen both have a background in farming. Helen’s father was a farmer and she spent most of her childhood helping around the yard before pursuing a career in hospitality. Mark is a 4th generation farmer. We both love food, dining out and supporting local and Irish producers. We are both passionate about growing excellent quality food using sustainable practices. We farm responsibly. We are happy producing on a small scale and delivering our produce to local restaurants, hotels, shops and farm stores. 

What inspired you to set up your business? Did you notice a gap in the market?

Yes, we found that there was no fresh, locally produced or even Irish produced good quality salad leaves available to us in our locality, with a decent shelf life. We love salad leaves, eating fresh and seasonal food and really found a gap here in the local stores in Louth that we shop in. 

How did you set up the business and how has it grown over time?

We identified a parcel of land on the farm close to home that hadn’t been used in some time and was perfect for a market garden style set up. Mark enjoyed coaching from Jim Cronin and got great encouragement from another salad leaf grower, in Cork, Rory of Kildinan Farm. 

Mark then completed a masters in organic farming in 2021 via the University of Glasgow. 

We also successfully graduated from the Supervalu Food Academy programme for new and growing food businesses. That gave us amazing insight into the world of food retail, marketing of food products and small food business management in general. We started growing salad leaves, then introduced more products such as kale, rocket, parsley, coriander, long stem broccoli and leeks. 

We began with 2 or 3 small shops in early 2019 and now stock over 15 outlets, to include local hotels, restaurants, farm stores and supermarkets. 

Where do you source the ingredients used to make your product(s)?

As we are a primary producer, the inputs are minimum. We source our seeds from Eurorprise (a seed specialist in Lusk, Co. Dublin), produce our own compost and also purchase from Living Green. 

Can you tell me about some of the benefits associated with your product(s)?

Eating leafy greens has excellent health benefits. They are bursting with lots of nutrients and vitamins, which vary depending on the particular leaf and variety. Our mixed salad leaf products contain high levels of vitamins A, C, K and our kale product is also high in calcium and iron! We all know how good fresh vegetables, free from pesticides and artificial fertilisers are for us.

How important has social media been for you in spreading the word?

It is a very helpful tool to enable us to reach more customers and potential customers and to attempt to engage with them a little more. They can gain an insight into who we are, what we do and how we do it. We receive feedback that lots of our customers really enjoy getting to know more about where their food is coming from. Particularly when sourcing local products. 

How has being a part of the Euro-Toques community helped you and what is the best part about the community?

The access to chefs has been wonderful. To be a part of the community gives us even more confidence about our products and what we do. We are new members! So are really looking forward to all the future events and opportunity that we know are in store. 

What makes your product unique?

We are a micro producer and plan to stay small! We love the fact that we grow local and sell local. Our customers can be confident of how fresh our products are and who they are getting their produce from. We feel good about providing for our community and in turn, about how they support us.

Also, we grow without any artificial pesticides or fertilisers. We also harvest and deliver our products within 24 hours, so they couldn’t be any fresher on the shelves, in the restaurants and in our customers homes. 

Tell us about the chefs/restaurants using your products to create dishes.

Conor Halpenny in Square Restaurant Dundalk is such a champion of local producers and we were so honoured when he included us on the menu at The Square. Conor and his team produce amazing dishes without fuss and the restaurant is a real gem in Leinster. 

Najul in The Marcy Hotel, Drogheda began using our product on the back of a really successful Boyne Valley Bites campaign last October. (Where local food service providers were encouraged & supported to use local food producers in their menus. So simple, so clever!) We were thrilled when he then wanted to continue to include us in the Marcy Hotel’s menus. This fantastic hotel in the heart of Drogheda, is ran by two sisters and they are all a pleasure to work with. 

Jon Maltas in Myrtle, Ardee has created such a gorgeous place to enjoy good food in our hometown. It is really special for us to be included, as the menu is evolving constantly. It is so well thought through with incredibly varied and interesting dishes. It is such a treat that it is on our doorstep. 

Coole Farm Euro-Toques (6)

Are there any other small Irish food producers you admire?

There are so many! In the Boyne Valley region we are blessed with tonnes of excellent food producers; Merci Beaucoup bakery, A Bit on the Side Jellies, Newgrange Gold oils, Urban Indian foods, Roll It Pastry, Whats for Pudding, Lannleire honey and so much more. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since going into business?

Costs! We are the same as everyone else. Trying to balance the rising costs of everything related to creating our products with a fair price to ask the consumer / buyer to pay. 

Naturally, when dealing with a fresh food product with a relatively short shelf life, there are great challenges to managing stock levels. Growing enough but not too much as the seasons change. Stocking the shops we sell to, but not too heavily as waste is so upsetting. It can be difficult to get the balance right!. 

What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date with this business?

Being included on some of the finest menus in Louth.

Could you ever have imagined doing anything else with your life?

It is hard to remember what dreams came before this one! Mark probably dreamt of job close to or on the ocean and Helen to do something that allowed her to travel freely. We love what we do and really believe in our products and their quality. We wouldn’t change a thing.

What does the future hold for your business?

We are keen to obtain our organic certification next year, which is well underway. We believe in organic principles and are excited to be able to shout from the rooftops that we are fully organic. We would like to extend our customers in the food service area (keeping it local of course!)

We also plan to extend the range of vegetables that we grow. Watch this space. 

Anything further to add?

We are very lucky to have a business where we live, that allows us to be outside and to enjoy the bounty of what our soil and land can provide, whilst never forgetting that it is our job to protect and nourish it. We are just caretakers, and not the owners!

About Euro-Toques Ireland

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Euro-Toques Ireland is a nurturing community of chefs, producers, educators and food writers that celebrates and preserves the culinary heritage and food culture of Ireland today and tomorrow.

The key ingredients of our community are our deeply engrained values that emphasise a high set of principles within the kitchen, from sourcing to serving. This means striving for excellent culinary standards and always working with quality local produce, in season where possible. 

Euro-Toques Ireland is part of a wider European network of like-minded Chefs. Founded in Brussels in 1986, Myrtle Allen is one of the European founding members who then went on to establish Euro-Toques Ireland.

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