Boom ‘Bloom’ for Irish strawberry growers

Strawberries and bloom are as synonymous as peaches and cream in celebrating Ireland’s heritage of producing wholesome food, including nutritious fruit.

Bord Bia Bloom, now in his 16th year, is due to return to his home at Phoenix Park, Dublin next week (June 2-6).

It will provide a 70-acre showcase for the best in the country’s gardening, horticulture, food and beverage industries.

But it will also mark the start of the summer strawberry season.

Three quarters of a ton of strawberries were consumed in the Bord Bia polytunnel and Kids Zone during Bloom 2018.

Research by Bord Bia also found that multiple retailers accounted for 50% of fresh strawberry sales in Ireland.

Roadside stalls and farm gate sales (35%) and greengrocers (15%) were the other most popular soft fruit outlets in the country.

NDC returns to its roots with a sustainable dairy farm garden at Bloom 2022 The National Dairy Council is delighted to present a display garden at this year’s Bord Bia Bloom, the gardening, food and family festival that runs June 2-6.

Dietitians consider strawberries a healthy snack option because they are low in calories and sugar, making them the ideal alternative snack for consumers of all ages.

The discerning ancient Romans were also aware of the health benefits of strawberries and considered them as remedies for fever, bad breath, sore throat, depression, fainting and blood diseases.

And they also used them as toothpaste substitutes because the juice was claimed to help clean discolored teeth.

Today’s consumers, who are looking for fresh produce more than ever to support their health and well-being, consider locally grown Bord Bia strawberries to be a fruit with many nutritional benefits.

But the sector also has economic benefits, as Irish Farmers Association chairman Tim Cullinan explained ahead of the Covid-19 shutdowns.

He said the indigenous industry was worth 47 million euros on the farm, with 57 growers producing more than 8,000 tonnes a year.

“More than 1,000 people are now employed in the industry and the total retail market is valued at €91 million. This exceeds 100 million euros when roadside sales are included,” he said.

Dublin, Wexford, Meath and Kildare are the main growing areas, but Ireland has long been associated with the fruit, which has a distinctive flavor.

Strawberries were first grown here over 260 years ago on the Strawberry Beds by the River Liffey in Dublin. Strawberry Hill in Cork City is also named after the fruit.

Most strawberries are now grown under cover, using either tunnels or greenhouses. This allowed the season to be extended with high quality produce available from March to November.

The Irish strawberry industry has grown considerably since the days when it was mainly based on field production.

Fresh strawberries can now be found in supermarkets and some small stores for most of the year (imported, out of season).

But it is the clearance sales that still announce the arrival of summer and the beautiful days to come.

Keelings, the Dublin family-owned fruit company with a history dating back to 1926, is a good example of how growers here have helped modernize the industry.

She built a new state-of-the-art 50,508m² greenhouse on her farm in 2009, which enabled her to produce over 100 million strawberries for the Irish market and extend the season into December.

Most recently, Aldi Ireland secured a new €7.5m deal with Dublin-based family business Sunglow Nurseries to supply its 150 Irish stores with 300 tonnes of premium early-season strawberries over the next three years. .

Wexford and strawberries are also linked in public perception. But surprisingly, the industry did not really develop there until 1939.

Strawberries were previously imported from Great Britain and Holland. But imports ceased during World War II, leaving the Irish with no choice but to grow their own.

Wexford growers started working less than three hectares and the season usually lasted three weeks in July.

Nowadays, thanks to polytunnels, temperature control technology and generations of experience, the Wexford season lasts from May to October.

The county is home to strawberry farms and seasoned growers. Many farmers also grow the fruit to sell along the roads.

Other growers have larger scale operations to produce enough strawberries to meet demand from supermarkets, road stops and directly from their own farms.

Next week’s Bord Bia Bloom will be held in person after two successful #BloomAtHome virtual events during Covid-19 restrictions.

The role outdoor spaces can play in promoting positive mental and physical health will be promoted during the festival, which will feature 19 display gardens and focus on sustainability and biodiversity.

Bord Bia’s Managing Director, Tara McCarthy, said it was great to bring together again the many talented people attending the event.

They include garden designers and cultivators, food producers, conservationists, chefs, musicians, storytellers and artists.

Ireland’s sustainable food production systems will be highlighted in flagship displays, including one by the National Dairy Council which will focus on the role of green pastures in producing quality milk.

Another garden will show how best to grow a range of organic edible crops (vegetables and fruits) in tandem with nature.

The fresh produce industry will be the theme of the Eat Well, Live Well garden, which will feature a display of seasonal fruit, vegetable and potato plantations.

Love Irish Food, whose brands employ more than 12,000 people, will tell positive stories of local and community investment at a Meet the Makers marquee.

Kieran Rumley, chief executive, said Irish food businesses are promoting sustainability at a time when it is more critical than ever, as they face a host of challenges including rising input costs and inflationary pressures .

“These businesses not only show the strength and resilience of the Irish food sector, but also Ireland’s commitment to the environment and community development,” he said.

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