‘Bloom’ boom for Irish strawberry growers

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

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

It will provide a 70-acre shop window for all that is best in the country’s gardening, horticulture, food, and drink sectors.

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

Three quarters of a tonne of strawberries were eaten in Bord Bia’s polytunnel and Kids Zone during Bloom 2018.

Research carried out by the Bord Bia also revealed that multiple retailers accounted for 50% of fresh strawberry sales in Ireland.

Roadside stalls and farmgate sales (35%) and greengrocers (15%) were the other sale outlets for the country’s most popular soft fruit.

NDC goes back to its roots with a Sustainable Dairy Farm Garden At Bloom 2022 The National Dairy Council is delighted to present a garden show at this year’s Bord Bia Bloom, the gardening, food and family festival running from June 2 to June 6.

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

The perceptive ancient Romans were also aware of the health benefits of strawberries and, then regarded as cures for fever, bad breath, sore throats, depression, fainting and blood diseases.

And they also used them as substitutes for toothpaste because it was claimed the juice helped to clean discoloured teeth.

Consumers nowadays, who are more than ever looking for fresh produce to support their health and wellbeing, see locally grown Bord Bia quality assured strawberries as a fruit with many nutritional benefits.

But the sector also has economic benefits as Irish Farmers Association president Tim Cullinan explained before the Covid-19 lockdowns.

He said the indigenous industry was worth €47m at farm gate, with 57 growers producing over 8,000 tons annually.

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

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

Strawberries were first grown here over 260 years ago on the Strawberry Beds beside the River Liffey in Dublin. Strawberry Hill in Cork city also owes its name to the fruit.

Most strawberries are now grown under cover, using either tunnels or glasshouses. This has allowed the season to be extended with high-quality product available from March until November.

Ireland’s strawberry industry has grown significantly from the days when it was largely field-based production.

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

But it is the roadside sales that still herald the arrival of summer and brighter sunny days ahead.

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

It built a new 50,508 sq m state of the art glasshouse on its farm in 2009, which enabled it to produce over 100m strawberries for the Irish market and extend the season into December.

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

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

Strawberries were previously imported from Britain and Holland. But imports ceased during WWII, leaving the Irish with no option but to cultivate their own.

Wexford growers began working less than three hectares and the season typically 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 producers. Many farmers also grow the fruit to sell along the roadsides.

Other producers have much larger scale operations to produce enough strawberries to meet the demand of supermarkets, at the road stops and directly from their own farms.

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

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

Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said it is great to once again bring together the many talented people who are a part of the event.

They include garden designers and growers, food producers, conservationists, chefs, musicians, story tellers and artists.

Ireland’s sustainable food production systems will be highlighted in the showpiece exhibits including one by the National Dairy Council which will focus on the role of lush 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 have a planting display of in-season fruit, vegetables, and potatoes.

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

Kieran Rumley, Executive Director, said Irish food businesses are driving 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 showcase not alone the strength and resilience in the Irish food sector but also the commitment to Ireland’s environment and community development,” he said.


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