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A growing business

Published 28/12/2013




It started in back gardens and on allotments but as GIY ambassador Mick McEvoy explains the hospitality industry is now joining Ireland's GIY (Grow it Yourself) revolution...

It's been a great year for GIY'ing.... or 'Growing it yourself'. We all enjoyed a beautiful sun drenched summer after a really late and snow-laden spring. For those of us who grow some of our own food this year is one that we will be able to brag about our successes in the garden. Homegrown fruit, vegetables and herbs were plentiful and many of us are still enjoying the fruits of our labour. Difficult crops to grow in an Irish climate thrived this year, crops such as sweet corn, tomatoes and pumpkins of all shapes, sizes and colours. The food revolution is well underway. It is not just taking place in our gardens at home be that back garden, front garden or both. It is fantastic to see how the GIY revolution is now taking off across the Irish restaurant sector. This year GIY teamed up with Good Food Ireland to recognise and award those cafes, restaurants and hotels across the island that are making special extra efforts to link land to plate in a very real way. These restaurants are embracing local ingredients wholeheartedly, by establishing vibrant gardens for their own home grown vegetables, herbs and fruit, providing us their customers with the best quality home grown, fresh produce and new flavours as the seasons change.

For most restaurateurs, the day starts in the kitchen, preparing ingredients for the busy day ahead. For dee and PJ Betuci of dublin restaurant toscana it starts in the garden. There are salads and herbs to be harvested, tomatoes to be picked, eggs to be collected and all of the other garden jobs of weeding, feeding the soil and planting the next crop. Toscana are recipients of the inaugural Good Food Ireland Grow it Yourself award in partnership with GIY Ireland to recognise restaurants who go the extra mile in linking land to plate in a very real way. The shortlist included rural country houses Ballyvolane House in north Cork and representing Ulster, Rathmullan House in donegal, as well as the pioneering Ballymaloe Cookery school in shanagarry. But intriguingly it also included restaurants in towns and cities including Cafe Rua in Castlebar, the Yard in Wexford and Restaurant Forty One at Residence on st stephen's Green.

It requires some creativity from the owners or chefs to acquire homegrown food in these circumstances.

In some cases, the chefs are growing literally in their own homes, and bringing the produce to their restaurants. That's what we wanted to celebrate with this award -- those restaurants going the extra mile with what might be considered limited food growing assets.

While 'locally-sourced' is becoming a buzzword in food circles, toscana and the other Good Food Ireland candidates for this award, are the real deal. We would like to congratulate them all.

In 2012, 97 per cent of Good Food Ireland businesses increased their purchasing of Irish food. This now extends to growing their own vegetables, herbs, leaves and fruit. It has gone way beyond the pot of herbs on the window sill.

In their garden in Co Wicklow, PJ and dee grow a wide range of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Tomatoes fill their polytunnel for the summer, with many grown from seeds PJ brings back from his trips home to Italy. Salad leaves are also important and customers were treated to very generous plates after a bumper crop this summer. Beds of mint fill in any gaps in the garden as PJ also makes his own Creme de Menthe. Many of the eggs from their free-roaming flock of hens are used in pasta for some of the filled-pasts dishes, and customers notice the difference. Now is a great time of year to plan ahead if you want to grow some of your own fruit, vegetables and herbs next year as the vegetable garden goes into near hibernation for a few months. There are lots of great free resources at the GIY website to help first time growers, novices or indeed experienced GIY'ers. There are also many GIY community groups across the country who come together regularly at free gatherings to inspire and support each other's growing. Check where your nearest group is and head along in the new Year, you just might come home with a pocket full of swapped seeds, lots of information and a bucket load of inspiration to get growing. May 2014 be a happy and successful GIY year for you all. * For more info visit www.giyinternational.org

* UNEARTHING GOODNESS: PJ Betuci, owner of Dublin restaurant Toscana