There were some very relevant points on the food sector and rural Ireland’s future made during some interesting discussions we were party to at the Iverk Show on Saturday last.
Many villages in the south east have lost post offices, Garda stations and local shops in the past two years – but at least there was good news for Inistioge’s post office this week (see News 26).
Many villages have lost their vibrancy in recent times, and it is vital that steps are taken, both locally and nationally, to retain a sense of energy and industry in our rural communities.
Politicians speaking at Iverk referred to the dangers to both milk and beef prices at present and how the falling trends will hurt farmers and, in turn, local communities.
While other sectors were in grave difficulty, growing export levels amidst the financial crisis underlined the importance of farming and food production to our economic wellbeing so Rural Ireland’s input should not be undervalued.
Having recently also attended the launch of a new Mexican themed food launch in Dunhill, it’s clear that agri-food can prove a driver and generator of new, small business, underlining how great economic oaks can emerge from the smallest of acorns.
Food safety regulations can prove tough on new start-ups so a new and more helpful approach might encourage more to move from a home business, for example, into small manufacturing.
Leader projects across each county, along with our various Local Employment Offices also have a large role to play in developing the food sector.
Getting more finance for these agencies remains an issue and new sources like crowd funding and crowd lending are slowly but surely taking root as an alternative to the traditional banks.
Supporting events like the Iverk Show and the Dunmore East Food Festival – also held last weekend – shows the great potential we have on the food front.
While we can buy food from anyone on the planet, moreorless, in our supermarkets nowadays, we all ought to buy local as much as we can.
The Grow it Yourself movement is also doing excellent work on this front, encouraging local food products.
Ireland has the reputation of creating clean and fresh food; our grass-fed cattle produce some of the world’s best beef, for example.
Consumption of processed food, an over-reliance on take away foods by some, which lends to lazy, more sedentary, stay at home lifestyle, is pushing up obesity levels – something we will all literally pay for via the health service in the future.
So it’s on all our interests to pay attention to eating locally sourced food, and healthier produced food for that matter as part of a healthier lifestyle.
There’s an onus on the Government, through the Sports Council and Bord Bia, to champion the benefits of ‘cleaner’ eating and marrying that with a healthier lifestyle. It’s a challenge but it’s one that has to be faced.
Schools have taken a lead with the ‘Food Dudes’ programme, but a similar push must also be made at secondary and third levels. And it’s not too late to positively impact the future.