A former Derry hurler whose background is in IT has started Ireland’s first commercial lavender farm near Courtmacsherry, writes Emma Connolly
THE country’s first commercial lavender farm has been planted near the West Cork village of Courtmacsherry by a former Derry hurler.
Hugh Mullan is the powerhouse behind a fully diversified farm business called ‘The Seven Heads,’ which includes four glorious acres of hand-planted lavender – 7,000 plants in three different varieties.
His background isn’t anything to do with farming. He’s a digital experience consultant, and had been on the look-out for a hobby farm for several years.
Courtmacsherry’s Diana Dodog, who runs the Gourmet Street Kitchen, is a good friend of his. They met when they were both contestants in MasterChef back in 2015.
Diana was the overall winner and Hugh came fourth in the competition and, while he never worked in the food industry until now, it’s always been his passion.
‘Diana knew what I was looking for and rang me to tell me about this farm just 500m from Blind Strand. I had it bought in 24 hours,’ he said.
That was four years ago and, today, the farm comprises the lavender plot; a polyculture orchard combined with vegetables grown using a no-dig system (more of that later) and a mobile pizza truck (mainly located in Garretstown).
As well as that, the farm is available for exclusive hire for weddings and other events, which he’ll cater with everything from street food to posh nosh.That’s a lot of strands to the business but it’s intentional as Hugh’s premise is that the farm is fully diversified.
Originally from Derry, he’s married to Glanmire woman Caroline, a programme manager who he describes as ‘the brains of the operation.’ The couple live in Glenville, North Cork, where he currently commutes from.
It was through visits to the UK as part of his consultancy work, which he only ceased three months ago to farm full-time, that he came across lavender farms. One of the UK’s biggest lavender farms, Mayfield Lavender Farm in Surrey, is in fact run by a Kerry man who Hugh cites as being a strong support.
‘Our plan is next year to sell the lavender, both fresh and dried, for things like craft purposes and also to make things ourselves like lavender soap and honey,’ he said.
An added bonus is that their lavender is a haven for endangered bees.
Hugh has also planted a one-acre polyculture orchard - 200 fruit trees, 60 varieties including apple, pear and plum.
What’s interesting is that he’s uniquely combined it with a no-dig vegetable system.
This is a technique that was pioneered by a UK man called Charles Dowding and it’s something Hugh came across in a cider-growing region near Frankfurt.
Once good soil health is established it’s believed that by not disturbing the soil, nutrients are better maintained.
To ensure optimum soil health Hugh brought in 170 tonnes of manure from local farms which he put into two foot deep, raised beds, which are in between the rows of trees.
‘We brought in the manure from local farms to build soil health first and which will obviously increase the nutrient density of the food that comes from it. You just pull out the vegetables, cover the beds and then re-plant. Every time you rotivate or dig, you end up putting soil and dust in the air – that’s the reason some US states have no soil because they’ve rotivated too much.’
The business has essentially just launched but there are already development plans in place which include building the processing infrastructure they’ll need on site.
‘We launched the food truck two months ago but we see that as something that’s more supplementary to the operation. Our key business strategy is to bring people into the farm; hold farm to fork events; run mini food and wellness activities and festivals,’ said Hugh.
‘Our goal is to be fully diversified – I think that’s how farming will survive in the future.’
• Check it out for yourself this Saturday, August 17th, when Hugh is hosting his first Seven Heads Secret Social Sourdough Pizza Society event from 6 to 9.30pm. See sevenheads.com for more.
Health and good food important to Hugh
HUGH Mullan played football and hurling for Derry at underage, and hurling at senior level. He’s now involved in adventure racing.
Health, and good food are important to him and he’s especially interested in gut health and how that impacts the rest of our body.
UCC’s APC Microbiome Institute is at the forefront of global research into gastrointestinal health and it’s becoming more of a ‘buzz word’ among the general population.
‘People are becoming aware of that our gut health is linked to our brain health and our overall health,’ said Hugh.
He is committed to using probiotic, prebiotic, insulin and resistant starch foods and only uses sourdough in his pizzas.
As well as this, vegetables he’s planted on the farm were specifically chosen for their gut health benefits, for being easily fermentable and for known benefits for athletics performance.
They include pumpkin, various kinds of kale, salads and rocket, swiss chard, beetroot, fennel and artichoke.
By next year, the plan is to be producing gut-friendly foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and other preserved and fermented options on site.