Based in Garristown, north Dublin, Hilltown Growers has become renowned for its excellent produce and is now one of the largest growers of swedes (turnips) in the land. Irish Tractor & Agri heard more from John Gormley, who is a second generation grower, about the company’s recent nomination at the Bord Bia Origin Green Farmer Awards.
2019 promises to be another busy year for Hilltown Growers in Garristown, Co Dublin as the second generation growers continue to lead the way in vegetable produce for big name clients such as Tesco, Dunne’s Store, SuperValu and Marks & Spencer.
Run by brothers John and Simon Gormley, the company grows its vegetables on a commercial basis with swedes (turnips) accounting for roughly 80 per cent of their annual turnover.
John himself looks after the financial end of the business, while Simon is in charge of field operations, with the youngest brother Ronan currently occupying the position as Packhouse and Quality Manager.
Irish Tractor & Agri caught up with John Gormley recently to find out all about the family run business – from its origins to the present.
“We employ 12 people here and the three brothers involved are myself, Simon jnr and Ronan,” explained John.
“Myself and Simon took over from our father between 1991-1992. We became incorporated as Hilltown Growers in 2002 and started specialising then in the vegetable end of it.
“We decided to specialise in three different crops and turnips would now be around 80 per cent of what we do here, along with broccoli and brussels sprouts which helps spread the workload throughout the year.
“My father (Simon snr) would have started the business back in the 1960s with a small amount of strawberries. He bought where we are based now and the business has just continued on from there until now.
“Historically, he always had a passion for growing until the day he passed away back in 2010.”
Both John and Simon jnr have certainly followed in their father’s footsteps with Hilltown Growers and their innovation has helped the company grow itself into a key player in this country when it comes to growing on a commercial basis.
The two siblings received their education in agri and horticulture from Warrenstown College and haven’t looked back since taking on the directorship of their father’s business back in the early 90s.
“Right now we are growing 210 acres of veg, the bulk of which is 170 acres of swedes,” said John.
“We’ve nine to ten acres of sprouts which are harvested for Tesco and Marks & Spencer.
“Most of the sprout harvesting is done by Andrew Fitzpatrick, who has been harvesting sprouts for over 36 years.
He continued: “We have our own farm which is 300 acres and we rotate our farm with a couple of tillage farmers and neighbouring farmers throughout the year in order to improve crop rotation.
“A good relationship with people is the whole secret. We’ve been a direct supplier to Dunne’s Stores for five years now and we’ve had a great relationship with them – and all our clients – since we started with them.”
So what has been the secret been for Hilltown Growers in keeping the relationship with clientele so strong all these years?
According to John, quality is something that has always been top priority since back as far as when his father first started growing.
“I think it comes down to our attention to detail. Our site location is ideal for growing swedes because we’re at a higher altitude here in Garristown and have access to fertile land where vegtable growing is less intensive than traditional places for growing,” he stated.
“We also do a lot of research and are always trying to figure out the industry’s best practice.”
The company has invested heavily in integrated pest management to reduce pesticide under on the farm.
All swedes are now covered with crop netting to act as a physical barrier for pests, eg field beetles.
Looking back on the year gone past, there were certainly difficult times for the Gormleys at different points throughout 2018.
“Weather-wise, we were quite fortunate that October was a good month but overall it was a difficult year with the weather we had here,” he said.
“With the snow into late Spring/March and the drought conditions in June, July and August, it made seed germination very difficult with massive input costs in order to save our crops.
“The year ahead is set to have plenty more challenges but you must learn to be resilient and embrace the challenges the weather throws at you.”
Now one of the largest growers of swedes in Ireland, it’s little wonder why the produce of the Gormleys’ crops can be seen and bought from the shelves of big name supermarkets 52 weeks of the year with the help of cold store facilities.
“In order to get 90 to 95 per cent of our swede crop on the multiples’ shelves, we market the smaller swede in a three-net,” John outlined.
“Cold store facilities are used to chill broccoli for the summer months and we have invested in the packhouse and cold store.”
Back in November, all the hard work that goes on day in and day out at Hilltown Growers received some national recognition when the company was nominated in the Vegetable/Field category at the Bord Bia Origin Green Farmer Awards.
“It was a real honour and a great night as well. We actually won the same award in 2010 and it’s always great when you can get out for a night like that and meet your peers. We’re all farmers at the end of the day.”
Looking to the future, the roots of a third generation of Gormley have already been planted at Hilltown Growers with John’s son and Simon jnr’s two sons already lending a helping hand to the family business.
For the last 30 years, Hilltown Growers have had a close association with Crosscare, who call in on a weekly basis for veg to help the less fortunate in our society.
Hilltown Growers Ltd
Tel: (01) 835 5820
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 1, February/March 2019