Waterfall Farms Ltd is a family-run business specialising in the growing, harvesting and preparing of vegetables for the catering trade. Founder Declan Martin explains more about the thriving Co. Cork-based concern.
Waterfall Farms Ltd was established in 1998, but the Martin family have been growing vegetables since the early 1970s. On a rundown neglected 50-acre farm with derelict buildings and a 200-year-old dwelling house which was in bad repair, Declan Martin and his wife Rosemary started growing carrots, parsnips, Swedes, onions and butterhead lettuce.
Things weren’t easy in those early years. Declan and Rosemary worked round the clock growing and harvesting their vegetables, and making daily deliveries to small shops around Cork city using a tractor and trailer.
A far from reliable wholesale market prompted Declan to walk into his local Dunnes Stores one day with two samples of butterhead lettuce. The store manager – after eventually receiving the green light from HQ – agreed to let the Martins supply the retail giant and so began a contract that would run for 18 years.
A van was purchased, to replace the tractor and trailer, as well as an Edlington washer which replaced the power-hose for washing the vegetables. The Martins employed nine staff and had three trucks and two vans on the road.
When the Dunnes contract – which accounted for about 85 per cent of their business – ended in the late 1990s, it came as a huge blow to Declan and Rosemary, who were by now joined in the business by their sons Nigel and Trevor. But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they diversified and began their vegetable preparation business under the name of Waterfall Farms Ltd.
The company has gone from strength to strength since then thanks to its reputation for attention to detail, quality, freshness and service. A six-day-a-week delivery service is in operation with four refrigerated vans on the road supplying a wide selection of pubs, hotels, cafes, juice bars and the best restaurants within a 50-mile radius of Cork city. The family-run business also supplies produce to the deli, butcher and kitchen section in many of their local SuperValu stores. Included in this is the store in Glanmire, which is the biggest SuperValu outlet in Ireland. Scally’s SuperValu in Clonakilty are also supplied by Waterfall Farms, with the store leading the way in Gluten free products and acting as a depot for the SuperValu group in this sector.
With Nigel and Trevor, as well as long-time farm manager Gerry Kelleher overseeing operations, Waterfall Farms has increased its workforce to 14 and is leading the way in the growing, harvesting and preparing of vegetables for the catering trade. An onsite farm shop in Waterfall, which is three miles from Ballincollig, stocks a wide range of produce as well as a selection of homemade chutneys, jams, pottery and local wood turning items.
Quality and service are paramount features which the business in based on. An extensive range of vegetables, herbs and salads are grown and prepared to supply a fresh, unique and local range of products.
“For us, it’s all about minimising the time it takes to get the vegetables from the field to the table,” says Declan.
“This ensures maximum flavour and nutritional value. People also like to be able to smell the freshness off the vegetable. We’re one of only a handful of businesses out there who grow and prepare vegetables. No-one can beat us when it comes to freshness. We also place a huge emphasis on hygiene and regular staff training.”
Nigel had taken ownership of the existing 50-acre farm, while Trevor owns another farm of roughly the same size which is also used for growing (rotation is important in vegetable growing). The Martins grow about 35 acres of vegetables in Waterfall where greenhouses, a large packing facility and a cold-store are located onsite.
A huge variety of carrots, parsnips, Swedes, cabbages, lettuce, celery, leeks, rhubarb and herbs are grown to suit all tastes. The range of carrots, for example, includes orange, yellow, purple and white. If a vegetable is in season, Waterfall Farms will have it.
They also grow spot crops throughout the year, many of which are requested by chefs who are looking for something different that will spark off a dish, be it with colour or taste. That means that watercress, romanesco cauliflower, flower sprouts, rainbow chard, a selection of coloured beetroot and courgettes, together with edible flower mixtures and garnish are all produced at Waterfall Farms.
“It’s an expanding sector,” continues Declan.
“Irish people want more variety nowadays. They also expect products that are healthy, nutritious and fresh. Our products meet all of these requirements and more.”
However, the sector also faces many challenges, which Waterfall Farms like all growers are well aware of.
“The company is greatly concerned at the continuing exodus of growers from the Horticulture sector.”
The main reason for this decline is due to the major supermarkets using vegetables in their price cutting/ loss leading tactics against each other. In the absence of an established cost price of production in the vegetable industry they are acting within the law and so the grower has to take the punishment.
The multiples control the entire vegetable production sector because they handle about 80% of total sales. They are also responsible for importing foreign produce as they seek to fill containers travelling from Mediterranean fruit growing countries.
The Loss leading offers – 5 cent at Christmas – always seems to be based around vegetables. Meat and Milk products are not offered in the same way due to better regulation and controls.
“A solution should come from government who have the power to save the horticultural sector even if only to help the national balance of payments. Action could also be initiated by An Bord Bia which seems to remain silent.
“Our experience of dealing with the Irish public is that they want to purchase Irish Vegetables where ever possible and so something needs to be done at government level to ensure the survival of the Irish Horticultural sector.”
A typical day at Waterfall Farms begins with deliveries between 5am and 10am. The farm staff start the daily harvest at 7.30am and the preparation process gets underway at 9am. This involves washing, peeling and vacuum packing. It all means that the vegetables make it from field to table in 24 hours or less.
“We supply to approximately 40 customers throughout Co. Cork. As freshness is key, we only deliver what’s ordered. The vegetables are freshly prepared in the afternoon and are delivered early the next morning,” explains Declan.
The farm shop affords chefs from the restaurants which Waterfall Farms’ supplies to see the vegetables in an unprepared state. The shop also receives regular visits from catering students in CIT and has hosted farmers from as far away as Canada, while a farmers delegation from Finland are also due in the coming months. It is open to the public from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.
Waterfall Farms also has a stand at the Farmer’s Market in Bishopstown every Thursday. Under their green gazebo, you’ll find a huge range of fruit and vegetables, washed and unwashed, along with a tasty selection of homemade relishes, chutneys, jams and marmalades.
Waterfall Farms is proud to be part of the Fuchsia brand. Long associated with West Cork, the brand represents a symbol of quality for the food and tourism products of the region. The products marketed under the Fuchsia brand are firmly rooted in the unique traditions and influences of the region. High standards of product and service excellence reflect passion and enthusiasm as well as a strong commitment to training, networking and a code of best practice.
Fuchsia Brands Ltd is a development initiative of the West Cork Development Partnership. It is part funded under the Rural Development Programme by the Irish Government and part-financed by the EU under the National Development Plan 2007-2013.
Waterfall Farms have claimed a number of awards, starting off with one which they won for Farm Diversification, when they switched from just supplying vegetables, to preparing them for the catering trade.
They are affiliated to Bord Bia and have been the recipients of certificates and standards awards from when they supplied Dunnes Stores. They have received regional and national awards from Bord Bia for the quality of their produce.
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 2 No 7, December 2014