A growing concern

31 Jul , 2015  

Morning Fresh Farm Ltd has been in business for 20 years, but the McCann family has been growing vegetables in Rush, Co. Dublin for generations as Mark McCann explains.

Mark, who runs Morning Fresh Farm with his wife Julie, is a third generation farmer and lettuce producer. The McCann name has been synonymous with the sector since Mark’s grandfather Robert started off growing potatoes and cauliflower. In the early 1960s, Mark’s father Maurice, who is still working away at the age of 73, erected some of the first glasshouses seen in north Co. Dublin and began growing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.

The family continued growing tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and some celery until about a decade ago when Mark decided to change direction and concentrate on growing lettuce only.

“We took the decision in order to have a year-round business,” he explains.

“When we were growing tomatoes and cucumber, we found ourselves out of production for long periods because the season is so short – May to November. By concentrating on lettuce growing, we are in production 12 months of the year and have been able to expand our business accordingly.”

Mark continues: “We are very proud of our vegetable growing tradition. My grandfather started farming the land and my father progressed to greenhouse growing after that, first in timber-frame glasshouses and then aluminium ones.”

Employing 14 full-time and eight part-time staff, Morning Fresh Farm is now firmly established as a leader supplier of fresh Pak Choi, Little Gem, Cos and Butterhead lettuce to the Irish and international market. The lettuce is grown in the McCann’s protected crop in 17 acres of glass housing in the Rush area. The McCanns have continually invested in their harvesting and packaging equipment as well as in their marketing and distribution networks.

With the benefit of a 900 square metre pack-house and refrigerated area, Morning Fresh Farm offers packing and labelling to any specification. The company also offers contract packing, labelling and despatch.

Morning Fresh Farm’s location allows easy access to the M1 motorway and to Dublin city centre, which is just 30 minutes away. The family-run business is proud to serve the major Irish multiples, catering and food services, local outlets and some of the large wholesale markets with quality produce.

In 2005, Mark was the first grower to introduce Pak Choi into Ireland. At the time, he was producing 2,000 heads of lettuce per week, but is now producing 30,000 heads per week. Also known as Chinese Cabbage, Pak Choi is used in a variety of dishes, including Stir Fry.

“While Little Gem continues to be our most popular lettuce, having taken over as the market leader from Iceberg, there is a growing market for Pak Choi and that has enabled us to go from strength to strength in the last decade,” says Mark, who hopes his teenage son Alan will follow him into the business in the near future.

“I was one of the first growers in Europe to trial a new variety of the crop and, as a result, growers throughout Europe have started to introduce this particular variety into their greenhouses. Prior to me introducing it to this country, Pak Choi had to be imported from Zimbabwe and Spain, and that used to take four days or more. Now we can have it in the shops within 24 hours of harvesting.”

A typical day at Morning Fresh Farm sees the lettuce harvested first thing in the morning. It is then brought to the pack-house where it is refrigerated and palletised before being delivered. This process is completed in the same working day.

The McCanns have a long-standing relationship with Total Produce, whose nearest depot is just 20 minutes away. Total Produce is Europe’s leading fresh produce provider which has allowed Mark to focus on what he does best – growing lettuce – by looking after his distribution and sales needs.

Morning Fresh Farm’s produce can be found in many of the leading supermarket chains, including Marks & Spencer (Little Gem and Butterhead), Tesco (Pak Choi and Little Gem), Lidl (Pak Choi and Butterhead), Aldi (Little Gem) and SuperValu (Pak Choi, Little Gem and Butterhead). He has three vans dedicated to supplying Total Produce.

Mark had an extremely busy summer and, as people become more and more conscious about what they are eating, sees no reason why his company can’t continue to grow in the years ahead.

“People are eating more salads and that obviously bodes well for our business. We also have a more diverse population in Ireland nowadays whose staple diet includes lettuce,” he says.

“There are numerous health and nutritional benefits to eating lettuce. Lettuce is also easy to prepare. Just a quick rinse and it’s ready for eating.

“The advantage of being an indoor grower is that I can control the elements and dictate the environment in which I grow my lettuce. If I need to push the crops along, I can, and it’s the same if I want to slow them down.

“Freshness is the most important thing for me. I am dedicated to delivering the freshest and best quality produce I can and I am continuously improving and evolving my business to meet the demands of my customers.”

Mark is also vice-chairman of the IFA Field Vegetable & Protected Crops Committee.

Morning Fresh Farm Ltd
Co. Dublin.
Telephone: +353 (0)1 8954401
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.morningfreshfarm.ie

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 2 No 7, December 2014