No ordinary farm - Tom and Patricia Gilbert's farm, near Carrickfergus, was the first in Co Antrim to achieve organic certification from the Soil Association in the early '90s, and then the first in Northern Ireland to have an organic farm outlet - and the shop was officially opened by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, no less, on May 5th, 1999.
The business continues to win environmental and conservation awards, and the farm is open to visitors at certain times, but the shop is always open five days a week and well worth a visit. A one-stop shop offering an unusually wide range of foods, including imported organic fruit, deli and store cupboard items, it even sells even organic toiletries.
But the main aim is to sell their own carefully produced foods - Aberdeen Angus and Dexter beef, native British sheep, Tamworth pork, a variety of poultry and eggs, home grown vegetables in season, jams and chutneys. No online sales, but the interesting and exceptionally informative website not only tells you about their own produce and philosophy but you'll also enjoy reading Tom's 'Irregular Rant'.
A Tea Room is open at the same times as the shop and there are some outdoor tables for fine weather. Offering some of their own produce and other delicious organic fare - light lunches, cakes, scones, tray bakes, teas, coffees and juice - it's a lovely homely place to take a break, with great home baking a particular treat.
And there's accommodation too. Restoration work in 2011, to what was originally an early 19th century farmhouse, also allowed the Gilberts to open a very comfortable four-bedroom guesthouse. Rooms are named after wildlife found on the farm - Lapwing, Brown Trout, Heron and Irish Hare - which tells you a surprising amount about Ballylagan before you arrive; it's luxurious for farmhouse accommodation and unusual features include wood burning stoves in the bedrooms which are lit ahead of arrival (there is an extra nightly charge for use of the stove). The family room is next to the sitting room, so parents can relax in the evening, and the 100% organic breakfast includes home produced bacon and sausages, home made granola and marmalade - and delicious freshly baked breads and scone.
Retaining all of its original charm whilst offering modern facilities, this would be an interesting and relaxing place to stay.