Ronan Byrne - AKA The Friendly Farmer - is a familiar figure at Galway and Moycullen farmers’ markets, where he sells the free range meat and - especially - poultry - produced on the 35 acre farm outside Athenry in East Galway where he grew up, and which once belonged to his grandparents.
He’s living proof that a small mixed farm can be viable, but it didn’t happen by chance. Having studied Agri-business & Marketing, he spent some time working in finance, marketing and promotions - and managing a large-scale dairy farm in Poland - before returning to the family farm with a plan to specialise in high quality produce for the local market.
Since setting up as The Friendly Farmer in 2007 he’s reared free range pigs, beef cattle, and seasonal poultry (turkeys, geese and ducks) on his traditional mixed farm, but the main focus is on pasture-reared chickens. His grass based system allows easy outdoor access to the flock and he produces 115 hubbard chickens a week.
Like the general public, it’s a challenge for chefs to source top quality chicken in Ireland and they just can’t get enough of Ronan Byrne’s birds, which won a prestigious Euro-Toques Food Award in 2012, following nominations by JP McMahon of Cava Restaurant Galway and John Coffey of Thyme Restaurant, Athlone. Commending “the taste and quality of his chickens in a blind tasting, Euro-Toques commented that “Chickens of this kind are highly sought after by Euro-Toques chefs and demand far outweighs supply. This is precisely the kind of product they are looking for.”
The Friendly Farmer chickens are sold direct from the farm, at Knockbrack near Athenry (087 620 3765); from selected retailers including McGeough’s Butchers, Oughterard; at Galway and Moycullen Farmers’ markets; and online where orders are accepted for 15 birds with no delivery charge - ideal for several families to share.
Dublin area collection points can sometimes be arranged (eg Rolestown Garden Centre, near Swords) and a more regular system for Dublin customers is planned. Ronan also sells directly to a number of quality-led restaurants in Galway, Roscommon, Athlone and even one in Donegal.
And things don’t stand still for The Friendly Farmer, who has a new on-farm abbatoir (a very encouraging development, considering how small abbatoirs were disappearing such a short time ago) and a few other developments in the pipeline for 2013.
Now if only we could think up some similarly enterprising ideas for rural restaurants, what a great thing that would be.
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