My family have had a fruit and veg shop with flowers since before I was born. It’s called Peter’s Fruit & Veg, after my namesake. It’s on the main street of Templemore, Co Tipperary. At this stage it’s the second home nearly.
Growing up, my part-time job was always working down in the shop or helping mam and dad grow something for the shop. So it’s in the blood. We have land on the Devil’s Bit Mountain and we have tunnels up there. The name of my own business, Devil’s Bit Farm, literally came from being a farm on the Devil’s Bit.
When I was growing up, I was like: ‘I’m not having anything to do with this shop. I’m gone.’ I went to Dublin for years. I started off working in fashion and then I went into interiors.
Then you just get that grá of missing growing things at home. When you’re living in apartments in Dublin, you don’t have a garden – you’re just walking by and commenting: ‘That’s a nice garden there. I wouldn’t mind being at home.’
About a year before I moved home I used to come back most weekends and help out with the growing and testing out a few things myself as well – just different ideas. The ball was rolling then before I came home.
I moved home here and was working in Cork for a while, still in interiors. I had it in my head when I moved work from Dublin to Cork that this was a short-term plan. The new plan was to start my own business growing things that would be sustainable and local. In the evening time in the summer I’d be testing things out in the small polytunnel when I got home.
COVID-19 hit and everything came to a standstill. We’re all sick of that story by now but it gave me an opportunity. I was thinking: ‘When else am I going to get a chance like this? Taking a week off work isn’t exactly going to be enough time to start your own business. So COVID-19 was a bit of a blessing in disguise for me. I don’t say that too often now.
I set myself a deadline of a month to get something on the shelves, so I just set anything I knew would grow quickly. It was all lettuces and different kinds of oriental leaves. That’s what I’m mostly still focusing on at the moment.
I actually started selling the salad in the shop first. It’s great because we’ve been there for so long the customers know they can come in and say: ‘Oh I like that and I didn’t like that.’ It was brilliant feedback to have at the start when you’re trying to get everything right.
I think my first week I sold about 20 bags of lettuce, nothing major. But I was like, there’s something here anyway, so I decided to resign from my job and jump in full force. I still sell in the shop and I also sell online too.
This year I started selling Christmas wreaths also. It’s kind of combining my interiors side and my growing side. Last year I made wreaths for the house here. It got my mind working for this Christmas and I thought: ‘Let’s just give it a go.’
The wreaths are made up primarily of fir, eucalyptus, holly and ivy. The fir and eucalyptus are grown in Kerry. The ivy and holly we just foraged from the farm here. Then I dried the berries, oranges, Irish apples and bits of timber.
The idea is that it’s an air-dry wreath, so there would be minimal care, really. People can buy it, put it on their door and they don’t have to worry about it. They can just enjoy it and see the little changes in it, things could get darker or a little lighter and the smell just stays the whole time.
The home house is just one kilometre outside Templemore town. So it’s a 15-minute commute for me to get to work up on the Devil’s Bit every morning, which isn’t too bad.
When I’m sowing, my interiors side goes into full drive and it all has to be in straight lines. I have green, then the red and another shade of green, because I don’t want two greens beside each other. Someone said it to me the other day that it’s exterior design!
I’m absolutely delighted I made the jump into this side of things full time. I’m so excited for the next growing season. We’re still growing salads, but we’ll be getting new food products started as well and I already have some of the flowers sown.
This year I won a chef’s larder award at Blas na hÉireann. It was a big win and it was a bit of recognition that things are going the right way.