In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to James Kelly of Ballymore Organics
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Ballymore Organics?
My family have been farming here on the Kildare and Wicklow border for at least five generations. I started growing organic crops in 2015, with my first organic harvest in 2016. I had the most beautiful milling wheat that year and I decided I'd start milling my own flour here on my farm. After months of research and development I began milling in May 2017. My first product was stoneground wholemeal, still my most popular flour. At that time I was focused on selling to high end restaurants, but due to requests I opened a shop on my website to sell 5 and 10 kg bags to home bakers. In 2020 I expanded to stoneground plain flour, semolina and porridge oats, becoming the first and only grower and miller of wheat flour and porridge oats in Ireland.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
Provenance is fundamental, I only mill what I grow myself here on my farm, so that I can stand over the quality of my flour and oats. Each year a combination of the soils, weather and varietal choice impart a unique flavour on the grain. My flour is single-varietal and you can taste the difference.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
As a grower the biggest challenge is the weather, which is becoming ever more challenging. The windows of opportunity for sowing, and harvesting seem to be getting narrower, and prolonged wet and dry periods are making the growing season increasingly difficult. As a miller our Irish flour does not behave quite like foreign imports, and requires initiative on the part of bakers to adapt their techniques to our native flour. There's a lot of talent out there among home and professional bakers, but developing understanding of Irish flour is something that requires commitment.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
I can see a growing awareness of Irish flour, much of it driven by lockdown foodchain realities, both with home and professional bakers. The current inexorable rise of local bakeries and the demand for higher quality bread among consumers, echoing the growth in coffee over the last 10 years. This is now filtering through to the renewed interest in Irish flour.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
The future of the new wave of Irish craft millers depends on the support of Irish bakers. I would like to see bakers embracing Irish flour; its sustainably produced, tastes great and supporting it will revive our flour milling heritage.
What has running your own business taught you?
Taking risks is often rewarded.
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
Sir Arthur Guinness
What’s next for the company?
Irish oats are world renowned for their flavour and quality, and I believe Ballymore Organics will have strong export potential. I will be pursuing this over the coming months, but first you reap what you sow and the immediate focus is getting next years flour and oats sown before the winter closes in.