Fields of Gold
INTERVIEW:HE MAY BE one of the State’s most eminent barristers, but John Rogers also has another life, one that’s far away from horse hair wigs and legal briefs. It involves crop rotation, combine harvesters and yields per tonne.
The senior counsel and former attorney general runs a farm in Slane, Co Meath. His 200 year-old farmhouse at Crewbane overlooks the Boyne Valley and the burial tomb at Knowth. If that isn’t enough, Newgrange is down the road.
“This area of the Boyne Valley is really a fabulous place to live,” he says. “It’s a lovely spot.”
And it’s from this lovely spot that he has started another enterprise. Next week he will launch Newgrange Gold, a range of premium rapeseed and camelina oils for culinary purposes.
It all started about 20 years ago when the barrister bought the farm in an effort to leave the city behind after his working day.
“It was an experiment to try to look at a different way of living,” he recalls. Up to then, he had been immersed in work. He was called to the bar in 1973 and was described by colleagues as one of the hardest-working barristers in the Law Library. He became a senior counsel in 1984 just as he was appointed attorney general by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. He was still only 34.
Although he was born in Dún Laoghaire, his father was from Meath and he spent a lot of his childhood in Navan and knew the territory when he bought the farm. Rogers started his agricultural experiment with cattle.
“I had a suckler herd for 12 or 14 years but I couldn’t make it work,” he says. “Some years I would do all right but other years it didn’t work at all.” He decided to plant grain and things went much better.
A few years ago, the barrister began planting rapeseed. As he watched trailer loads of the bright yellow crop leaving his farmyard he began to wonder if there was something he could do with it.
Rapeseed oil, which can be used in the same way as olive oil, is high in Omega 3, 6 and 9. So Rogers decided to try producing his own culinary oil. The cold-pressed oil was fruity and flavoursome. He had found his niche.
This year he hopes his entire rape crop will be pressed into oil. As well as plain rapeseed oil, he has produced a rapeseed oil with garden herbs and one with chilli garlic.
He has also branched into camelina oil, a lighter-tasting nutty oil suitable for dressings and marinades. “It has about two and a half to three times the level of Omega 3 as rapeseed oil which makes it very special,” he says.
The products are stocked in shops such as Donnybrook Fair and Morton’s of Ranelagh as well as a sprinkling of supermarkets around the country but Rogers is also exercising his powers of persuasion to gain a foothold with the multiples. “I’m optimistic about it,” he says.
This all sounds like a lot of work, so when does he fit in the day job at the Four Courts? “First of all, I have a lot of help, really great help. And secondly, this is my other life. I don’t go to the cinema. I don’t have a television,” he says.
“This is like another lung for me. The legal practice is extremely demanding and it’s great to have a way of getting completely away from it because you do need breaks for yourself . . . I’m consumed by this.”
Not surprisingly, he doesn’t see much of the farm during the working week. The barrister has been involved in a roll-call of famous cases and tribunals, most recently representing Independent TD Thomas Pringle who challenged the ratification of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) treaty.
“I would have no time for the farm during the week, absolutely no time,” he says. “That’s why I couldn’t do any of this without serious help, and with people who know what they are doing.” His son Jack, an agricultural science graduate, is involved in the farm but he too caught the legal bug and is a junior counsel. Local man Ian Downey has worked on the farm for years “and he’s fabulous,” he says.
Despite his love of the land, Rogers has no plans to cast off his black gown and wear the wellies full-time.
“No, honestly I don’t. I think I would get lonely. I’ve been doing very interesting work and that’s what I intend to stay doing.”
His enterprise may be small but Rogers believes this is the path people should take. “We have to begin looking at small ways of making enterprise. It’s one thing to rely on the big conglomerate food producers but there’s really high quality Irish food that can be made in a small way and which can be on the shelves of every supermarket,” he says. “And that’s the plan for us.”
Newgrange oils cost from €3.45 for 250ml. newgrangegold.ie