Coronavirus: Organic fruit and veg supplier sees orders rise sharply

Warning over looming challenge facing firms employing foreign vegetable pickers

Beechlawn Organic  Farm co-founder Pádraig Fahy with a box of vegetables for delivery. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Beechlawn Organic Farm co-founder Pádraig Fahy with a box of vegetables for delivery. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

An organic fruit and vegetable supplier in Co Galway has temporarily closed its home delivery service to new customers after orders quadrupled because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Ballinasloe company Beechlawn Organic Farm is set to grow its workforce by a fifth, adding that growers will have to increase production to fill gaps created by production falls in Italy and Spain.

“It has been incredibly hectic,” said company co-founder Pádraig Fahy, adding that orders grew by half the day after schools were closed, while online sales grew sharply in the days that followed.

“We supply supermarkets and restaurants, but the home delivery part of our business has exploded. It has basically tripled or probably quadrupled in size,” he said.

Isolation and social distancing rules are being followed as supplies are dropped off at a customer’s door: “We are getting calls from people who are in isolation, asking for us to drop the veg box outside,” said Mr Fahy.

“We drop off vegetables like this every week, except usually people are at work. People order and pay for it online, and when they come home from work it is there waiting for them. It’s something we’ve always done, so coping with this [people self-isolating] is no real challenge for us.”

Hiring staff in the Covid-19 environment brings its own challenges: “We can’t exactly interview for new staff at the moment, so a lot of staff who worked for us before have come back and we’ve drafted family into help,” said Mr Fahy.

Saying that Beechlawn was running “over-capacity”, Mr Fahy said they were feeling the loss of three Bulgarian colleagues who returned home for breaks and now could not return.

“They were meant to come back last week but that’s not going to happen. This is going to be a big challenge for a lot of veg growers who employ foreign staff in a month’s time.”

Grown in Ireland

Two-thirds of Beechlawn’s produce is grown in Ireland – on its own Co Galway farm or from eight other Irish growers – but it is already having difficulties sourcing produce from abroad.

“We are doing okay at the moment. We are still going through all the root vegetables – a lot of parsnips, beetroot, leeks, cabbages, potatoes. We still have about a month’s supply on hand,” said Mr Fahy.

However, he said organic imports were falling away already. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in Italy and Spain. Southern Europe feeds northern Europe, and there are going to be some issues in those countries.

“Ireland is right at the end of this supply line, so who knows what might happen. We will never run out of food, but we need to be more self-reliant ourselves. We need to be better at feeding our own people.”