Boyle native Liam Gavin met Devon woman Justina Cutting in war-torn Rwanda in the 1990s. Liam was involved in agriculture and logistics and his organisation required an office manager in Kigali, Rwanda. Justina had been working as a teacher in Uganda and had decided to extend her stay in the region in order to help with reconstruction efforts. She applied for and got the office manager’s job and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I moved back to the UK following my time in Rwanda and we were engaged in 1998 and married in 1999. Liam had opened a chain of coffee shops in Dublin following his return from Africa and sold the chain in 2006. We moved to Devon and managed holiday properties for about ten years,” Justina said.
Having been in business in the UK and Ireland for a number of years, the couple decided the time was right in 2012 to move back to the 200-year-old Gavin family farm in Knockvicar, where Drumanilra Farm Kitchen would come to fruition.
“We had money to invest and this is what we always wanted to do. We wanted to feed our family with wholesome food grown by our own hands. We also wanted to generate a sustainable and independent income for the farm by supplying produce directly to customers,” Justina explained.
The farm is in a beautiful location overlooking Lough Ree and the Gavins have constructed an impressive modern home on the land.
The couple took their organic produce on the road in 2014, feeding the masses at various festivals nationwide. In the summer of 2015, they decided to park their ‘burger trailer’ in Boyle town and the Drumanilra Farm Kitchen has gone from strength to strength since. The entire menu, apart from the chicken and Angus beef, is supplied directly from the family farm.
“We added a room in October 2015 and this is what you see now. The menu has grown too and all the vegetables are seasonal and we have salads all year round. The eggs we produce on the farm are also sold in the shop,” Justina added.
Justina runs the Drumanilra Farm Kitchen while Liam runs the farm. The farm fresh menu and the farm shop produce have proven popular with locals and visitors alike.
Ten minutes away, the Drumanilra Organic Farm boasts breathtaking views of Lough Key and is home to Liam and Justina as well as their three children, Fionn (12) and twins Emily-Anne and Aaron (9). The farm is also home to a variety of animals including a head of Dexter cattle, Jacob sheep, pedigree sows and a flock of busy hens.
When it comes to farming, Liam’s a ‘rare breed’ himself. He studied Agricultural Science at UCD and worked all over the work before inheriting thefamily farm from his uncle in 2012. He outlined his vision as he sat behind his laptop in the family’s modern kitchen.
“We want to make it work to a certain scale, we’re not trying to be the next Pat McDonagh, we just want something that works well,” he said.
The Gavins employ a total of ten part-time and full-time staff between farm and kitchen and Liam believes that the business just shows the potential for such ventures in Irish agriculture.
“There is potential but I think the powers that be pay lip service to those taking part in alternative activities,” he says.
Liam says there can be a lack of initiative and creativity amongst Irish farmers when it comes to finding a market for their produce or stock.
“Most farmers will take their stock to the marts and that’s that. There is no ‘where will I go with my product?’ It’s usually ‘we are producers and we bring our stock to the factories’. I don’t think farmers are being encouraged to think outside the box”.
Liam also believes that while it isn’t always easy to get a fair price, subsidies can discourage farmers from entrepreneurship.
“No other self-employed business person can go to the Government when business isn’t going so well. I’m not saying farming is easy, especially when you’re not getting a fair price, but there should be more focus on exploring what farmers can do for themselves.
“Having said that, there are guys out there that I would have great admiration for. In the environment we are in, it’s unbelievable to see some of the top guys doing a top job. I’d just like to see farmers be given more encouragement to think outside the box,” he said.
Drumanilra Organic Farm and Kitchen has appeared on both Ear to the Ground and TV3 and Liam admits that while it has been challenging, it’s certainly a labour of love.
“We are doing something very interesting here and we love what we do. We have developed a successful business doing what we love and doing what we think our customers want us to do.
“You don’t feel fulfilled unless you get a reward for the work you do. When you’re out collecting eggs, for example, you know there’s a good reason for it, it’s fulfilling.
“Having been involved with a number of different businesses, I can say that this is the most difficult job I’ve ever had, but also the most fulfilling”.