This Is Our Food, Our Environment, Our Health: Report on An Evening with Darina Allen and Karen Power

Recently, Darina Allen was in town! Well, she was here virtually on Wed 24 June 2020 and talked to over fifty Skerries residents in a web event organised by us here at Sustainable Skerries. She gave an inspiring and energising talk about our food, our environment, and our health and was joined by our own Karen Power, local Green councillor, self-confessed foodie and member of the Barnageeragh Residents’ Association – you might know her from the No Drive Through campaign and her regular parenting column in Skerries News.

Both Darina and Karen said we need to respect our food, for our own health’s sake, for the environment’s sake, and for our community’s sake.

Darina Allen with some Kale in a greenhouse

Darina, a trained and renowned chef who founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 1982, became a household name through her “Simply Delicious” TV series and her many cookery books. The latest, One Pot Feeds All, not only won her yet another World Gourmand Cookbook Award this year – it also became the go-to book for many of us who were searching for recipes for nourishing food for our families during lockdown.

Being a chef and running cookery classes meant that Darina was very aware of the importance of the quality of what goes into your food, the raw ingredients. Over two decades ago, she got the family farm, 100 acres surrounding the cookery school, to become organic. Her presentation prompted many of us to seek out organic produce where possible in future – free from artificial fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.

We all need to understand how the soil, those few inches around our planet, feeds us all: the health of the soil, the health of the plant, the health of the animal, the health of the human are all interconnected.

Growing at least some of your own food also makes a huge difference in the respect you will feel for those who grow what we eat, Darina said. And she added that this is possible even in the smallest gardens! Ballymaloe Cookery School has, in its extensive grounds, a model suburban garden which we were shown a picture of during the web event. And if you have no garden, you can still grow edible plants in your kitchen.

A screenshot from the web event: Model suburban garden in Ballymaloe.
A screenshot from the web event: Model suburban garden in Ballymaloe.

Spend your “food Euro” wisely! Darina’s and Karen’s advice is to find out what is locally available, go to the farm shops, to the farmers’ market. To talk to the farmers, to get to know them. In short, find out where your food comes from, where you can purchase good food locally.

Organic Food Island of Ireland

Darina would like to see Ireland become the organic food island. It is well positioned, given its long growing season. She would love the government to encourage and support farmers and food producers to convert to organic.

Karen reinforced many of Darina’s thoughts, and added a political perspective to them. Sustainable Food, she said, should be seen as a basic right.

Karen Power. See below for Karen’s full presentation!

Karen mentioned the EU Farm to Fork policy that will require each member state  to increase its share of organic agriculture to 25%. Ireland’s current share? 8%! That’s what I call room for growth.. (For more details, see Karen Power’s slides, below.)

How about seeing Fingal become the organic food garden of Ireland? That would be something…

So much already happening in our town!

Many of us are growing some food in their back gardens. There’s even a Facebook group, Skerries Food Gardening. We also have the allotments in Skerries, with some 250 lots. Wow. I didn’t know it was that many!

We have an expanding Farmers’ Market, every Saturday morning at Skerries Mills. We have at least two local farmers who sell from their farms, Paddy Byrne‘s certified organic farm and the new Granny Rosie’s farm. Suzanne and Matthew only started this month to sell their produce from their farm outside Loughshinny. Suzanne was at our web event, as was Deirdre Fahy of Olive’s (look out for some organic produce there in the near future!), and Clare, the Nutritionist and “Fermentista” working in The Willow Rooms. And just a little further away is McNally’s Organic Farm, where some Skerries folks go for their organic veg fix, too!

Tidy Towns, who were also at the event, are already doing super work for more biodiversity. What do Sustainable Skerries, Skerries Cycling Initiative (also at the meeting), and Skerries Tidy Towns have in common? Apart from a strong interest in sustainability? They are all committees of the Skerries Community Association!

Schools

Many of our schools have school gardens with “edibles” in them. The fruit trees near the gate of Skerries Educate Together are beautiful to see, and Holmpatrick N.S. even have their own allotment. Kudos to Skerries Community College for making a Home Economics module mandatory for all doing Transition Year. This was mentioned by a 2019 graduate of the school who thinks that this should be extended to all students of the school, not just those who do TY.

And there is of course Sustainable Skerries. If you would like to become actively involved – no time like the present! Have a look around SustainableSkerries.com and subscribe to our newsletter. Like our Facebook page. Join the pollinators WhatsApp group (scroll to the very bottom of that article) and the Skerries Food Gardening Facebook group.

As Darina said in an email after the event: “Seems you are well on the way to being the most sustainable town in Ireland and why not.”

Sabine McKenna, chair, Sustainable Skerries

  • Both speakers gave of their time without charging a fee. Darina asked for contributions for one of the charities she works with, the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project, and with a top up from Sustainable Skerries, a cheque over €200 was forwarded to them.
  • Ballymaloe Cookery School is open again since 29 June for a number of short and long courses. Find it on cookingisfun.ie
  • Contact Sustainable Skerries at sustskerries@yahoo.ie or via our Facebook page.

Dandelion Lollipops

How about going out and foraging now and again? Darina mentioned how she is a big forager herself, and it wouldn’t have been an evening with Darina Allen if no recipe had been mentioned! So … go out and find some dandelions, then come back and create some fritters with them! Thank you to Darina for forwarding us the recipe.

Darina Allen’s Dandelion Lollipops 

Serves 4-5

24-30 fully open dandelion flowers

Batter

110g (4oz) plain flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm water

vanilla sugar (see recipe)

First make the batter.

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Using a whisk, bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the water at the same time. Shake the flowers just incase there are any insects hidden inside!  Heat the oil in a deep-fry to 180°C/350°F or use a shallow pan with at least 2.5cm (1 inch) of oil.

Just before eating.  Dip a few flowers in the batter (add a little more water or milk if the batter is too thick).  Fry in the hot oil until puffed up and crisp – about 2 minutes.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Toss in vanilla sugar (see recipe) and serve as soon as possible.

Vanilla Sugar

Get double value from vanilla pods by storing in castor sugar.  Fill a large mouthed jar with castor sugar.  Bury dry vanilla in the sugar to store, the more vanilla pods the stronger the flavour – use for biscuits, cakes, custard, ice-creams etc.

Copyright Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery School

Karen Power’s Slides

You can scroll through the entire slide deck. Thank you for the work you put into the slides, and for making them available to us, Karen!

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