According to the Stop Food Waste campaign (stopfoodwaste.ie), Ireland generates over a million tonnes of food waste every year. No doubt it was statistics likes this that inspired the team at Airfield Estate in Dundrum, a 38 acre working farm and charitable trust open to the public, to tackle themes of food waste and sustainability in their second annual Airfield Food Festival, which took place this September.
Airfield has a history of community-minded initiatives. The estate was run by sisters Letitia and Naomi Overend until their deaths in 1977 and 1993 respectively, and their spirit is very much a part of the estate today, which has already had 8,000 school children pass through their educational programme in 2016. “The sisters were very quick to react to social challenges in their time,” Gráinne Kelliher, Airfield’s CEO explains. “In the same vein, we wanted to look at sustainability and to narrow it down to waste and health as part of our food festival this year. We really wanted to try to get people to think about their relationship with food.”
As a way to get the public interested in the issues around food waste, a core group of the Airfield team – head kitchen gardener Kitty Scully, their Overends Restaurant head chef Jose Carbajo and their commercial manager Genevieve Whitfield – came together to create the Trash Bash Supper as part of the Airfield Food Festival’s programme.
Leading up to the supper, the teams in Airfield’s kitchen, garden and café worked together to gather ingredients. Foraged and wild leaves from the gardens were added to Airfield’s kale and chickweed for the supper’s Foraged, Sown and Saved Green Salad, while their Skin On Coleslaw highlighted the unnecessary food waste that comes with reaching for the vegetable peeler. Carrot and turnip tops were blitzed to create a vibrantly green and earthy pesto, served with toasted salvaged bread saved up by the team at Overends Restaurant.
One of Airfield’s own billy goats was the star of the delicate and fragrantly spiced Billy Goat Tagine. It’s a meat that’s not traditionally eaten in Ireland, which causes some problems for farmers specifically when it comes to male goats. While female goats are put to work producing milk and cheese, male goats become expensive for farmers as they have little means of earning their keep. This results in farmers being forced to destroy male goats, which is surely one of the most significant and unethical forms of food waste out there. By introducing goat meat as an alternative to lamb, it paradoxically protects the male goats. It’s much leaner than lamb, and it’s delicious.
Airfield also reached out to food distributors and suppliers, to take surplus and bin-destined ingredients off their hands, such as fruit and vegetables that had been rejected by supermarkets for being aesthetically challenged. Interestingly, the team discovered that though these distributors were happy to help, they didn’t want to be publicly associated with the project and prefer to distance themselves from food waste, which says a lot about the perception of waste and the fear around it. The food rescued from these suppliers featured throughout the meal alongside Airfield’s ingredients, and was put to exemplary use in the Surplus Fruit and Salvaged Frozen Scone Crumble for dessert.
At no point during the Trash Bash Supper was taste or flavour compromised. It was quite the opposite effect, in fact. As my dinner date took a bit into a misshapen carrot, simply roasted, she was brought back to the two-headed carrots pulled directly from the ground in her mother’s garden. It tasted real. Our fruit and vegetables have gone the way of so many other aspects of our modern culture; they’ve become streamlined, nipped and tucked, and they’ve lost their identity. “We wanted to help educate the consumer about accepting ugliness. It’s normal,” says Kelliher.
The project inspired the team at Airfield to sit down and look out their own food waste, and they’re committed to keeping the project alive by continuing to reduce their own food waste. “It has had a big influence on the team. Even though there was the four of us who were driving the Trash Bash Supper, everyone on the team got involved, whether it was by holding back the bread and freezing it in the cafe. We’ll definitely waste less because of it.”
As a follow-up to the Trash Bash Supper, Airfield will launch their Sustain and Able Food Series. Through a series of talks and pop-up events, they hope to continue to spread awareness around the issues of food waste and sustainability. Keep an eye on their website airfield.ie for details.
Airfield’s working farm, gardens, restaurant and visitor centre are open to the public from Monday to Sunday from 9.30am to 5pm, with the restaurant closing at 4pm. The entry fee for adults is €10 per person, and it’s worth every penny.
Overend Way, Dundrum, Dublin 14
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Mark Duggan