Soundbite: Gavin Lynch from Hell’s Kettle Organic Farm
Words: Aoife McElwain
Gavin Lynch’s family has been farming around the village of Donard and the Glen of Imaal at the foot of the Wicklow mountains for more than 150 years. Gavin works with his father Pat on the day to day running of this organic farm producing fruit, hazelnuts, turkeys and beef, while Gavin’s partner Linda is involved in both the farming and the business side of the operation. We came across them last year when they were taking orders for their organic turkeys and autumnal hazelnuts. We spoke to Gavin about the history of the farm and what it’s like to be a modern Irish farmer.
Tell us about Hell’s Kettle Organic Farm.
Like most Irish farms, we traditionally relied on a number of different enterprises to generate our income in the past so we would have kept pigs, hens, turkeys, beef cattle, dairy cows and grown vegetables also. Much of this changed throughout the 1980s and 1990s and we became more specialised dairy farmers, until poor returns forced us to exit dairying in 2006. In 2010, we converted to organic farming and now seem to be returning to the more diverse farm of the past. In the last few years we have began growing fruit and hazelnuts, started keeping turkeys again and hopefully we’ll be welcoming sheep back to the farm this coming spring after an absence of 20 years.
When did you become involved in the family business of farming?
I always had a real love for working on the farm when I was younger and so it was just a kind of natural progression. On finishing school, I got my degree in agriculture in the UK and returned home to farm after that. Myself and Linda met back in 1998 and even from our early days together, she took to the farming like a natural. Linda studied Communications (Journalism) and worked in radio for before moving into the arts and taking up a position at an arts centre. Although it felt like a natural progression, the decision for us to live here and farm full-time came after a year spent traveling around the world. When we returned home we started work to convert one of the old stone lofts on the farm into our home and the rest, as they say, is history. It has really been in the last two years that we’ve focused on building Hell’s Kettle as a farm business through which we could sell directly to people. When so much effort goes into producing the food, it’s really rewarding to be able to chat to customers, get direct feedback and meet people who also care about how food is produced.
Autumn must be an exciting time. Describe what it’s like on an October day on Hell’s Kettle Farm.
First job of the day is to open the doors of the turkey shed. This is done as soon as it starts to get bright out. Then we check on the cattle where they are grazing and move them to fresh pasture if necessary. We would still have apples, late raspberries and plums to harvest which we sell to our neighbours at Castleruddery Organic Farm Shop, so these would be harvested and delivered early in the day. The hazelnut harvest tends to be a bit of a family affair, with any willing bodies roped into the pick, but it’s good craic too. It takes a while to get your eye in for harvesting hazelnuts as you’re looking for a leafy green/brown husk on a tree of green/brown leaves but it’s a nice job for an autumn day. As the evening draws in, we top up the feeders and clean the water drinkers for the turkeys and give them a fresh bed of straw for the night. The turkeys go back into the shed themselves as it gets dark and we’ll just close the door whenever they’re all inside.
You have become well known for your organic turkeys. What do you think makes them so special?
I think there are a few things that make our turkeys very good. Firstly, being raised organically makes a huge difference. There are no antibiotics, additives or GM ingredients in their feed and a good proportion (about 25%) of their diet comes from grass, herbs and other plants. I know lots of people talk about ‘happy’ farm animals these days, but we do think that being raised in a stress-free environment with lots of sources of enrichment and the freedom to behave naturally is important for the turkeys and it also negates the need for the routine mutilations and medicines used in non-organic production. Another thing that makes a difference with our turkeys is how they are prepared. We dry-pluck our turkeys and hang them for five to seven days before dressing, making them oven-ready. All of this is done here on the farm. The dry-plucking allows us to hang the turkeys and the hanging gives them a better flavour. There are very few producers still using these traditional methods nowadays.
What are your thoughts on the recent Nutella scare?
Well, hopefully we’ll have a bumper crop this year so we can alleviate some of the panic being felt by Irish hazelnut lovers!
Hells Kettle Organic Farm open their order books for their Christmas turkeys in mid-October. Sign up to their mailing list at www.hellskettle.ie to make sure you don’t miss out on a special bird this year.
Hells Kettle Organic Farm
Donard, Co. Wicklow
At Hells Kettle Farm, we like cooking food with good quality produce. It’s great when you come across a recipe that is quick & simple but really lets the produce stand out. In summer and early autumn something as simple as porridge mixed with our fresh fruit & hazelnuts can be really delicious. Here’s an autumnal recipe which we like to make with thanks to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.
Pear and Hazelnut Salad
(Original Recipe Source: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – The Guardian
30g dried Hell’s Kettle hazelnuts or Fresh Hell’s Kettle cobnuts (prepared weight)
1 Hell’s Kettle pear
5 tbsp ricotta
2 tsp hazelnut oil
2 tsp runny honey
1 tsp sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
If you’re using dried hazelnuts, just toast them in the oven first by heating the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Put the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for about five minutes until browned – giving them a toss every now & again.
As Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall suggests, fresh hazels or cobnuts can be used chopped as they are, or you can fry them lightly in a little olive oil with a sprinkling of sea salt.
When fresh, the hazelnuts/cobnuts have a lovely juiciness to them, perfect for salads but they can be a little harder to source. When in season (around now) they can be ordered fresh through hellskettle.ie or drop us an email for enquiries.
The rest is very simple – core the pear and cut it into thin slices. This recipe is designed as for a starter for two so spread the slices of pears over two of your prettiest small plates. Scatter on the hazelnuts and then add a few dots of ricotta over the pears. Trickle the oil, honey and vinegar on top, and finish with some black pepper.