Jenny and Peter Young took over the 100-year-old family farm in 1999. Located between Kilcullen and Athy, the 170-acre site is predominantly a dairy farm, but they also keep a flock of 200 free-range hens for eggs and 100 cattle for beef.
From the takeover they have taken a strategic approach to developing their business, with a high emphasis on innovation and re-invention. Every two years the couple assess ways of adding value to their assets. They do ongoing market research with the UK and Europe as their main sources of inspiration.
This has resulted in a range of re-inventions, new products and services. FARM SHOP In the meantime, they have built a farm shop which opened on June 1st 2007. It immediately gained significant profile thanks to Jenny’s skill in promoting “honest to goodness homemade and home produced food”, which is the focus of the shop.
The Youngs and the neighbouring farms are the main suppliers of vegetables to their shop, even if their farm is predominantly a dairy farm. When the product cannot be found locally, they find suppliers in the rest of Ireland, and when it cannot be produced in Ireland - e.g. wine or olives, they are imported from abroad.
Speciality products (such as products for coeliacs or people with special dietary requirements) also tend to be found outside the local area. Suppliers are normally chosen on the basis that they do not supply supermarkets, and therefore Castlefarm shop can distinguish itself and offer a unique range that share the Castlefarm ethos for quality, natural, handmade, local food. The passion for, and knowledge of, the food by staff is one of the key success factors of the shop according to Jenny.
“The level of knowledge as to how food is produced varies widely between customers: some people say they want organic and don’t know the difference between organic and free range. Many are not aware of the different degrees of free range. Some want to know exactly where the eggs come from and like to see pictures of the hens in the fields, if not the real thing. Some consumers even think hand made food is inferior to food made by large companies”.
Customers will travel from as far as Dublin to stock up once or twice a month. On the other hand Athy farmers’ market customers do not tend to travel to the shop. The customer base is mostly local people. “Castlefarm Shop is one of the first farm shops in Co Kildare and the only place in Ireland where ‘you can buy a full basket of groceries while watching cows being milked’”.