North Down UFU farmers working around the clock

Left to right are: Sam Robinson, North Down Group, Adrian McGowan, grower, Ivor Ferguson, UFU deputy president, Paul Hamilton, grower, Stephen Doonan, grower, Martin Sloan. grower, and James Booth, grower
Left to right are: Sam Robinson, North Down Group, Adrian McGowan, grower, Ivor Ferguson, UFU deputy president, Paul Hamilton, grower, Stephen Doonan, grower, Martin Sloan. grower, and James Booth, grower

The run-up to Christmas is a busy time for everyone with present buying, parties and preparation for the festive dinners. It’s also the busiest time of the year for vegetable growers in North Down.

That lush fertile soil is chock-full of hundreds of thousands of Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, red cabbages, cauliflowers, beetroots and much more.

This year those farmers joined up with their distributor North Down Group and the Ulster Farmer’s Union to make a Christmas film to show the story of how their vegetables are harvested and sent to shops and chefs across Northern Ireland.

Santa hats replaced woolly beanies for the morning at Andrew Herron’s field in Comber.

Santa (aka grower Paul Hamilton) was joined by Sam Robinson from North Down Group, the UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson and growers Adrian McGowan, Stephen Doonan, Martin Sloan and James Booth.

“This is the first time we have done something like this. Vegetables are less talked about than meat and dairy but we wanted to show the public where our farmers are growing them, what they are growing and how they arrive in the shops for them to buy,” said Ivor Ferguson from the Ulster Farmers’ Union. 

“This short film will be on social media for everyone to see. It’s fun but there is also a serious message about how important buying local is to the economy.

“We do more business in Christmas week than we would do in a normal month,” said James Booth of Windwhistle Farm.

They grow and prepare packs of chopped soup veg.

“Our route to market for produce has changed over the years but the farms have been growing vegetables for generations,” said Adrian McGowan of Millbank Farm, Killinchy. He produces 40 tonnes of turnips and 10 tonnes of leeks for the festive season.

Paul Hamilton says they do “loads” of bunched carrots, parsnips and beetroot. “It’s hard to quantify.”

“North Down Group are based in a prime location five mins from the M1 motorway in Belfast. From here we can distribute this fresh local produce quickly to various shops, hotels and restaurants throughout Northern Ireland,” said Sam Robinson of North Down Group.

Total Christmas sales last year were 46 tonnes of Brussels sprouts, 110 tonnes of carrots and 33 tonnes of parsnips

“This month is just so busy. It never stops, but that’s 
what we want. Local, fresh, seasonal produce from our growers,” added Mr Robinson.