Chefs Concern at Decline in Growers and lack of Fresh Supplies

Thursday, May 16, 2024. 12:00pm
Chefs Concern at Decline in Growers and lack of supply of fresh fruit and vegetable produce

Chefs Concern at Decline in Growers and lack of supply of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable produce

The horticulture sector has experienced challenging times in recent years which has resulted in a consistent lack of supply of fresh fruit and vegetable produce. This is having a detrimental impact on local commercial growers and a knock-on effect on the hospitality and food service industry.

Climate Change and Upcoming Challenges

Certain vegetables such as broccoli can only be produced in the summer months and traditionally, we have tended to rely on imported produce from Europe. Globally we are now seeing evidence of climate change and the challenges it presents. Extreme weather conditions have had a catastrophic impact on horticulture as have changing weather patterns. Conor Spacey, Executive Head Chef at Food Space discuss this impact in a recent article for

“It is no secret that we are living in a time of climate change and the impact on our food system is tremendous and happening at a pace quicker than many people expected. We have seen an increase in awareness of our food system over the last two years”.

The energy crisis and subsequent rise in costs have caused growers to exit the market entirely as they cannot afford to heat glass houses for the length of time required. Below cost selling practices have also had a significant impact on local growers. Statistics show that in October 2023, there were 85% less field vegetable growers than 25 years ago. Bord Bia conducted research in 2020 which showed there is only one leak producer in the country and five growers of broccoli in counties Dublin, Laois, Galway Kildare, and Waterford. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for buyers in the hospitality industries to source fresh seasonal ingredients.

Darina Allen, renowned chef, and food author expresses her concern about this lack of grower in a blog post on

“Many farmers who produce our food, particularly vegetable and fruit growers are in crisis. Already a large number have packed it in, others are barely holding on. We’ll be fortunate if there are more than two or three commercial vegetable growers still in business here in Ireland within a year or two”.

This is deeply concerning, especially at a time when sustainability is at the forefront of everybody’s mind.

Chefs Concern at Decline in Growers and lack of supply of fresh fruit and vegetable produce

The Growth of Sustainability

Customers are becoming acutely more aware of their role in sustainability when dining outside of the home. This sustainability focus can often determine an individual’s choice of restaurant as they make mindful choices as to where to eat and what the menu has to offer. The impact of this shortage of organic vegetables is evident in food service businesses in hospitality where chefs are having to cut back on fresh seasonal vegetables and revert to relying on imported vegetables. The sustainable quality of the food cannot be maintained.

The sustainability approach has generally been adopted in high -end restaurants and hotels as they are in position to invest more time and resources to source eco-friendly produce and bio- diversity initiatives. These businesses can design menus which are centred around quality as opposed to budget friendly pricing. For other food service dining it may be too expensive to acquire produce which is organic and locally produced due to inflation and the overpriced cost of fruit and vegetables. However, in the long-term sustainability practices can prove cost effective even for smaller businesses by reducing energy costs and waste and the price of transport. Sustainability is growing and for all businesses in industry to have competitive advantage it is important that their businesses grow in a sustainable direction. This of course cannot happen if there is limited local produce and the little that can be available is costly.

Kate Ryan, a food writer, and founder of recognises the importance of an innovative response to this current issue .

“At a time when horticulture is an industry on the rope in Ireland, chefs are having to think outside the box to ensure that they can source seasonal Irish produce. And if that means getting your own hands dirty in the soil, so be it…”

Quality and Seasonality

The seasonality of fruit and vegetables is a key factor to consider when designing menus and food offerings. Food that is consumed at the same time as it is harvested offers many benefits both to the quality of the food and sustainability. Vegetables are an important part of any meal and in current times customers expect not just a tasty dish but one that promotes health and well-being and contributes to both the environment and their local community.

JB Dubois, head chef at Grow HQ award-winning café and organic garden in Waterford City, discusses the seasonality of food model in his blog. Typically, his menus change with the season, and he chooses dishes which include seasonal produce which is of better quality and fresher. Vegetables that are at peak of their ripeness are more wholesome, flavoursome, and nutritious.

Grow HQ is a “working model of a sustainable food system in which they grow their own fresh produce. GROW HQ is a place where there are no barriers between where food is grown, cooked, and eaten. When using our hometown food, the distance from plot to plate is 112 steps (yes, we’ve counted). The garden team grow it, the kitchen team cook it and our customers eat it.

Many other contemporary sustainable focused cafes and restaurants have vegetable and fruit gardens where they can grow their own produce. Sam Moody, Chef-Proprietor of Bramley a restaurant in Abbeyleix also promotes the seasonality model of food service and has also created a kitchen garden to grow their own produce.

“Menus, food, and service are hyper seasonal. Dishes change frequently to reflect the very best of what is available with quality at the forefront of all choices.

Chefs Concern at Decline in Growers and lack of supply of fresh fruit and vegetable produce

Adopting a Seasonality of Food Model

For many businesses, however, the concept of creating their own growing space may not be a realistic option. This does not necessarily mean that they cannot consider adopting this seasonality of food model and using this model to showcase their individual approach to sustainability. There is always an option to create and plan a structure within which they can align their menus with the harvest season. This will not only prove more sustainable but also cost effective as fruits and vegetables that are in abundance are generally less expensive. There is also the option of forming a partnership with local farmer, where they can allocate a piece of land for you to grow your own produce, Urban growing is also a new and innovative way to “grow your own”, by using backyard gardens or rooftop and hydroponic methods to grow plants without soil.

There are more obvious ways of addressing this lack of supply of certain fruits and vegetables. Having a zero-waste policy and creating innovative ways of preserving vegetables and fruits and using them for other purposes such as jam, soups and vegetables into crisps or bread. Rethinking and revising menus is essential elements of sustainability. Educating staff about sustainability, energy costs and waste management is another important part of dealing with shortages and embracing sustainability mindset.

To quote Ahmet Dede, Michelin star, Head Chef at the Customs house; “Food in 2024? Food is like fashion – it always needs to keep changing and evolving”

Both the horticulture sector and the hospitality industry have undoubtedly experienced a tumultuous period in the last number of years. The challenges faced can also be seen as opportunities to evolve by adapting to change and moving forward.

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