“I’ve always had an interest in food. I think part of it comes from the fact that both of my parents are from farming backgrounds. We live on the family farm where my dad grew up in east Cork.
My dad’s an ag consultant. He farmed for a number of years. At the moment the farm is rented and it’s in tillage. My mum’s from Monaghan.
Both my parents would have talked about going down to the dairy in the morning for milk, their mums making butter and collecting eggs. My grandfather would go out fishing in front of our house and freeze the fish for winter or put it on salt.
Everything they consumed growing up, they knew where the food came from, because it came from their farm or the ocean in front of us. For them, food was always uncomplicated. Growing up, that’s the type of food I would have consumed.
My grandad, Paddy Hegarty, was a TD and a Junior Minister for Agriculture, so a lot of what he advocated for was Irish farmers and Irish food.
I did the Ballymaloe cookery course too. You can’t come out of Ballymaloe without knowing how to make your own butter or understanding local food.
So it’s been a mixture of family, my previous work experience and through Ballymaloe too.
I studied commerce and Chinese at university. I always knew that I wanted to work in a food business. I had always seen myself working in commercial capacity though, like sales and marketing. I never really saw myself as a food entrepreneur, as I am now.
I guess the motivation behind doing that course was that a lot of the talk at the time was about Irish food exports being geared towards the Chinese market.
After university I joined IBEC’s graduate food and drinks programme. Through that I was placed in ABP. I worked with them as a sales and marketing grad.
The programme was for 18 months, but I only stayed with ABP for a year. I just decided I wanted to get out of Ireland and go travelling. I worked away for two years in Australia and New Zealand.
When I came back to Ireland I had saved enough to do the five-week Ballymaloe summer course. Again, at that point I was still like, I love food, but I’m not going to be a chef or a food entrepreneur. I’m just going to do this because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
After that I got a job in Dublin in marketing. When the pandemic hit I came home. I was actually doing a Master’s at the time which was a follow on from the grad programme in IBEC. My thesis was on the mission and vision statements of food businesses in Ireland.
I decided to leave the marketing job in Dublin, because I wanted to stay in Cork. So I started doing picnic boxes under the brand Niamh’s Larder. It was just supposed to be a go-between until I got my next job. The picnic boxes completely took off!
From there I got approached by Jack Crotty who runs NeighbourFood. It’s a franchise of farmers markets, focused on local food, where you order online and collected the food in person. There are various locations around the country. He approached me to know would I run one in Midleton.
The picnic boxes were great, but I also saw an opportunity in where we live in east Cork. Our family farm is at Ballybrannigan Beach and there’s a path that leads to the beach. I had seen other food trucks popping up around the place and I thought, why not put one where we live? It is quite a popular walking spot.
The premise of the trailer was that all the food and drink from it would be local, natural and organic where possible.
All this time also I had been making water kefir, because I’d learned how to make it at Ballymaloe. It’s a fermented drink that has beneficial properties for gut health. I had been putting it in the picnic boxes and then I started selling it in the truck.
I decided that if I was to grow the business, I would grow the water kefir side of it. I still do the trailer seasonally from Easter to September and go to events with it.
I approached the Local Enterprise Office in Cork and they gave me a grant to setup the water kefir business, BKultured. This year it’s full swing getting that setup. At the moment I sell direct to customers and I should be ready for retail in a few weeks. Recently BKultured won silver at the Blas na hEireann awards.
I trained as a yoga teacher last year and I run yoga retreats with another lady, Sinead Brophy. We both teach yoga classes across the weekend.
I would come at things from a holistic sense, but my commercial background keeps me focused as well on the business side of things.
A huge motivation for me is trying to bring food back to being real and uncomplicated. Food doesn’t have to be complicated.