When we refer to Ireland’s bioeconomy, we mean the growing part of the economy which takes renewable resources from industries like agriculture and forestry and turns them into fuel, food, new materials or energy. The overall aim is to reduce waste and contribute to the circular economy.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), food systems are one of the largest niches within the bioeconomy; saying within Europe, “food systems, including agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, as well as food and feed manufacturing, account for 71% of all value added in a bioeconomy, followed by around 28% for bio-products, and the remainder for bioenergy.”
Many bioeconomic food businesses begin with a simple solution to a common problem. In Paddy Arnold’s case, the idea grew from when he was working as a chef in a busy Dublin café.
“I was working part time in a café just prior to COVID-19 and I was astounded by the normality of throwing out 20kg of coffee grounds every day - just throwing it into the black bin. I thought it was a bit crazy, really.”
While he originally planned to open a restaurant of his own, the pandemic made Paddy reassess his professional and personal goals.
“I became more conscious of the role that food plays in environmental sustainability, and food waste came into that as well,” he says. “I reached out to my [now] business partner, James Egan, whose background is in physics and technology, and we came up with this plan which focused on the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to urban food waste – which I thought was coffee grounds.”
But what to do with the coffee grounds? A quick search on YouTube will often provide answers to even the most ‘out-there’ questions. In this case, Paddy and James learned they could grow mushrooms. There were numerous how-to videos showing different techniques for getting optimum yields and, for an urban area, it provided a way to produce food efficiently and without the need for a large garden. In 2020, they took the plunge and began growing their own grey oyster mushrooms; using coffee grounds from a café in Ranelagh. They called their business Revolution Farm & Kitchen.
“At first we just wanted to grow them on a small scale,” Paddy explains. “Things advanced, then, to buying some grow tents. At this stage, we just grew as many mushrooms as we could; all the while doing various experiments to figure out how we could get the best quality and yield with the lowest amount of labour and inputs.”
To add value to their product, Paddy developed two shelf-stable jarred products with their mushrooms. Thanks to their juicy texture when cooked, mushrooms are often used as a meat alternative. Paddy created a meat-free Italian style sauce, called Revolution Ragu, and a meat-free chilli con carne called Revolution Chilli.
“Initial sales [for these] went really well, so that gave us a bit of encouragement to keep going and increase production a little bit,” he tells Irish Country Living.
At this time, James and Paddy were also looking into a more permanent operation space. They researched the best way to retrofit a shipping container specifically for growing mushrooms. They also used a lot of trial and error when it came to developing a best practise. Originally, Paddy says, they took an online course and then they took some consultancy from a similar set-up company in Rotterdam.
What works for one company doesn’t always work for everyone, though, so Paddy and James eventually found a method of growing which works for them; including retrofitting wheelie bins to become moveable, easy to clean growing vessels. Paddy says they are still constantly working on new and improved methods for growing their mushrooms.
“Taking in other research, you find a lot of different ways of doing something,” he explains. “And as with all types of farming, there are so many variables and unknowns.”
Partnering with UCD
A big break for the duo came in May, 2022, when Professor Suzi Jarvis, founding director of University College Dublin’s (UCD) Innovation Academy, came across their products and invited the pair in to speak with some students who were taking a module called Design for Sustainability. After that, they had a productive chat with Suzi about their next steps as a business.
UCD’s Innovation Academy offered the pair rent-free space on campus to keep their converted shipping container and operate their business. The idea was that they would act as a partner business with the Innovation Academy and also engage with students on a regular basis.
“At that time we were selling through various retailers and through Neighbourfood, as well,” Paddy says. “The container was nearly ready at that stage and we had an agreement with another place [in Dublin] to keep it there, but there would be rent. So UCD said, ‘We have this temporary space and you can come in, be an experimental farm, and engage with the students.’”
Aside from their partnership with UCD, Paddy and James also received some grants for their start up, including an Enterprise Support grant of €2500 and an EPA Green Economy Grant, which interestingly will include the company providing a full analysis of the farm and their business, including all farm and business inputs and outputs. It should be noted, however, that the business has largely been self-funded by James and Paddy.
While they have been successful in streamlining both the farm and the production sides of their business, only time will tell if this model is both scalable and financially sustainable. Paddy says, at the end of the day, their business model is similar to any other farming set-up - and we all know how difficult things are for Irish vegetable farmers at the moment.
“If we want to continue it does need to scale,” Paddy says. “Streamlining the business and decreasing labour where possible has meant that we can minimise our spending, but making a profit is a different story – the same as it is with a lot of farming and food production.
“The most important thing is finding out if there are ways of producing more food within an urban environment,” he adds.
As their Revolution Ragu and Revolution Chilli are sold in glass jars, Paddy and James have a scheme for customers to bring back their used jars to one of their “refill partner” stockists (all Dublin based). The idea is once the jars are emptied, you remove the label, wash in the dishwasher or in hot, soapy water and return the jar. You then get €0.10 off your next jar. .
Prices start at €7; to shop online or find a stockist, visit revolutionfarmkitchen.com