Cork couple are building a sustainable yoghurt empire from their kitchen table

A husband and wife who launched a yogurt empire from their kitchen table in 1997 have revealed how sustainability is now at the heart of every decision they make.

Alan and Valerie Kingston of Drimoleague in West Cork have seen their business grow to become one of Ireland’s leading yoghurt brands.

But they didn’t forget to think about their impact on the planet along the way.

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From the thousands of new trees they’ve planted to solar panels, rainwater harvesting, purpose-built heat recovery systems and wildflower meadows on their West Cork farm, the duo say the Being eco-friendly has also helped them reduce expenses while growing the business they have today.

Their journey began when Valerie began developing her own recipes at the kitchen table starting with live natural yogurts and now includes everything from a “Gut Health” kefir yogurt, a natural live yogurt, 0% raw materials fats and yogurts for children, some of which are presented in glass jars. Other lines include cheesecakes, country butter, clotted cream and lemonade, but they are constantly adding more.

We spoke to the couple behind Glenilen Farm about the climate solutions they have put in place while playing an increasingly important role in feeding the country.

Valerie said: “I got married on this little 60 acre farm in rural West Cork. I also grew up on a farm and there was this wasteful unwilling mentality.

“Sustainability is in the background of every decision we make. We will just strive to do our best and we are very conscious of the earth for as long as we have it and being able to pass it on to the next generation in better condition.”

Alan added: “We do energy harvesting, solar panels, water harvesting, tree planting – we also have around 8,000 trees planted on the farm. The farm is a great place for sustainability initiatives. I think if we were working from a concrete jungle on the side of a city, you have a lot more challenges.

“But working on a farm is a great platform to bring in all kinds of initiatives. Then of course there are all the other areas like reducing plastic in packaging, our dessert packaging for example is all made from of recycled plastic water bottles from a company in Cork.

Val in the kitchen where it all started

“Then we looked at innovative ways to try to reduce packaging at all levels. There were many areas that we would never have really focused on before, but just through consumer demand, orange and green, which is a program run by Bord Bia – we have a lot of goals that we have set ourselves.

“It’s not just talking – it’s achieving goals. We train the guys in production to make sure we’re saving water and really understand all the aspects and details of sustainability.”

While Alan admits “we all jump to the conclusion that sustainability is about saving energy and reducing plastic – it’s really about surviving in a rural area and making an operation sustainable no matter what. whatever the circumstances and to be part of a rural community and create jobs”.

“It’s very important in the history of sustainability and that’s what we learned,” he added. “We have opened our farm to the local community, tourists and walkers who have access via public paths along the river that runs here. Even things like opening a cafe on the farm.

“For us, it’s really important because it’s a place where locals can meet and have a cup of coffee.

“It’s also an educational project for a lot of children to come. We have an open space for production where anyone can come at any time of the day and see what we’re up to. We’re open and we can be proud of it.”

The couple now employ 50 people and their products are stocked in major supermarkets across the country.

Until about three years ago Alan said they milked 50 cows on the farm, but since their yoghurt business has grown they have partnered with the dairy farmer next door to take the milk produced by its 180 cows.

The couple say their cows largely live outdoors in the wild
The couple say their cows largely live outdoors in the wild

And he assures us that the cattle “are loose – sometimes they are a little too loose and come into the garden or escape”.

Valerie said: “We have such a wonderful raw material to work with – the cows are grass fed, especially here in the south, they would go out a lot more than the cows up north because of the climate.

“All the milk that comes into our factory comes from the farm next door. It’s local within a radius of three or four miles at the most.

“They’re out every week of the year except eight,” Alan added. “It’s probably the best place in Ireland for weed.”

Alan says the benefits of doing things the way they do are many.

“We have an interesting kind of partnership here and I’m really focusing on the financial aspect,” explained Alan.

“We’re not drawn to sustainability, not just the green side – it’s about saving money. Everything we do is a green initiative, but it’s about saving money.

“For example, we were looking at the [steam] boiler with an infrared thermometer and the temperature was about 235 degrees. It was escaping into the atmosphere and we weren’t capturing it.

“We just had my guy make a series of pipes which we dropped down the chimney and now all the water that comes into the plant to wash is flowing through those pipes and picking up all that heat that’s coming through. previously escaped in the factory. .

“It was about saving money on water heating rather than releasing all the heat.

“Sometimes you have to look at the big picture and invest in the short term to recoup money over a long period.”

Valérie added: “We have actually appointed a sustainability manager. It can be a bit difficult to get to zero and it may seem like too high a goal.

“We’re not into buying carbon credits – it’s more about doing what we can here in our little corner.”

“There are a lot of people using ‘carbon neutral’ on their packaging and it’s really only big companies that can buy carbon credits,” Alan added.

“I think some consumers are bleached by it. It’s not really authentic or doesn’t do what consumers think it does.”

As a result of everything they do, the couple say they have seen an increase in biodiversity on their farm, from owls to otters and everything in between.

Valerie added: “I will always be on the lookout.”

“We also created a lake for the factory and now there are wild mallards that call it home,” Alan said.

What’s next for the couple?

Valerie says they have started to focus on products that improve gut health.

“I’m very interested in this connection between your gut, keeping your gut healthy and the impact that has,” she added.

“We are looking to release more products in this line.”

“In a fun way, it’s durability as well as maintaining your health,” Alan said.

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