Wexford-based ACORNS Alumni Catherine Kinsella of Saltrock Dairy shows how dairy can be done viably and sustainably.
We talk to rural women entrepreneurs from across Ireland who recently took part in the ACORNS programme.
Catherine Kinsella’s customers often remark on the difference in the taste of milk produced on her dairy farm and the name brands sold in her local supermarket.
“We aren’t looking to become a nationwide distributor of milk. It’s a local product, sold locally. Our hope would be that we demonstrate that the business is viable so that others might do the same in their own counties right across Ireland”
The disparity, she believes, is due to processes involved in industrial scale milk processing– a level of interference that she believes is incompatible with the simplicity of the quality product being produced on almost every dairy farm in Ireland. A growing dismay at this state of affairs inspired Catherine to set up her own independent dairy food company, Saltrock Dairy, at her home in Gorey, Co. Wexford, in October 2021.
“My husband, Paul, is a dairy farmer and together we produce non-homogenised, pasteurised milk and sell direct to the customer using self-vending machines. Our machine is transported by mobile trailer to locations around Gorey so customers can come and fill their bottles. It’s fully sustainable as it cuts out all the packaging and is completely waste-free,” says Catherine.
After selling more than 35,000 litres of milk and claiming Green Business of the Year honours at the Gorey Business Awards, Catherine has already outperformed her first-year targets. However, rather than advance on the national dairy market, her commitment to sustainability and support for the local economy means that she would instead prefer to forge a pathway for independent producers elsewhere.
“We aren’t looking to become a nationwide distributor of milk. It’s a local product, sold locally. Our hope would be that we demonstrate that the business is viable so that others might do the same in their own counties right across Ireland,” says Catherine, who hails ACORNS for providing practical support for the development of her business.
“The roundtables were excellent. You could throw out any idea and there was so much positive energy in the room that it automatically seemed plausible,” she adds.
Empowering rural women entrepreneurs
Women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join next phase of the programme, ACORNS 9.
The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach. Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.
ACORNS is based on the belief that early-stage entrepreneurs learn best from their peers. Participants interact with each other in the monthly round table sessions, which are facilitated by a Lead Entrepreneur, who has first-hand experience of starting and successfully growing a business in rural Ireland. There are 50 places available for ACORNS 9.
Those wishing to apply for ACORNS 9 should register on the website before midnight 22 September.
In a survey carried out at the end of the eighth cycle of the programme in April, 100% of participants said they would recommend the programme to others. The 46 entrepreneurs in ACORNS 8 also reported significant growth in their new businesses. Their combined turnover, which doubled in the six months to April 2023 – from €1.9m to €3.6m.
Participants in ACORNS 8 employed 96 (55 full-time, 41 part-time) staff at the end of the cycle, an increase of 16. There were also five new exporters over the cycle.
A total of 96% of the participants said that they felt closer to achieving their ambitions after having completed ACORNS. While 89% said that their participation brought about a practical change within their business.
Main image at top: Annamarie McNally, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with Caroline Kinsella, Saltrock Dairy