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Chef Gary O'Hanlon appointed Food Ambassador for Donegal at Launch of new Donegal Food Strategy 2012

A new Donegal Food Strategy was officially launched in Glenveagh Castle by Minister of State for Small Business, John Perry  TD, on Monday 23rd July and Donegal chef Gary O'Hanlon was appointed it's Ambassador for Donegal Food

The strategy, commissioned by Donegal County Enterprise Board in conjunction with the other state development agencies, was prepared with input from representatives from all of the sectors within the food industry in County Donegal.

A wonderfully diverse assembly of food producers, chefs, butchers, retailers, restaurateurs, food festival organisers and food writers, along with members of the county development committees attended the launch. A fabulous selection of the best of local county food, supplied by some of the Donegal's best (but not yet all well-known) food producers, was on display and also an amazing buffet had been prepared by Michelle Hunter's kitchen at Glenveagh Tea Rooms kitchen for tasting.

The Donegal Food Strategy sets outs an ambitious vision for food within Donegal and seeks to make Donegal a county famous for food and recognised as a pioneering region for its approach to fostering and growing new and existing food businesses.

Mr Seamus Neely, Chairman of Donegal County Enterprise Board (CEB) and who is also County Manager of Donegal County Council, outlined in his introduction the significant work already achieved over the past two years under the Food Coast brand – in particular the provision of grant aid to 14 food businesses and mentoring to 29 businesses by Donegal CEB. 

Chef Gary O'Hanlon speaking at the launch of the Donegal Food Strategy
pic @chefmanderson
Gary O'Hanlon, Executive Chef at Viewmount House is now filling the role as Food Ambassador for the Donegal Food Strategy and he emphasised the importance and opportunities there are in sourcing and using local quality produce. 

"It's a great honour for me to be appointed an Ambassador for Food for my home County" said Gary. "Chefs from Donegal are proud of where they're from and proud of what they're utilising." "Nothing much comes out of bad economic times, but thankfully one thing that has come out this is that the whole food culture has been re-born in Ireland and people are starting to grow their own food again". 

An example of this, Gary said, was how Harry's Bar, in Bridge End  Co. Donegal, are now producing so much quality food from their walled garden that they are now looking to open a shop to sell on their produce to the general public. "The demand for quality local products are there" he said. 

Chef Gary O'Hanlon - the new Food Ambassador for County Donegal
A Taste Council of Ireland Report suggests that during the next 10 years, 650 new food entrepreneurs could be established resulting in the creation of 6,500 new jobs.  A study by the New Economics Foundation in London found that every €10 spent with a local food business is worth €25 to the local economy which further supports the rationale for creating a vibrant local food economy

The Donegal Food Strategy identifies 83 key priority actions to be delivered on over the next 5 years.  A critical priority identified in the Donegal Food Strategy report is the creation of a number of new food producer start-ups over the five year period.  Research during the preparation of the report identified that there was a need for additional new food start-ups in the county which could give the county a better profile, both at national and international level and that these new food manufacturing businesses should be assisted "to fill a gap in the provision of products at local, regional, national and international level".

The Donegal Food Strategy identifies a number of supporting actions to enable this - such as the establishment of a Big Brother Network using executives from "larger or more established food producers in the county, our local experienced chefs and our food retailers as mentors for new food manufacturing start-ups, the provision of a dedicated one-stop shop for food within the existing CEB website which would act as a resource for information on all areas of food production and the provision of dedicated support to any new start-up".

Michael Tunney, CEO Donegal CEB, said that “the overall objective of our strategy is to make Donegal a location famous for food.  In order for us to do this we need the collective buy-in from all our communities, as well as many of our food businesses as possible and the pro-active engagement of our enterprise development agencies in the delivery of this strategy.  We hope that through achieving the vision that every food business and those employed in them will have enhanced opportunities for further development, greater sustainability and increased employment opportunities." 

Fresh locally grown vegetables from Leghowney Country Market, near Donegal Town
Mr Tunney continued, "For the strategy to be implemented we need all of those involved to keep the focus on the broader common vision that requires cooperation and commitment, patience and perseverance.  Given that these are some of the qualities which define us as a county and as a people, we are convinced that we can and will achieve our stated objectives”

Donegal Rapeseed Oil is an example of a well-developed Donegal food brand
Food in Ireland has taken on a much higher profile role in recent years and Irish food and drinks exports rose by 12% during 2011 reaching an all-time high figure of €8.8 billion.  Food and drinks exports increased at 3 times the rate of total exports during that period.  Food and drinks exports have risen by 25% during 2010 and 2011. 

Donegal food producers (and in reality all Irish food producers) can aim to be part of this new growth, by working with retailers and restaurant purchasers to establish a network of local suppliers to share the word, so that locally grown Irish food can become a demanded international product.

Baked Donegal Oysters with Bellingham Blue Cheese which is
made by cheesemaker and Donegal-man Peter Thomas
In the context of tourism, tourists spent close to €2 billion on food and drink in Ireland in 2009.  Overseas visitors account for 60% of the total spending an estimated €1.2 billion on food and drink.  The seafood industry, of which Donegal is a key part, contributes about €700 million annually to the national economy and employs 11,000 people nationally.  Approximately €340 million of this product is sold on the domestic market with the remaining in export.

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