That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, speaks to Niamh Maher of Aghaboe Farm Foods.
Niamh Maher began baking celebration cakes and other treats for family friends, and this eventually turned into a hybrid of a hobby and a business.
The Keelough, Pike of Rushall, Co. Laois native established her award-winning artisan bakery business in 2016 and “has not looked back ever since”.
Niamh developed Aghabor Farm Foods from the same 200-year-old dairy and beef enterprise that she was born and raised on.
She told That’s Farming: “My interest in baking began when I was a child. I used to ‘help’ my granny when she made buns and apple tarts.”
“Honestly, I liked the idea of turning something I love into a viable business. I dreaded moving from a hobby to a business, but it was not that bad.”
“I was very lucky that I already had a well-equipped kitchen, so I was able to set up without any great expense allowing me to invest in more equipment over time.”
“As for training, I am mainly self-thought, but I have done a few day courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
“Once I was fully registered with the EHO and had all the other admin put into place, I set up my Facebook page and started taking orders.”
Aghaboe Farm Foods
Niamh targets her “traditional baking but with a more modern twist,” at people who “appreciate good food and have an understanding of what goes into the products”.
She makes every ingredient by hand, focusing on sourcing almost all locally and sustainably, and does not use any pre-made mixes or artificial flavours.
Her customers are primarily in Laois, Kilkenny and Offaly, but an online presence has enabled her to expand her customer base to all of Ireland.
However, as farmers’ markets are her main way of reaching customers, she had to seek an alternative avenue because of Covid-19 restrictions.
She believes that online “is the future” as the global Covid-19 pandemic has changed consumers’ shopping attitudes.
“Like many people, we had to think of other options such as a box of cakes to be delivered to people’s homes.”
“The main challenge was losing our main source of revenue, but we were able to recover this quickly. Uncertainty is currently my main challenge. It is very hard to make plans at the moment, not knowing what is going to happen with Covid in the near future.”
“I work full-time within the business, and I am fortunate to have a very helpful family,” added Niamh, who runs the business from her family home and has her own kitchen.
“Most of all, I like being my own boss; I love being in the kitchen and meeting customers and hearing their feedback. Time management is a big one for me, also marketing; I am just not very good at it.”
Niamh’s efforts have been recognised, as she has received and is national for several prestigious titles.
“We were lucky enough to win awards at Great Taste and Blas na hEireann. We have four products through to the finals of this
year’s Blas na hEireann – Aghaboe Carrot Cake, Lemon Curd and Pistachio Cake, Honey Glazed Irish Whiskey Tea Brack, and Jewel Topped Christmas Cake.”
The Laois native’s participation in ACORNS, a development initiative to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland, has been one of the key drivers of her business success.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has issued a call for applicants for ACORNS 7. ACORNS is funded under the department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.
The free initiative will run over six months from October 2021 to April 2022, with the deadline for applications at midnight on September 10th, 2021, as reported by That’s Farming.
There is no charge for those participating in ACORNS due to the DAFM’s support and the voluntary contribution of time by the lead entrepreneurs.
“ACORNS helped me to take a step back from working in the business and instead focus on where I wanted to business to go.”
“Also, the encouragement of our group leader and the other businesses in the group was fantastic, especially to bounce ideas off.”
“I am hoping to run a pop-up shop this Christmas. Ultimately, I would like to open a cookery school here on the farm and establish a whole food culture based here.”
“In five years, I see the business as being a more established, nationally recognised brand synonymous with great Irish food.”
“My journey from where I started to here now has possibly not been the fastest moving train. However, I am naturally cautious, and I always prefer to take my time and get things right.”
“Looking forward, I am starting to feel more confident in the business. I hope to spend the next few years pushing it forwards,” she concluded.
Read more success stories from ACORNS participants.
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