Artisan Food and Drink Economic & Social Contributions.

Product Development
Local Donegal Artisan Food and Drink Producers Economic & Social Contributions.

I was delighted to attend the recent launch of The Food Coast Donegal Strategic Review in Castle Grove Country House. There are various levels at which local artisan food and drink makers contribute to the local Donegal economy. Such as through job creation, adding value to a product, sustainable employment and opportunities to fill a gap in the market for particular products—all key outputs of a local food system.


This impact in the guise of increased income and job employment are common denominators in local food systems. Sustainable employment and growth in local artisan businesses could be a model for expanding development and growth in rural areas, contributing to local development policies and, thus, the economy of such areas.

However, artisans have more opportunities now to raise their profiles and add to the bottom line. Traditional marketplaces, such as farmer’s and county markets, operated as the bastion or a place for their customers to meet the makers. More recently, artisan produce can be sought out over the last decade, profiled on the menu of local eateries or food festivals. The retail level has shifted, with local artisan produce becoming more widely available. This paradigm shift has resulted in consumer awareness changes and specialist retailers and food purveyors becoming recently established in the county. Thus, providing artisans an opportunity to create a niche in local markets and supermarkets creates a two-fold economic dividend. Supporting sustainable employment in communities; therefore, purchasing at local retail stores, specialist retailers, restaurants etc., keeps money within the county filtering down through or returning into the coffers of suppliers, money being spent in local shops etc., adding value.

Purchasing or using ingredients outside regional or county boundaries is a reality for many food businesses. However, this is not to say that artisans are diluting their craft by doing so. The current global economy’s dynamic has changed food and ingredient chains. Consumers' interpretation will vary with global divergence around local or what the term local food means. Local may come to represent an end product, whilst other jurisdictions understand it as made only with local ingredients. Another divergence is the seasonality of produce or organic ingredients used in producing artisan foods, thus adding to the authenticity and consumers’ expectation of using a natural ingredient and aligning with or representing the ethos of artisan food and drink producers.

Social Capital

Socio-cultural capital and its embedded relationship with local food offer a non-economic dividend to the local community. Food as a physical identity is required for nourishment and filling a need to sustain people. However, local food and drink producers proffer an opportunity to develop social bonds, kinship and communal relationships. Producers and businesses are dispersed in Donegal. Adding to a sense of place and pride, pride manifests itself in several ways. Pride in promoting or using local produce on menus to create new dishes. As an ingredient produced in a locality that offers pride in producing and promoting produce. Pride through job satisfaction, a sense of achievement, and team building. Pride when travelling or working outside your community, being the storyteller of artisan food or drink, and relating this to your area, townland or your place.

Social capital and its accumulation are observed in local food networks. Whilst in Donegal, the Food Coast initiative, a local network whose original inception and goals were set up with financial targets, correspondingly has nurtured a rich knowledge, craft and skill base within the network, resulting in the exchange of knowledge, skills, shared and learned experiences and collaborations. Thus, pure social capital is transferred amongst the network and beyond to build a knowledge network without financial exchange.

Such exchange networks are welcome business support in many communities, particularly where rural locations and distances between businesses and customers can be a factor.  Like many other rural counties,  in Donegal, producers and businesses are dispersed over various townlands, coastal areas and communities. Many artisans start or develop in their area; that is to say, they do not move specifically to set up in different places, albeit this does happen. Therefore, starting an artisan business in such locations has been embedded in the community from its inception. This analogy also would apply to local cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, delis etc. With reliance on the local community for its support and custom, especially in areas where business is based on seasonal holidays periods.

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