Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 4 October 2015

No stick for carrot (and parsnip) man

By Dave Whelan

Published 14/08/2013

Mark McKee has Tesco's parsnip market sewn up
Mark McKee has Tesco's parsnip market sewn up

A local farmer is a seasoned example of Comber's growing reputation for excellent local produce.

Mark McKee of Comber-based Sparkypac will from this week provide Tesco stores across Northern Ireland with all of their parsnips and half of their carrots.

Despite one of the harshest winters and springs for farming, Mr McKee is right on schedule to supply the demand by the major shopping chain, something he says is down to his location.

"For farmers across Northern Ireland there was a big problem with such a long, cold, wet winter and spring. It meant that we had to plant the seeds three weeks later than usual and that automatically puts the harvest back if you want to produce a quality crop," he said.

While other growers were still running behind, the ideal conditions of the recent hot sunny weather and a unique local water source in the Comber-Ards area had allowed his crops to catch up. "Our last crop of cabbage got absolutely hammered because of the weather but this time we've been able to benefit from the conditions," he said.

"There is a source of natural water drawn from a unique bore-hole between Comber and Ards. We are lucky to have a way to tap into the massive accumulation of water we had over the winter and in the last few weeks we've been able to make great use of it - for the first time in several years. The combination of the sunny weather and a watering from our spring has made this year's crop a superb one – both the carrots and the parsnips are deliciously sweet and crunchy," he added.

Sparkypac currently employs around 30 people, which can rise to 50 at peak times.

Mr McKee said that they try to emphasis that all shops should operate on a policy of "grown in and not flown in".

"Tescos are fantastic at promoting local produce when it's available but what many people don't realise is that if the local produce isn't ready or there isn't enough of it they have to go to the likes of Scotland, Wales and France to get their supply.

"The problem with the risk of growing vegetables is that no matter what schedule you are aiming for you are always at nature's beck and call and that's the biggest factor," he added.

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