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Northern Ireland farmer works 120-hour week to meet the soaring rise in demand for fresh food


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Nigel Hassard from Castle Farm NI makes a delivery

Nigel Hassard from Castle Farm NI makes a delivery

Nigel Hassard from Castle Farm NI makes a delivery

A Co Down farmer has been working flat out, clocking up over 120 hours per week to ensure customers receive their food after the coronavirus lockdown sparked a surge in demand for his fresh fruit, vegetable and meat produce.

Nigel Hassard and his family - wife Katharine, their two children, and father Wilbert - run Castle Farm NI based in Dundrum.

They run a 60-acre farm, mostly growing potatoes and home to a variety of livestock, but it's their online farm shop that is the centre of attention.

Nigel said: "We set up as an online home delivery service in 2008. Since inception we have steadily built up our customer base and currently have over 50,000 people regularly kept up-to-date with the goings-on around the farm and our latest food offers.

"At Castle Farm we try to grow as much local produce as possible in season including potatoes, vegetables and have our own livestock and free-range eggs as part of our farm business.

"We also source a range of products from other small local producers and businesses in the area.

"This includes producers of quality niche products which provides them with a platform from which to distribute and promote their products across Ulster. This gives our customers a wide range of local products to choose from."

Business has always been brisk but the coronavirus pandemic really pushed the team to their limits, so much so that extra help was urgently required.

"We were completely swamped with orders," said Nigel. "Inside 24 hours (of lockdown) we had hundreds of extra orders which really put pressure on us.

"I had to immediately call in some extra help and order more vans to cope but even then customers were facing a two-week wait for their deliveries. We were trying our best and so were our suppliers to satisfy the extra demand.

"Most customers understood the pressure we were under but of course some didn't. It was impossible to get an online delivery from the main supermarkets which also increased the demand for our food."

Nigel took on five extra full-time staff and two more vans to build his team to eight staff and a fleet of four vans.

"They worked all over Easter to try and catch up with orders.

"It was pretty surreal being out delivering on Easter Sunday with the roads so quiet.

"I pulled into a filling station for diesel and the only other two cars were a police car and one driven by a nurse.

"On top of all the pressure we had a death in the family when my wife's grandmother passed away which delayed us a bit more," he added.

Nigel delivers to the main towns and cities, but has gone the extra mile to ensure the vulnerable have food in this crisis.

"I drove 40 minutes off the beaten track to ensure an elderly couple got their delivery as they were completely out of food and had no transport to take them to a shop. We also try to prioritise the NHS workers and I was happy to make a late night delivery to one nurse who came off a shift after the shops were closed.

"Right now we are making good headway into reducing our delivery time to seven to 10 days.

"I'm personally out most days delivering. We will catch up but are urging customers to order well in advance and have some patience. We will get there."

Orders can be placed for Castle Farm produce at castlefarmni.com

Belfast Telegraph