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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Three in a row! Slemish Market Garden lifts Slow Food NI’s Best Greengrocer for third year

Slemish Market Garden has been awarded Slow Food Northern Ireland's Best Greengrocer once again. It is the third year in-a-row that the local gem has won the title, but this year the business also received the coveted accolade of UK Best Greengrocer 2022.

The award comes as well deserved recognition for the McCooke family who have etched a little piece of Eden into the landscape of the Ecos Nature Park in Ballymena.

Husband and wife team Frank and Linda, along with son Matthew, have dedicated their days, and nights, to working the land and producing the best and freshest organic vegetables and fruit, as well as nurturing a strong garden centre business with plants, shrubs and trees.

With a strong and dedicated army of hens and ducks, fresh laid eggs are lifted shortly after being laid and are sold to customers who choose their own from baskets that sit among an array of the best and most flavoursome local produce.

In recent years with the revival and growth in the 'cottage industry', some of the best local and regional produce can be discovered on the shelves in the shop at Slemish Market Garden, including sauces, jams, honeys, and much more.

"We've taken home surprises but nothing quite like this," quipped Frank as he digested news of the market gardens' most recent awards.

Created nine years ago, the Slow Food awards are truly democratic – with no prior shortlisting, the winners are simply chosen by whoever gets the most votes. With thousands voting across the UK, the awards have become effective in highlighting the best of local, fair, and good.

Each nation has its own winners, with the highest number of votes in each category also being the overall UK winner.

In addition to the public vote, each nation director chose their Person of the Year, their stories are below, with one of those of winners being crowned Slow Food in the UK Person of Year as well.

But it is not just the produce that makes Slemish Market Garden a special place, it's the chat, a bit of good Ballymena craic, and the best tips and advice that have been learnt from many years trial and error, and dedication, as well as long-ago wisdom passed down through the generations. Of course, Linda is always on hand to offer some recipe and cooking instructions to get the best from your buys.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Frank said:

"The three of us work so hard, overcome every problem and when anyone else would give up we’re still working. We’re so good at our job, we love it and we hope that it rubs off on our regular customers and followers, that good food, good craic, and a healthy lifestyle while caring for our little patch of earth, is quite an achievable goal.

"It’s been an absolute privilege for us as a family to grow, source and sell wholesome food, to serve the community and be such a part of Ballymena.

"Linda, Matthew ,myself and the whole behind the scenes team of gardeners, suppliers and makers cannot express just how much these accolades mean to us."

Linda added:

"We’re speechless and dumbfounded, and more than a little emotional. Once again we want to thank all you wonderful folks who support us week in week out. These awards are as much yours as they are ours. Just where would we be without you?!"

Slemish Market Garden is located in the Ecos Nature Park, Kernohan's Lane (just off the Broughshane Road), Ballymena. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday, 10am - 5pm.

Slow Food Northern Ireland 2022 Winners

Best Butcher | Seaview Farm, Bushmills

Best Baker | Ursa Minor, Ballycastle

Best Greengrocer | Slemish Market Garden, Ballymena

Best FishmongerNative Seafood, Portstewart

Best Deli or Grocer | Indie Fude, Comber

Best Cheesemonger | Mike’s Fancy Cheese, Belfast

Best Restaurant/Food Eatery | Wine & Brine, Moira

Champion Slow Food Product | Ballylisk Triple Cream Cheese, Armagh

Person of the Year | Leona Kane of Broighter Gold.

A producer who grows in tandem with nature, and lauded by everyone from the RSPB to the Woodland Trust. Broighter Gold are the exemplar for sustainable production, and Leona has a pivotal role within the Northern Irish food community.

Leona was nominated by Paula McIntyre, Director of Slow Food Northern Ireland


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