Yvonne McKay, aka Eve, the creator and owner of Eve’s Leaves, first began her food journey thirty years ago, when her first child started to eat solid foods: “I started to really think about what was in the food I was feeding her and began researching how to grow organically. I took one small section and started growing a few vegetables chemical-free, and so it began.”
Putting food on the table that you’ve grown and cooked yourself is a very rewarding experience. I love having family and friends round for dinner to this day – especially when they can be my guinea pigs for new recipes.
Of course, this wasn’t her first exposure to the culinary wonders of the world. Growing up in the UK, Eve remembers that, during her childhood, she was always “exposed to good food, but more importantly, I’ve always been exposed to growing it as well”.
Curious as to how her business properly got started, Eve explained: “In 2008 I had such a glut of tomatoes that I decided to make a tomato chili relish. It was such a big hit with family and friends that, after a lot of persuasion, I took their advice that I should be selling it.”
“At first, I didn’t feel confident about it as it’s a big step going from friends and family to the general public. But when I started to sell my relishes and chutneys at a local farmers market, I was amazed at the positive feedback. Before I knew it, I was selling it in local shops.”
“The demand proved that my friends and family weren’t just being nice to me when they told me I should be selling it – they were right! And being in such a beautiful part of Co. Kerry where there are so many tourists, there was a ready-made market for us.”
Describing the range of products available at Eve’s Leaves, she said: “We make three relishes – tomato chilli, smokey and piccalilli – which we supply to both the trade and the general public. They are made fresh every week and are free from gluten, dairy, artificial preservatives and are vegan-friendly. This is quite a niche market as most relishes are mass-produced, whereas we are a small artisan business.”
We also specialise in growing vegetables, edible flowers, micro greens and ‘unusual’ salad mixes that have amazing colours, flavours and textures. Some of these are long-forgotten and difficult to source. Everything we grow is chemical-free and picked and delivered within hours. It’s this combination that makes us unique. We work directly with chefs to grow those little additions that really make their dishes stand out, whether it’s a spoon of relish or a rare salad mix.
The care and attention Eve puts into her work shows, especially when consumers recognise the difference in flavour compared to other products on the market: “Flavours, colours and smells are such strong triggers for people’s memories, and customers of a certain age always comment that they haven’t tasted such flavours since childhood.”
She added: “The younger generation ask why the tomatoes and carrots and so on that they buy in shops have no flavour, and that is your answer. Modern agriculture simply does not produce those flavours anymore. It’s no wonder parents find it so difficult feeding their kids salad.”
The secret to the quality of her produce comes from Eve’s dedication to growing produce that is chemical-free: “Growing chemical-free is difficult and often back-breaking work. We use organic pest control methods and put an awful lot of time in to keeping things at bay. You can often find me on pest patrol in the dead of night with a head torch on!”
We do our very best to source all of our seeds from good, reputable suppliers. The quality of the seeds needs to be there for us to produce top quality crops, which can be difficult when growing chemical-free.
“Everything is picked by hand so every single leaf, tomato, fruit or vegetable is examined and only the most perfect produce is used. (We don’t waste the rest, they are for us!).”
While it can be challenging working with your other half, Eve wouldn’t have it any other way, saying: “There’s a saying that goes ‘don’t mix business with family’, but for us, we wouldn’t have it any other way. My husband Eamonn has always run his own businesses so his entrepreneurial knowledge is really useful, and he shares the same outlook on things as me.”
Several people have often compared us to Tom and Barbara from the comedy series ‘The Good Life’ over the years and we’ll take that as a compliment. I couldn’t do it without him.
Of course, running a business isn’t easy and like many, Eve has found it difficult at times: “Having your own business is tough at the best of times, especially when you’re growing specialist produce under cover. With many tunnels and a microgreens room which need tending to everyday, we have very little time to relax. In the summer months, we do 14-hour days tending to the vegetables.”
But these challenges can be easily overcome with positive experiences. Recalling some of her most incredible moments in the business, she says: “One of the most amazing stories for me was several years ago when Garry Hughes, the Executive Chef of the Shelbourne Hotel, came to Kerry for a family holiday. I knew Garry personally and he asked if he could come to see my polytunnels and what I was growing. He was very impressed and asked if I could supply him! I was absolutely gob-smacked!”
“I reluctantly had to decline as I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand, but I have since supplied tomatoes on a number of special occasions. We even got a mention on the Shelbourne Hotel series on RTE.”
Remembering another highlight, Eve continued: “Another proud moment was being asked by Jason Nolan and his mentor Alan McCardle from the Aghadoe, Killarney, if I could supply some specialist herbs for one of the dishes he was preparing for the Euro-Toques Young Chef competition 2017.”
I wanted him to have the freshest herbs possible, so I picked them by head torch very early on the morning he was travelling from Killarney to Dublin for the competition. We met him at 7am on the road to hand over the goods!
Thinking about what she sees as her biggest achievement to date, Yvonne beams: “One of my biggest achievements is actually finally believing that my relish was as good as people said it was. I’m now at a stage where some of the best chefs in the industry ask my opinion on their dishes and what I can grow to improve them. I have to pinch myself sometimes.”
While admitting that social media does play a part in the business (“the power of social media is amazing”), especially when it comes to making connections, Eve maintains that “there’s no substitute for actually going in and meeting people in person, which I try to do on a regular basis”.
One of these relationships is with Mike Hayes of Chefhire.ie, with Eve saying: “He is someone I will always be so grateful to for believing in my products and giving me so many contacts within the industry.”
When I first gave him a sample of my relish, he smiled at me, took the lid off the tomato chilli relish and tasted it, then asked me what size bucket I could supply it in. That was the moment I was finally convinced that it was a really good relish, so thank you Mike.
Another is Chef Chad Byrne from the Brehon Hotel in Killarney, who “really believed in me and we’ve been on the menu there for over two years now. I’ve even had the pleasure of mentoring Chad and his chefs on how to grow herbs and vegetables in their own polytunnel.”
Looking to the future and Yvonne would love the relish side of the business to grow, saying: “We have worked so hard to create brand awareness of Eve’s Leaves over the last couple of years. We would love to expand our relish business nationwide in more hotels, restaurants, gastro pubs and shops.”
“I will always grow the edible flowers, microgreens and salads, but the relish is the business that we want to focus on as it can be transported around Ireland easily without being spoiled. After years of hard work, Eamonn and I would love to be successful enough to take time out and relax a bit.”
At the end of the day, Eve loves what she does and can’t imagine doing anything else with her life: “I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful part of the world, working outside and breathing in the freshest air. Gardening is my passion and I get so much joy from working with nature. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, especially a job indoors. I often get asked what I would do on my rare days off and it’s usually gardening and cooking.”
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Named Best Break Out Travel Writer at the 2018 Travel Media Awards, Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.