Lights have been gl-eaming brightly at one of Northern Ireland’s most ambitious and in-novative producers of cider, apple and fruit juice, and apple cider vinegar at the heart of our ‘Orchard County’ in County Armagh.
The McKeever family or-ganised the first-ever ‘son et lumiere’ (sound and light) – ‘Treeluminations’ – show in their orchard near Loughgall.
The family farm has also been featuring prominently on UTV’s hugely popular Rare Breed series. And the enterprising family recently starred on the popular UTV Life chat show hosted by the effervescent Pamela Bal-lantine.
Husband and wife team Pat and Catherine McKeever run the Long Meadow Farm apple business with son Peter in particular and other family members. And it’s a thriving business which has collected a host of national awards and now sells its original ciders and juices throughout the island of Ireland, Great Britain and other parts of Europe.
It’s an excellent model of a successful farm diversification project that saw the family producing their own cider instead of supplying apples to other processors outside Northern Ireland.
The sound and light show, the first ever held in an apple orchard here, is part of an impressive programme of activities which are turning the apple farm into a genuine and fascinating food destination for local people and especially tourists.
It has become a key stop in Armagh food tours and is showing how food and tourism can be successfully integrated. The sound and light show is running from February 13-16.
They delight in showing visitors how the apples, including iconic EU accredited Armagh Bramley’s, are grown and processed meticulously to produce wonderfully tas-ty ciders and fruit juices. The company is now an important business within the Food Heartland initiative of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.
The light show was or-ganised to offer an attractive and different option for St Valentine’s Day. Hundreds of participants last night, when the show opened, were able to enjoy the lights and sample the ciders and juices. Food from other local suppliers was also readily available.
The colourful event includes a farm tour and a visit to the cold storage facility where apples can be stored from harvest season in September through to June the following year. There was an opportunity to see the pressing and blending facilities and to learn the history of the oak barrels in which cider is matured.
There are information se-ssions on their apple cider vinegar explaining the various health benefits, the process in making apple cider vinegar and the opportunity to see the ‘live’ Mother Culture (the natural bacteria grown and retained within the vinegar).
“The Orchard Treelum-inations event is a fantastic opportunity to see the raw, naked beauty of the trees transformed and illuminated by light and sound without foliage or fruit,” Catherine says.
“I think we all have a vision of apple orchards complete with apple blossom or an abundance of fruit, this illumination event highlights the orchards in a totally different perspective, a raw, natural, resting state before the cycle of growth begins.
“We are aiming to raise the profile of agri-food tourism in Armagh and we hope to make this an annual event,” she adds.
They lined up famed ph-otographer and lighting desig-ner Walter Holt to create a unique experience in the orchard. Holt specialises in the illumination of trees and landscapes, and has woven his magic in Britain and Ireland.
A professional cinemato-grapher, Holt initiated the Treeluminati: a team of volunteers on his lighting project at Australia’s Wood-ford Folk Festival – a week-long camping celebration of arts in a stunning tree-lined valley that had previously disappeared at night. Holt returned to Ireland in 2007 to set up Installations of Light to provide lighting consultancy, design and installation th-at specialises in trees, land-scapes and architecture.
“The company has a successful track record in creating events, temporary and permanent installations in private, public and corporate spaces,” Catherine continues. “They created a really imaginative design for the orchard. It’s a really stunning light show,” she adds.
Pat, Catherine and Peter, in addition, have put together an engaging programme of activities that widen the base of the business beyond its primary role in the production of beverages.
The events include a Mother’s Day Workshop with an award-winning florist to advise participants on how to develop table arrangements. ‘Art in the Orchard’ painting workshops with a renowned painter have also been held in the orchard for aspiring artists. Unique craft candles featuring apple fragrance were developed with Kimaria in Portadown as a corporate gift.
Furthermore, the business will also be again taking part in the Bank of Ireland sponsored Open Farm Week-
end, another hugely succ-essful initiative designed to strengthen the bridge between farming families and the wider public. Visitors can see how a successful cider and juice business operates and is flourishing here and abroad.
The McKeevers have a successful track record in developing original ciders, including the first vintage matured here in whiskey casks
They founded the craft cider and juice business in 2012 on the back of a family heritage of growing applies for more than 50 years.
The entrepreneurial family is now a driving force in what has become among our most dynamic and successful beverage businesses and is a proactive supporter of Food NI.
Long Meadow grows and harvests apples from a total of 120 acres, 30 of which are on the home farm. It uses local Bramley and sweet apples.
Cider producers like Long Meadow are also winning business increasingly in Europe. Long Meadow, for example, is reaching out and attracting sales in northern France, a long-standing and discerning cider region.
France consumes around 15 per cent of Europe’s cider and has created a network of cider routes for tourists, particularly in Normandy and Brittany.
Long Meadow has diversified into one of Ireland’s most imaginative food tourism businesses and is also cr-eating an impressive and attractive cider destination for our burgeoning tourism industry.