‘Winning the award was a tremendous boost for me’

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Last year Michele Shirlow, 54, was awarded the Farming Champion Award at the Farming Life & Danske Bank Annual Awards.

It was her sheer dedication and commitment to the overall industry that set Michele apart from others nominated in her category.

Michele, who lives in Co Down, always felt a career in the food sector was likely to be on the cards.

She explained: “After university I had the opportunity to travel and could never understand why other regions had such pride in their food.

‘‘Even though we had great produce that pride and passion wasn’t apparent at home. ‘‘So I went on to study at the Irish Management Institute with some people from the Kerry Group and was amazed at their vision.

“I’ve always had an interest in food ingredients and cooking but was really inspired to do something about the lack of a message for local food when working with Dan Flinter, who was chair of the Food Strategy Implementation Partnership.

“I saw a lack of promotion and awareness around local food and producers and wanted to change this.

‘‘My goal is to enhance the reputation of food from Northern Ireland and to put Northern Ireland in the top quartile of food regions in the UK and Ireland.”

Michele said there has been great strides forward in the Northern Irish food industry in recent years resulting in greater exposure for local producers and restaurants.

‘‘Great progress can be seen on an international scale with producers such as Hannan Meats becoming a twice supreme champion in the Great Taste Awards, local restaurants winning Michelin stars. Also there has been a recent increase in the drinks industry with growth in the number of local drinks being produced.”

And how did winning a Farming Life Award last year help her cause?

Michele admits: “I was delighted and shocked but quietly pleased winning the award.

‘‘I was very honoured and surprised when I won as I didn’t know I had been nominated.

‘‘The nicest part was telling my father, uncle, mother and father-in-law who have all been a tremendous support.

‘‘I really have to thank the board of Food NI and our 450 members for all of their support and especially to my family - my husband Alex and daughters Alexandra and Nadine for putting up with me working so many unsociable hours in the quest to get local food the reputation it so richly deserves.

“It now sits on the shelf above my Aga and every time I glance at it I’m reminded of how difficult it was to achieve milestones on the way to our Year Of Food & Drink and how worthwhile all the hard work was.

“Winning the award in 2016 was a tremendous boost, we were right in the middle of our first ever Year Of Food & Drink and winning the award somehow helped me to keep the energy level going.

‘‘I would greatly encourage anyone thinking of entering. Enter often and don’t be afraid or ask for help of feedback on an award entry before you submit it.”

Read more: Champion of local food industry

For information on categories and how to enter the 2017 Farming Life & Danske Bank Awards please log onto jpnievents.co.uk