Alumni Spotlight – Valerie Kingston, Glenilen Farm
Valerie Kingston and her husband Alan, are the founders of Glenilen Farm, an artisan, dairy-based food company located in West Cork. Valerie’s entrepreneurial journey began when she started selling home-produced cheesecakes at the local farmer’s market over 20 years ago. What originated as a cottage industry is now an award-winning commercial enterprise supplying dairy-based chilled products to major retailers in Ireland and the UK, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. The company is a verified member of Bord Bia’s Origin Green sustainability programme, with all milk used in its produce sourced from Glenilen and neighbouring farms. We chat with Valerie about her memories of UCC.
For Valerie Kingston, the skills and connections she gained while studying for a BSc in Food Science and Technology gave her a head-start when embarking on the daunting prospect of setting up a dairy business.
“Cowpunchers, as we were called, were well-grounded on graduation with a wide spread of basic core knowledge, microbiology, nutrition, food chemistry, processing and engineering etc. Also, knowing I could pick up the phone for support was a huge bonus, even though I had already left college several years beforehand.”
She acknowledges the high calibre of tuition she received from the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences as it is now known, which has a longstanding international reputation for excellence in food research.
“We had a great team of professors and lecturers. I suppose it was later on, I realised how well-renowned and respected the faculty was worldwide. Professor Fox sticks in my memory, he insisted on calling me Virginia Woolf after the writer (my name then was Valerie Wolfe)!“
Valerie's time at UCC was memorable for many reasons and to this day she has vivid recollections of that period in her life, remembering “sitting in the sun with friends in the beautiful grounds, the European tour with the class after final year exams”, and the emergence of a new political landscape in the late eighties.
“I distinctly remember us being in the microbiology lab for an afternoon practical and hearing the Berlin wall had come down, we couldn’t believe it.”
Indeed, she witnessed this new Europe first-hand on a trip she took with the university’s Christian Union (CU). “We used to meet up with other CU’s around the country regularly and went to a European conference in Germany once, by bus, picking others up as we went in Ireland and the UK. It took about a week of travelling; it was a great experience”.
UCC opened up a world of opportunities for Valerie and she embraced all that college life had to offer. Happily, her enthusiasm for her alma mater has been passed down to the next generation, who are now beginning their own third-level journey.
“UCC was so formative, my own kids are at that stage now, one doing occupational therapy and another doing leaving cert and possibly embarking onto UCC also”.
And her advice to today’s students? “Milk the experience to the max, get to know lots of people from different cultures and experiences. Travel and work in the summers, you’ll never have as much free time again”.