Growing success from the fields to the farm shop

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WHILE many high street shops might be struggling, it appears at least some outlets are reaping the dividends from the demand for local produce.

Farm shops at Blacketyside, between Leven and Lundin Links, and Ardross, between Elie and St Monans, have become established stopping points for locals and visitors alike, reflecting the growing popularity of farms outlets nationally.

The 284-acre Blacketyside Farm was the first in the area to dip its toe into selling straight from the farm around eight years ago, when it opened a small shop which operated seasonally alongside its pick-your-own and ready-picked soft fruit sales.

This was followed by a seasonal ‘mobile’ shop beside the main road and then, four years ago, it opened its current shop and restaurant, which is set to expand this autumn with a food hall and butchery.

As well as fruit from the farm, the shop also sells potatoes, carrots and cauliflowers grown in the surrounding fields and other vegetables sourced as locally as possible.

“At Blacketyside we can offer strawberries and raspberries picked that morning and freshly dug potatoes and other vegetables,” said farmer Robert Todd.

But he said farm shops were feeling the pinch as well as traditional shops.

“We are still as busy but spend per head is down as people are having to be careful about what they spend their money on and we want to offer good value for money in these harder times,” he said.

At Ardross, the shop has been a lifeline that rescued a 1100-acre farm struggling in the face of selling its produce at prices being driven down by the supermarket chains.

When Fiona Pollock suggested selling their beef directly from the farm, husband Rob was sceptical.

But what started out as nothing more than a single chest freezer six years ago with only seven customers in its first week is now a flourishing busy shop open seven days a week for most of the year.

It has doubled the farm’s turnover and now all 90 of the beef cattle produced by the farm are sold through the shop rather at market, while the surrounding fields also provide much of the seasonal vegetables.

While tourism undoubtedly plays a major part in the success of the shops, both also have the support of local trade.

“It was local people buying our beef directly from us that started the shop,” said Nikki Pollock, who manages the Ardross shop. “From the outset, we wanted to be a place that people who live locally would use to get their fresh produce.”

Both businesses in turn make a contribution to their surrounding communities, with Blacketyside employing six full-time and 22 part-time staff and Ardross employing eight full-time and part-time.

They also support other farmers, locally and further afield.

For example, Ardross sells lamb, pork and venison from local farms.

“Our policy is to support British farming and in terms of sourcing we’ll look at Fife then Scotland then the rest of the UK,” said Nikki. “We’re also committed to supplying the very best of fresh seasonal food, which means that over the course of a season, we might start by getting a particular vegetable when it’s first available from the south of England and then be buying all the way up the country as it continues coming into season.

“But we’re also driven by customer-demand and that means buying imported fruit and vegetable if they’re not grown in the UK - for example, olives - or not available, for some reason.”

While celebrity chefs continually extol the virtues of using seasonal produce, at a grassroots level the Fife Diet network aims to spread the word about local food through events such as cookery workshops and online information about where to buy.

There are now different sections in the network, with most of Levenmouth covered by Fife Diet South, and Lundin Links, Largo and the East Neuk part of Fife Diet East, each planning their own events. To find out more about the Fife Diet and how to get involved, go to www.fifediet,co.uk or call 01592 871 371.