Hopetoun Farm Shop eating up ground on competitors

Bob Webster farms wild boar at Gosford. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Bob Webster farms wild boar at Gosford. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THEY may be one of the last preserves of the smaller local trader, but that’s not the only reason farm shops are seeing big business these days.

In the wake of a scandal that has got people asking serious questions about where their food comes from, more and more people are converting to a more trustworthy source than the supermarket ready meal to feed their families.

The falling confidence in big-name suppliers has seen butchers in the Capital celebrate a rise of up to 15 per cent in sales of mince products – and it looks like the farm shops could be pipping them at the post. Hopetoun Farm Shop, located three miles south of the Forth Road Bridge, is currently celebrating not one, but two awards, having recently picked up both the Countryside Alliance Local Food Champion Award and the FARMA Best UK newcomer award. And that’s not all they have to smile about.

Marketing manager Camille Craig said: “We’ve always had people coming here especially for our meat – you actually drive past the cows on your way in – but recently we’ve certainly noticed new people coming in and making a beeline straight for the butchers.

“At the moment our butchers is 24 per cent up on where we were this time last year. We’d rather we weren’t profiting from someone else’s misfortune, but we’re glad people have an alternative they feel they can trust.”

However, others were less sympathetic to the supermarkets’ current plight.

Peter McLaren, the owner of Ballencrieff Rare Pedigree Pigs farm shop in Longniddry, said: “The way they treat their suppliers is appalling. This whole horsemeat scandal will have happened because they’ll have told them there is a certain price they are willing to pay and no more. All our products come from the pigs on our farm. They’re pedigrees, not like the ‘modern’ pigs used by supermarkets which have had all the goodness and taste genetically modified out of them.”

David Pate, owner of the Belhaven Smokehouse in Dunbar, which produces its own smoked salmon, trout and cheese, added: “We’ve been in business for 35 years, the shop has been open for 25 and our customer base just keeps growing. I think people are realising now that when it comes to food, if you buy cheap, you will pay.

“The smoked salmon that you buy from your supermarket for your Christmas dinner is likely to have been smoked in the summer, frozen, then defrosted before they put it on the shelves, whereas when we say “fresh”, that is exactly what we mean.”

One place taking its own stand against supermarket culture is the organic Whitmuir Farm in West Linton, which has been operating under the Japanese Teikei system of community- supported agriculture since 2006.

Manager Heather Anderson explained: “It started out by us asking the question – if we had to feed 100 local families, what would we grow? So we did our research and now we provide food for over 250 families in the Edinburgh, Lothians and Borders area. People pay a monthly standing order, anything they buy goes on account, we deliver, and we give them a statement every two months.

“Next we’re going to turn the farm into a Community Benefit Society. We will issue shares, which can be purchased by anyone over the age of five, with prices ranging between £50 to £20,000. However, no matter how much your shares are worth, your vote on farm matters will carry the same weight as everyone elses. We’re also looking to get more involved in educating people about responsible farming and agriculture.

“We won Organic Retailer of the Year in 2011 – we carry over 3000 different kinds of organic produce, raise our own livestock and grow our own fruit and veg.”

And if you like your meat to be fresh and local, but also have a taste for something a little bit different, then Gosford Bothy Farm Shop, winner of the Best East Lothian Local Produce Retailer 2012 title at The Food & Drink Awards could be the place for you. Anyone accidently wandering into the woods around the farm would probably be surprised to discover roughly 200 wild boars also happily roaming around.

Owner Bob Webster explains: “It’s weaning time at the moment so I’ve been wrestling with some of our newest arrivals this morning. We’ve been farming the boars for about ten years and about six years ago we realised butchering costs were also killing our profits. So now we employ three full-time butchers and do it all on site. We opened a shop which also stocks beef and lamb from local farmers – there’s a sign telling the customers exactly which farm all our meat came from – and we also have our own chickens and grow our own veg. People understand more now, especially after what happened with the banks, that these big multinationals can’t really guarantee anything.”