Aberdeenshire’s Castleton Farm produces traditional Scottish food that is grown, picked and processed on its family farm.
Located in the heart of the Howe of the Mearns in south Aberdeenshire, the successful family-run business – that is one of the most northerly soft fruit growers in the country – is owned by Ross and Anna Mitchell.
The business sells the majority of its fruit through a co-operative (around 85%) and through wholesalers (around 15%).
With summer on the horizon and strawberries now landing on shop shelves, Anna is excited to now be in a lengthy eight-month harvesting period.
“Polytunnels and biomass energy are what allow the season to lengthen from the traditional six weeks mid-summer to producing premium, high quality fruit from April right through to November,” she said.
“And that’s not just strawberries but raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and cherries.
“The long daylight hours and cool Scottish climate allow the fruit to ripen slowly, which creates more sugars producing a delicious sweet berry.
“The blueberries are harvested later than anywhere in the northern hemisphere, and Castleton is one of only a few farms in the world picking fresh cherries in September.
“It has always been about the tradition and taste of the fruit, but the business has grown through innovating and diversification.
“Castleton is more than just fruit. It is innovation built on traditional values and methods.
“From diversifying into new fruit crops to pioneering new preserves like blueberry, port and orange chutney, we are continually trying out new ideas.”
Not only does Castleton Farm grow and supply fruit and manufacture products, but it also runs a cafe and farm shop.
Its consumer offering, including fruit, preserves, home-cooked ready meals and baked goods, are sold on-premises through its cafe and farm shop, selected retailers, and via online delivery by van and courier, as well as click and collect.
Anna said: “We have become a popular destination, 10 miles south of Stonehaven on the A90, delivering delicious meals in our cafe while showcasing their own produce as well as that of smaller local artisan producers in their shop.
“In the 20 years of being in business, the level of attention to doing things properly and never cutting corners has paid off. Our word of mouth is incredibly successful, boosted by a very healthy social media presence.
“We were a regular fixture at farmers’ markets and local agricultural shows, as well as regional events like Taste of Grampian and the Royal Highland Show, spreading the word about the sustainability and benefits of traditional Scottish food.
“Castleton Farm is also passionate about the quality, heritage and innovation involved in Scotland’s food and drink industry.
“It is a huge supporter of the ‘buy local’ message, and we actively unite to raise the profile of food and drink producers across the region, and promote access to fresh local produce through an established farm shop.
“It highlights the strength of the local offering while promoting and showcasing specific local food and drink producers.
“We spend a huge amount of time promoting traditional Scottish food with the public showing a huge amount of interest in discovering something new in a familiar environment.
“We are really engaged with the story behind local products, as well as the opportunity to find out more about the quality and diversity on offer.
“The business wants to know about animal welfare, carbon footprint and initiatives to reduce the impact of food production on the environment. Seeing it against the story of a real local product seems to bring the stories to life.
“Castleton Farm is a rural business that believes in supporting other local businesses. We also offer somewhere for families to meet – seven days a week, in normal times – with menus that cater for all ages, tastes and dietary requirements.”
Anna has shown her support for the North East Now campaign, which has made it easy for people to support local firms from a wide range of industries during the pandemic.
These include food, drink, fashion, beauty, lifestyle and more.
The initiative is driven by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and backed by creative agency Hampton and Aberdeen Journals.
“The website is informative and looks great,” Anna said. “There’s always something new on it to find or to read.
“It’s a great single place to get updates on what you can do that is different and special to the region, with regular social media nudges to go there and check.
“I love the strong links between social media, Aberdeen Journals, Hampton and the Chamber. It’s a great example of organisations working together, but most importantly playing to their strengths.”
Like many other businesses being promoted by North East Now, Castleton Farm was forced to diversify when the pandemic struck.
Nevetherthless, the team remain optimistic about the future.
Anna added: “As a fruit grower, Castleton Farm always relied on an EU workforce so new employment regulations following Brexit hit the business hard.
“Then the global pandemic hit. Most sales activity instantly went online, although the farm shop stayed open selling essential basics. We intend to open the cafe premises back up as soon as it is safe to do so.
“The logistical difficulties were huge, with web traffic spiking as customers desperately searched for milk, flour and eggs.
“But while maintaining stringent standards in health, hygiene and distancing, we have once again managed to adapt to changing circumstances. A new outdoors seated area has proved invaluable to keep customers as safe as possible when restrictions lifted.
“It also has refined our delivery set-up to be flexible for regional and national deliveries of quality Aberdeenshire produce.
“There are now click and collect arrangements, which allow us to retain our flexibility of customer service but still maintaining absolutely rigid adherence to Covid regulations.
“But we’ve managed to adapt and innovate with our famous peppered steak baguette making an appearance as a ‘make it at home’ dish. And there was a phenomenal demand for afternoon teas for Mother’s Day in March.
“The team and I have not been idle in the past few months of a stricter lockdown and now we’re looking forwards.
“Branded chilled ready meals have been available through local Scotmid branches for some time, and these are being joined by a brand new frozen meal range.
“With the new frozen meal range, we’re offering the quality and great taste of Castleton in an even more convenient format.
“From fish pie to a beef stew with dumplings, everyone enjoys a taste of traditional home cooking.
“And with berries ripening, we’re hoping for a bumper season as people savour the start of the taste of summer. The expected rise in UK staycations should provide a welcome boost in footfall for the reopening farm shop and cafe.
“Everyone knows it’s been a tough time for retail and hospitality venues, but we’ve remained positive and our online sales have proved important lifeline for the business, as well as some of our customers.
“We’re excited about being able to reopen our outdoors area again and, with a new playpark area and a new real fruit ice cream machine, we are definitely emerging from hibernation.
“Strawberries have always been the taste of summer, and as our homegrown Scottish berries arrived on the shelves in April, we feel there is definitely a brighter future to look forward to.”
For further information on Castleton Farm, visit castletonfarmshop.co.uk
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