Scotland’s temperamental climate makes farming difficult at the very best of times.
But farming some of the most niche of organic vegetable crops, flowers and medicinal herbs amid the backdrop of colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours can prove even harder still.
Yet it’s a challenge that Rosy McLean and David Demjanovic have scaled and surmounted with the launch of their Fife-based micro-farm business Meadowsweet Organics.
The business, which takes its name from a native perennial herb, has stood firm against the rigours of Scotland’s unpredictable weather, gale force winds and hungry rabbits from its small foothold of land at the progressive Falkland Estate.
Here, the couple have based their farm model around the development of a diverse natural environment coupled to a high degree of biodiversity – although, according to Rosy, having a polytunnel certainly helps.
“We really did take a leap of faith when we launched the farm business last year,” said Ms McLean, who is a graduate of agriculture at Edinburgh University.
“I’ve always lived by the rule of doing what I love, so when the golden opportunity came up to go it alone and to launch our own business, it made brilliant sense.”
Growing up in Shetland, surrounded by crofts, the smaller scale of the enterprise suits Ms McLean’s approach and although Fife is a relatively long way from ‘home’, the land is actually just a stone’s throw from the Pillars of Hercules cafe and organic growing operation where the couple’s story ultimately began.
“David and I actually met there around five years ago when I was a volunteer,” said Ms McLean. “Although I had studied the environment at university, learning all about agricultural systems, I don’t think it was until I found the Pillars of Hercules that I really discovered my niche.”
During the intervening years, the couple spent time immersing themselves in experiencing different organic enterprises, working from Somerset to Ireland covering everything from farming to floristry, before returning to Scotland. David worked in garden centres and Rosy worked at Realfoods organic grocery in Edinburgh, before the opportunity finally arose for them to realise their own dream.
“It’s certainly been hard, with early 5am mornings to pick salads and flowers for market and what seems like endless weeding, but it’s been worth every minute of it,” said Ms McLean.
“Looking back, we were so enthusiastic that we tried to grow so much all at once,” she said. “But we’ve achieved so much.”
Rosy and David created the model for their business with assistance from Business Gateway and also gained some financial support from the Princes Trust.
Their farmland is now home to a rich supply of produce from more than 200 different species.
While the couple love to experiment with new varieties and have to be careful not to be lured by the temptation of seed catalogues into growing more than they can manage, they now produce a mix of hardy and traditional varieties of vegetables and delicate medicinal herbs and salads.
Ms McLean said: “We sell both through trade, retail and farmers markets so although we enjoy trying to grow different varieties, we do also need to grow crops that will give us a quick return.
“Oregano and basil are prolific growers, but it can take three years for herbs like valerian and echinacea to produce roots to be harvested.”
The couple’s land is set up in rows with everything from herbs to potatoes, brassicas, chard, French and broad beans, squashes and beetroot, all mixed with green manure crops. Comfrey is important, not just for its own herbal properties but because it makes great liquid manure.
The couple also had to add crop covers to deter pigeons – rabbits also ate their first lettuce crop.
To further develop her niche, Ms McLean is also on the home stretch of studies with the Irish School of Herbalism to become a Master Herbalist.
She said: “It’s an element of the business that I’m really excited to develop.”
While she notches up the hours required for clinical training, Ms McLean has also tailored a range of Meadowsweet Organics herbal teas, which blend and infuse their home-grown Fife herbs to offer a great source of vitamins and minerals as well as healing powers.
“Interest in herbal treatment is really gathering momentum,” she added.
Although Meadowsweet Organics is not open to the public, there is an open day each year.
Ms McLean also hosts seasonal herbal workshops that not only include herb walks around the farm but also give visitors the chance to learn about herbs for everything from first aid to nutrition.