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Jo Mackenzie: The challenge of finding focus on a busy dairy farm

Jo is starting an online Diploma in Organic Skincare.
Jo is starting an online Diploma in Organic Skincare.

Studying is a lot harder than I remember.

With young people across the country returning to or beginning their tertiary education, I’m whisked back to memories of my own university days in the beautiful City of Edinburgh.

Being a homebody, it would be untruthful to say I wholly enjoyed this time but at least I seemed to take the coursework in my stride…more or less (public speaking of any sort, be it a presentation or within a small tutorial group, induced varying degrees of panic and perspiration).

When I finally sat down a fortnight ago to start my online Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation, with the aim of developing my fledgling botanical soap and skincare range to sell from the farm, I soon found self-directed study in my mid-forties to be an entirely different beast.

I can only assume it’s because I’m now a fully-fledged adult with responsibilities that somehow makes it extremely challenging to devote time to studying; there is always something more important that I think I should be doing rather than re-training for a new career, be it researching new products to stock in the farm shop or tidying out a cupboard.

There’s a new book I read about recently (instead of studying) that explores the historic nature of humans to willingly look for distraction – the 21st Century hook being our addiction to social media and the 24/7 online culture – as a means of putting off doing something genuinely important or worthwhile.

Jo’s husband Nick.

I’m sure most people can relate to this. Even my hardworking hubby, with his hands-on vocation largely based in the great outdoors as opposed to an office, is constantly on his phone – taking calls, checking emails, sending messages, responding to robot alerts and monitoring security and calving cameras.

Granted, this is communication rather than distraction. As for me and the studying, I think my brain is out of practice; I’m not used to focusing on one thing for a prolonged period of time such is the nature of a busy working farm and farmhouse with folk constantly coming and going.

Out on the busy farm, contractors finished up harvesting the spring barley earlier this week and baled an extra cut of silage from the reseeded grass fields. All good in terms of home-grown fodder for the herd come winter.

Meanwhile, work on the new honesty shop container edges forward – the interior is now lined with chipboard and it is rigged up for power and lighting.

More excitingly we have been taste testing some new local products to sell from the vending machine, namely crackers and chutneys to go with the range of Highland Fine Cheeses we stock, made with our milk.

We have plumped for a berry jam and Seville orange marmalade (to complement our weekend croissants and twice-weekly artisan sourdough) and two chutneys (a tomato and a beetroot) from Nairnshire producer – Rose Cottage Country Kitchen – while nearby Highland Crackers are now supplying us with two varieties of their award-winning and lip-smackingly good seeded crackers.

The Mackenzies produce a range of ice cream and other products on their farm.

Ice cream sales always dip with the temperature so we are keen to have a good mix of tempting produce to keep customers visiting over the autumn and winter months, as well as products that work well with what we make on-farm.

Further products we are looking at include home baking and possibly a bean to cup coffee and hot chocolate machine, one which would let us use our own creamy whole milk.

I love the idea of stocking fruit compotes to go with our yoghurt, too. It’s maybe something I can experiment with at home… instead of studying.

  • Jo Mackenzie lives at Rootfield Farm in the Black Isle with her husband Nick, daughters Daisy and Mollie, and 120 dairy cows. Jo and Nick run the Blake Isle Dairy.

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