Producer of the Month: Anna Mitchell, Castleton Farm Shop
What a season it has been for British soft fruit! Castleton Farm's harvest of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and cherries is testament to what a great year it has been. Anna Mitchell and her family's successful harvest of fruits are not only being recognised by us this month but also by Greg Wallace in BBC2's Harvest 2013 series.
Castleton farm, managed and run by Anna's in-laws and husband, is situated in the south of Aberdeenshire where the cool Scottish summers provide perfect growing conditions for berry production. Castleton farms cherries as well as 39 acres of blueberries, alongside three varieties of raspberries and four varieties of strawberries in their polytunnels. The Mitchell family made the decision to stop dairy farming and concentrate on soft fruit production to a commercial scale in 1999. Today the majority of their soft fruit is sold to Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Asda as well as to local shops and delicatessens.
The rest of the berries belong to Anna, who is not only the mastermind behind and manager of Castleton farm shop and café, but also of their award-winning range of Berrylicious jams made from berries grown, picked and preserved at the farm. A personal favourite is the blueberry jam, which is the kind you eat straight from the jar. With a teaspoon.
Like many British producers, Anna has had a steep learning curve from starting the farm shop from a shed in nearby Fordoun in 2004, to moving location, extending her range, and setting up a café and creating a renowned enterprise, praised by the likes of Rose Prince and The Daily Telegraph. Though obviously dynamic and charismatic, as reflected by her loyal staff base, she is also modest and dedicated to selling the best of British produce.
- What do you enjoy most about running a farm shop?
The variety! No two days are the same. We have the privilege of serving so many wonderful people and liaising with the wealth of talented local producers in our corner of the world.
- What do you enjoy the least?
Not always being able to meet the demand for the café, but this is to be rectified as our plans to extend are currently underway…
- Why should we buy British produce?
Simply put British is best. Food from British farms is produced to a very high standard and the process is regulated and checked from field to plate ensuring consumers a meal they can enjoy and trust.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
We are exceptionally proud of our wonderful award winning soft fruit, including the most northerly commercially grown blueberries in the world. Launching our Berrylicious range of jams which have been greeted with such a positive response.
- What are your predictions for the future of British food and if you were Prime Minister what would you do to encourage more people to buy British?
I'd like to think we, as a nation, are becoming a lot more educated on the necessity to buy British food and therefore support British producers. I think in the future we will make significant steps to reverse the trend of recent decades to source our foods from abroad.
If I were Prime Minister I would do whatever is possible to encourage more people to buy British. Buying British needs to become a natural habit. For something to become natural you need to be exposed to it for a long time. So it stands to reason we need to educate our children that buying British is the best option. And we just need to keep saying it and keep doing it.
- Best budget tip?
We are all a bit too preoccupied with food products being aesthetically pleasing. Our range of products using our second class berries including our jams, chutneys and smoothies served in the café demonstrate perfectly how delicious food can be even if it doesn't pass the sight test!
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
British food – don't settle for anything less.
- What other British food producers do you rate?
Ola Oils from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. Owners John and Connie Sorrie took a very brave step in 2008 to launch Ola Oil a rapeseed oil which is a truly healthy, tasty alternative to olive oil. It is massively popular in our shop and when incorporated in our menu items. They have added chilli jam, garlic mayonnaise, garlic infused and basil infused oils to their ever growing range. Like us they feel very strongly about promoting local quality producers.
- What's on the menu this evening?
Tonight we are having sausage casserole – made with Ingrams Homecure Sausages, with mashed tatties and neep.
- How can people get hold of your produce?
They can buy direct from our shop/café. Our soft fruit and Berrylicious range are available from many retailers in Aberdeenshire and Angus. A comprehensive list can be found on our website.