By Ronnie Eunson, SOPA farmer
Having started down the rocky Organic path in 2000 it has been a challenging experience. Shetland has less than 100 ‘growing days’ a year with Aberdeenshire enjoying at least double this figure. I wish someone had told me this on day one.
This fact notwithstanding Uradale in 2015 has made some progress. We halved our sheep numbers and increased our cattle. All our stock is native Shetland – the most efficient and productive for us.
We sell most of our lamb in London with, only after 15 years, a growing recognition in Shetland itself. Scoop Wholefoods is an institution and has become our link with local customers. We supply lamb and beef all year round and were very happy with the compliments paid to our produce at the recent Shetland Food Fair.
My son, Jakob, trained as a butcher and now works with me. He is his own man, but so far seems to see the sense in following the Organic path. At least I can tell him all the things I got wrong.
We put a lot of effort into scientific nutritional analyses of our meats. You have to work that bit harder if you sell produce which no consumers recognise and few butchers sell. By proving that the meats are healthier than conventional offerings it helps build trust in the produce. Organic only works when consumers believe in it and trust it.
Shetland has probably the greatest catalogue of native domesticated farmstock and crops. Sadly, some are on the brink of extinction. We do what we can to tell visitors about them all. These crops all fit with Organic production. Our forefathers, who never knew about modern chemicals and fertilisers, relied on them.
Recently we have been spinning all our wool along with others from Shetland Organics. We can now offer completely authentic Shetland Wool from native Shetland sheep from Shetland. Is this a good idea? Let’s see. Maybe I will need another 15 years!