A chat with Heather Anderson of Whitmuir, The Organic Place, Lamancha, near West Linton
The focus of this year’s Fortnight is food heroes – Scotland’s primary producers. What does the term food hero mean to you?
For me, a hero stands up for and defends things – and that’s what we do. We stand up for the land, the bugs and beasties, the livestock and the farmers who grow the food – to defend them from being devalued and to keep them strong, healthy and resilient.
Whitmuir is a celebrated organic farm, founded on strong principles. As it’s also Organic September, can you tell us more about your organic farming approach and what this means both to you for your own business and the industry at large?
Being organic is a philosophy and a framework to guide us in the way we work with and treat our environment and fellow creatures. It’s about understanding that we live in a biological world – how we treat the bugs and beasties in our soil and in our gut affects how well we are. It’s about the future, understanding soil science, climate change and health and continuing to grow food for hundreds of years. We are at the limit of the damage our current farming practices are wrecking on our environment – in 20 years we will hopefully look back and be amazed at our madness and so relieved we stopped. Agriculture is more important to all of us than agribusiness and together we will change our food system.
What’s your biggest challenge, and what has been your greatest achievement to date?
Our biggest challenge is surviving in such a hostile climate where the odds are stacked against us in terms of price, distribution, food culture and misunderstanding of what organic actually means. Our greatest achievement is still being here – 10 years on, opening every day with a full shop and cafe and talking to people.
To what extent do you think the awareness of primary producers – farmers, fishermen and growers – is changing?
I think primary producers work outside – they know the climate is much more unpredictable, the know the impact they are having on the environment. They are just waiting for the leadership and vision to stop the old patterns and design and develop new ones. A vision of an alternative gives you courage to change. I think change is often sudden and closer than you think.
What three things can the public do to support Scottish farmers?
- Start a conversation – meet them, help them design a different way of doing food. At the moment it’s nearly impossible for farmers to get their food to ordinary people. We need to reconnect citizens with food production – so involving ordinary discussions in conversations about agriculture is critical. Farmers need to be given space to recreate their trade and develop their ideas about who they are farming for.
- Hold them to account – have an honest conversation about what we are willing to financially support farmers to do – if we think farmers should look after the environment, we have to support that. With the Brexit decision, farming has to become part of what we talk about.
- Buy the food – we only make a living through selling food!
The Larder Café and Restaurant at Whitmuir recently won an award for best organic restaurant in the UK. Can you share more about your sourcing practices and why you think you won this accolade? What’s the most popular dish on the menu?
The cafe showcases all the produce from the farm – our salad leaves, our beef, lamb and pork and our veg. Our sourcing policy is visit the veg porch and butchery first and the menu comes from the ingredients we have, not the ingredients we order in. Our most popular dishes this month is our homemade shepherd’s pie and our ploughman’s platter which uses celebrated Scottish organic cheeses and our own bread and chutney.
For further information please visit www.whitmuirtheorganicplace.co.uk
Follow Whitmuir on twitter @whitmuirfarm and the café on @edinburghlarder
Find out more about Organic September here www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/organicseptember