Wednesday, 18 September 2013

New Season Uradale Farm organic lamb and beef now on sale

Scoop Wholefoods Toll Clock Shopping Centre  Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0DE
01595 695888

 Lidgates 110 Holland Park Ave  London, Greater London W11 4UA New Season's Shetland lamb
020 7727 8243

James Allan Butchers, Hyndland, Glasgow  0141 3348973

Thursday, 22 August 2013

What a difference a year makes

Uradale Farm, Shetland – what a difference a year makes
What do you call an uninvited visitor to an organic Shetland croft? How about ‘Pete’?  Or should that be ‘Peat’? That’s the thought that came to me on when I returned to Uradale Organics after almost exactly a year away.
A lot’s happened for this Cheltenham copywriter  since visiting Ronnie and Sue last August. But not as much, or as dramatically, as has happened high on their mountain overlooking East Voe since our last visit.
The events of one night dominated Uradale’s year
Whereas my year has been one of gentle business growth, a banged head on a low office-ceiling and the sad-but-inevitable end to several  years’ care for my dear mother-in-law (Sue’s Aunty Mary), one dramatic event in August 2012 has dominated the last year at Uradale Organics... 
We’d barely landed back at Bimingham last year, and I was in the middle of crafting a Shetland Copywriter  page on my website. Then we heard about the storms and landslides that so dramatically affected Shetland – and Uradale in particular. Online, we watched in horror as Uradale’s mountainside appeared to descend through and around the Eunson croft and down to the shore below – taking a Land-Rover with it. If you need a reminder, you can revisit the story here
Ronnie and Sue’s organic businesses are thriving
Uradale farm from Trondra
Given what happened last August, I was pleased to drive up to Uradale and see that, despite the catastrophe, Ronnie and Sue’s organic lamb and beef, and organic Shetland wool, businesses are thriving. As I looked across the voe from our rented house at Trondra, the still-unhealed scars on Uradale's mountainside didn’t bode well. However, once on Ronnie’s land, it was clear that repairs had been made and life continued – and was getting better – as befits an authentic Shetland crofting family.
Outside the croft, there’s a replacement Land Rover, albeit parked next to the water-tumbled rubble of a once-proud dry-stone wall. That we could drive to the house at all reflects months of hard work rebuilding the washed-out road and two culverts.  And once in Sue’s cosy kitchen, scrubbed floorboards, painstakingly-cleaned scatter rugs and a dram of Ronnie’s whisky ensure as warm a welcome as ever.

And their story just gets better...
All good so far, but the story gets better. Just a fortnight before flying to Shetland, we’d watched as Ronnie Eunson, now  media star, held forth, with signature charm and wisdom, about Uradale’s organic sheep and cattle on the BBC’s prime time Countryfile  programme.  And now, over Sue’s delicious farmhouse supper, we hear – as much as Ronnie, or should I say ‘Lonnie-San’, is allowed to tell – about ongoing interest in supply of Uradale’s speciality wools by a major Japanese brand. Add daughter Kirsty’s clean sweep in her Highersand life's looking good at Uradale. As they say, what a difference a year makes – especially when you’re determined Shetlanders with a unique product portfolio and an authentic, organic brand-story.
hand winding organic Uradale yarn
So here I am, looking across the voe towards the misty slopes of the Eunson croft and writing another guest post blog before flying south again to my world of website content, client case studywriting  and brochure copy. What I’m doing over my Shetland breakfast is copywriting; I’m a copywriter; and I’m writing in Shetland as someone with strong Shetland connections. So I guess that does, just about, qualify me as one of the copywriters  in Shetland – at least for today.        

Monday, 1 July 2013


"yoal" rowing at Scalloway

Green, an old carpenter told me, is a colour that “stands” well on a boat. His concerns were for the painting of sea-going fishing boats. Green, although deemed unlucky by some fishermen, was seen as a strong colour, which was unlikely to fade and wear. Nowadays sophisticated chemicals produce wonderful paints for all surface purposes.
For me green is comfortable, homely, secure, and pleasing to the soul.
Uradale is green once more. After the flood of last August and all its blackness, the scars are healing. Roads and pipes have been reconstructed. Fences replaced with new shiny gates - strange where the last lot disappeared to. 500 kgs of grass seed from Sweden have been mechanically and manually cast over the sour crust of the peat. Little grass seedlings now look like a carpet of darning needles sprouting from where they came to rest.
Uradale Farm lambs
As is always the case the weather has been changeable; not the most benign of conditions for predictable production without fertiliser. Lambing time caused few losses with few remarkable happenings apart from one lamb being run over by our local Sheriff. Phoning to report this incident he asked, “Did I require compensation?”  “Oh no, no, Sir!” (Who knows when a beleaguered farmer might be hauled up before the Law and need a friendly face!)
BBC Countryfile arrived along with a day of heavy rain yesterday. I had organised a day of sheep clipping for them with the kind helpfulness of Kenny and Duncan, sheep shearers by appointment. 

Adam Henson tucks into Uradale farm Organic Shetland lamb
Jakob was going to be in charge of making sure the race was full and bagging the wool. It was really a bit early in the season so a few of the hill yowes were a bit sticky, but the boys did a splendid job as usual even with a large camera lens peering over their shoulders. The Countryfile team with Adam Henson as their cheery frontman were very nice to deal with. They seemed surprised how well they were looked after, but then that’s the way visitors are treated, generally. Especially, those who mean well.

At one point and in the interests of “continuity” Ruth, the delightful Director, asked me to go outside the shed and get a “bit wet” so I could come in again. Bizarre what a cynical curmudgeon can be persuaded to acquiesce to by complete strangers.
The cattle, which were supposed to be all photogenically grazing on top of the hill with a panoramic backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean had vanished into the clouds of heavy rain. When I called the cows to come and then went to drive the determined BBC up the hill things took just a little too long. As we started up the steep track the cattle came dancing down tails in the air. Clearly they were not going to miss out on any opportunity to have their picture taken.
The only difficult moment for me came when, with my eyes blinking because of the heavy rain, I was asked about the flooding of August last year. By chance we had received a settlement from our insurers NFU Mutual only 2 weeks ago. For any one interested that was a 10 month battle with people whose professional callousness could only be outdone by their Orwellian grasp of the facts. But, Hey, who’s bitter!
With a flight to catch the very “drooklt” BBC adventurers shared handshakes and best wishes before they set off at speed for the airport. As I returned to the shed the “yowes” were all clipped and with Jakob we reunited them with their lambs returning them to their pastures. The rain began to ease, the burn ran brown and a drying wind blew through the refreshed green valley again.
hand clipping at Uradale Farm
Next week holds the dubious pleasure of an Organic Inspection. I never ever appreciated farm inspections and this is definitely the case this year. The flood not only washed all my sheep tags out of our garage, but destroyed my paper records in the office. When the waters receded I gathered up what tags I could find and dried out the movement documents on the stove. The pages were all black and had to be separated with a butter knife – not a Rural Payments recommended technique.   

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Regions Rich in Natural Capital

Yesterday I listened to a GoldenPlover calling from the moorland above the farm. I believe they are the bird that heralds Spring (Voar) for Icelanders. Their song cannot be said to have beauty in the way a Skylark (Laverock) does. It is a rather mournful whistle, which belies the proud majesty of the bird. But like many avian travellers to lonely, out of the way, often bleak hillsides they return with all the determination of creatures living on the edge and making a home where they can.

Golden Plover

The Shaalders are back at Uradale!
We have experienced several weeks of dry, cold, but bright weather. All around our little islands extreme weather warnings are proclaimed by national agencies and perversely, we sit in the peaceful eye of a vernal equinox. If my fingers weren’t so cold working outside I would confuse this month with maybe May. The birds are returning to the valley to see what the winter has left for them to eat. The Oystercatchers (Shaalders) march noisily over the parks their beaks black with earth. It’s strange how quiet they are for the first week after arriving, then one day they decide it’s safe enough to betray their presence and then they ‘pleep’ till the valley echoes throughout the day and into the night.

I think they are the national bird of the Faroese – as bold and fearless as the folk. Not much gets the better of a Shaalder, despite only being armed with an orange beak designed for hauling worms from the soil, they see off all threats with a fury borne from a sheer love of life. 

When I heard the first Shaalders this year, Jakob and I were just finishing the byre. I made him stop and listen to them in the twilight. I put my arm around his young, broadening shoulders – if they can make it, so can we!

The old house where the Blackbirds nested and sang so splendidly to the world, has gone - completely. Carried away by the August flood, a small grave of stones lies on the site, otherwise no trace is left of this centuries’ old croft. I hope the noble, but daft Blackbirds can find another residence with a view from where they can do melodic combat with their neighbours. They are such merry fools, one minute scolding, the next serenading.

Uradale Farm from the North Hill
Many fence posts have been driven back into the stubborn land, wire winched tight and staples hammered in squint. I remember when I put many of these posts in the first time round, 15 years ago. Thank goodness you never know what the future holds. If I had known that I would have to start from scratch once more, I might not have started at all. It does make you consider how precarious life can be, but you should never ever deny how precious it is to strive – like the returning birds.  

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Yule in the Valley

Today was Hannah’s birthday. At 22 and with a First Class degree in Drama she has the world and her life before her. 
Meal Beach, Burra
Tomorrow she must travel back to England to pursue her career. The house will miss her as she has grown into a beautiful, talented young woman. Her chosen career to portray the world to others through acting must take her to the cities where opportunities lie to make her dream a reality. We hope she may find that reality a little closer to home.
In days gone by culture and the oral tradition was rooted in communities. It was prized as the repository of their own history, of moral conflicts, of philosophical judgements and of course of fun. Looking through the prism of modern capitalist society culture and entertainment have become a very tradeable commodity. This has led to rural communities being obliged to accept culture and entertainment defined by business with any regional bodies suffering from poor investment.
In Shetland a new cultural centre opened recently to a baptism of austerity and considerable ill will. Its impact as a community asset was set back in the manner of many public projects. Designed to offend by architects determined to make an impact, it went well over its large budget and now starts its life lumbered by debt and public division over its financial state. The sum total of all this irresponsibility is that the numerous talented young actors and musicians cannot depend on being able to use the facility.

"Found Muji "

Dorota Rychlik, Vaila
In early December our little band of Organic producers, ShetlandOrganics CIC, played host to a Japanese company, Muji. Travelling around large areas of the world they were seeking out produce for their new concept store, Found Muji. Products for them could be anything with no emphasis on volume production, but with complete integrity and traceability. Their researcher had detected our first attempts to market our new concept of NativeShetland Organic wool.  Our concept involves selling a uniquely Shetland product with complete provenance – Muji is the first large company to view products in these terms. They had done their homework and knew what they wanted to see for themselves. We had never met such people in this industry before. They were very courteous and appreciated our efforts to explain things. Of course being invited over to Vaila and a grand lunch by Dorota added an unforgettable icing to this cake. Dorota’s wit, charm and generosity are legendary now in these islands and as it turned out she had spent time in Japan so could swap anecdotes with our guests.
Muji are to return in the summer of 2013. It will be fascinating to see how this relationship develops.

Yule in the valley

The Smithy, Uradale Farm
As a family we have feasted and enjoyed each others companionship. Trips have been made to the Smithy where mulled wine was drunk and tales were told. Everyone is well and Ross, the Vet, is the only one who must stay away. He is now looking after animals in Yorkshire.
 The cows eventually were housed on the 23rd December. Jakob and I fetched them home in 6 trailer loads on a day of very fierce wind and sleet. Dangerous it may have been, but we managed. The cows were very reluctant to move when the hail bit into their soft faces. They were also reluctant to go into the trailer, but thankfully quietened down quickly once they were inside the byre.  Although the animals still need fed, other jobs must now wait for the new year to begin. The best way of coping with the short days of winter is to take a tip from Nature – eat well then sleep long.