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.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Iron Age Beef


Autumnal peregrinations

Autumn in Shetland is a time of to-ings and fro-ings, with every day seeing migrations of birds moving south and shipments of livestock being sold to Scottish farmers. Every year around 100,000 head of sheep are sold by crofters for fattening on the verdant pastures of North East Scotland where the grass hardly stops growing. This trade started in the late 19th century and grew through the 20th century in tandem with Governmental control of agriculture.
Farmers and crofters, in particular, are labelled ‘subsidy junkies’ by politicians and journalists needing a football to kick for reacting to ‘market signals’ (the very same signals for which entrepreneurs are lauded as shrewd businessmen).
During the last 2 decades of the 20th century politicians suddenly discovered the ‘environment’. I recall being told that - I used to be paid to produce livestock, but now it was flowers. Sadly, this period of more open discussion with the new buzzword of biodiversity issuing from the mouths of people who thought it was actually something new, came to an economic cliff edge and fell over.
At this point in time biodiversity and all the other words in the green lexicon have ceased to become natural and meaningful, and have become laws which if broken result in fines for the crofter. What was life-affirming for folk of a certain age became a worry.
The wheel, of course will turn again, as events will dictate to society that nature deserves respect.
Well that’s my soap box!

Closer to home, Autumn is the season for selling lamb and now beef. We have supplied Lidgates for 10 years now with our native lambs, which used to be a completely unknown product to these customers. Professional marketing people will tell you that you must get to know your customers, however being so far away this is difficult. Every year we tell another facet of the ‘Shetland story’. This year we have started selling our native beef as well. Hopefully, our customers will appreciate this as much as the  lamb. It is an interesting product with a range of special traits to differentiate it in the marketplace. 

Lidgates have chosen to emphasise the breed’s history by calling it – Iron Age Beef! An unusual way of selling meat, but then we do live at a point in history where modern ‘improved’ breeds dominate the industry. Whether they have been ‘improved’ in the way customers appreciate or not is quite different.. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

After the Peatslide at Uradale

Wednesday the 22nd of August 2012 will linger long in our memories as the day the flood came. After a night of thunder and lightning with heavy rain showers, just before rising time the heather moorland above the Farm began to float and tear under the sheer weight of water. It tore away the hill fences in its path, cleaned away an old croft house from its ancient foundations, carried off the Landrover and our little car, smashed in the house door and poured through our home leaving heather clods with their heatherbells still purple sitting in our livingroom.
The whole family and friends laboured to a standstill to save what we could to keep the house habitable.
Diggers were found to stabilise what Roan, 4 years old, keeps calling our ‘landescape’.


 Now at nearly a month later, the grass is starting to peep out from underneath the cleared land, fences are being hammered back into shape, roads and bridges are mostly rebuilt, but the horrible stink of acidic peat still reeks off what’s left of our very own black flood.
"Landescape" by Roan
Sue is out planting tree cuttings to replace all our lovely trees.
We need to start again with so much.

Do you know, the very first sound I heard the day after Nature got angry was our little Shetland Wren singing fit to burst its breast from what was left of its home. He hurled such beautiful melodious abuse at what could have obliterated him forever. He had no other place he wanted to be and he wanted everyone to know that he was still there and going nowhere.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A copywriter discovers the joys of organic Shetland lamb, beef and wool

My stomach’s full of delicious organic Shetland lamb and a dram of Ronnie Eunson’s best Scotch. It’s nearly 11 p.m. The summer dim is a blur of hazy greys as night falls over Clift Sound. The terns and oyster catchers have long-since finished fishing the beach at my feet and the tide line’s yet to reveal a glimpse of an otter in the July gloaming. Regardless,  I’m a happy man...

Crofts, local free range lamb and the slow pace of island life at 60 degrees north.  It’s a very different world to that of  copywriters in Gloucestershire – a refreshingly novel perspective from our rented house on the shore near Scalloway. On this long-awaited vacation, the contrast with my urban writer’s life couldn’t be more different than in this windswept outpost atop the UK – closer to Norway than my Cheltenham office.

My introduction to Shetland organic lamb, beef and wool­
High on the hill across the sound, where the winding gravel track ends, I’ve spent the evening at Uradale. It was an eye-opener, a privileged view into Shetland’s only source of organic-dyed organic native Shetland wool. And the tastiest organic lamb and beef I’ve ever eaten.
At Ronnie’s croft, I’ve been inducted into the tasty, ever-expanding world of organic Shetland lamb, beef and wool – and invited to write this guest blog post. No problem!  The welcome’s been warm and the food (as in-the-know mainlanders have learned through booming sales to a leading London butcher) was delicious. A few generous words are the least I can offer in return. 

Something genuinely exciting
Uradale organic produce, from the herds of cattle and gimmers (Shetland native sheep) I saw through the farmhouse window, is unique and different.  For a vacationing scribe, it’s something genuinely exciting to write home about in an age where the labels ‘new’, and ‘unique’ are too easily used.  As I’ve just discovered, Uradale’s delicious sustainable meat and colourful organic Shetland wool have earned their right to these descriptors. Truth is, they’re as unique and authentic as Ronnie’s after-supper stories – the spellbinding tales of fishing and crofting, smuggling and wartime submarines gathered over his Shetland lifetime.

The proof’s in the testing
As you’ll read elsewhere on the blog, Uradale lamb is organic and healthy – it’s proved by independent testing.  And if you thought oily fish was a great source of healthy fats, just try this mouth-watering light lamb. The beef’s equally good:  authentic rare breed, melt-in-the-mouth meat from native Shetland cattle. ’ If you don’t eat it, it won’t be around much longer,’ says Ronnie.  And he’s right. So dig in.

Shetland lamb and beef: no one does it like Uradale

I’m not a fan of wool but Mrs H adores the stuff and she’s been wowed by the vibrant colours of the wool that comes down off Uradale’s mountain for sale in Lerwick – or online, direct from the the farm. It’s not just another ‘Shetland wool’.  This is demonstrably the first organically-dyed wool from organic native-sheep. No one offers quite what Ronnie and his family do.

Words can only say so much: the real proof is in the way the beef parts to your knife; how Uradale’s Shetland lamb seduces your palette; and the caress of that wool.  And of course, the great feeling you’ll get from enjoying something truly green, Shetland and special, Uradale style.   You’re in on the secret. Enjoy.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Not quite mid summer, hopefully


BBC Landward Programme and native Shetland wool
The BBC Landward programme came to the farm recently to find out about native Shetland wool. There’s been a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of the natural fibres industries. For a couple of hundred years Shetland wool and its knitted products gained an increasing prominence as a truly world class fibre. With the development of oil-based synthetic textiles woollen goods became the object of scorn for metropolitan comedians and the various bogus heralds of design and fashion.
How this has changed. Wool which was often dumped after clipping now covers the cost of shearing and sometimes leaves a surplus. It has a long way to go to get back to the value it had 50 years ago. Then the wool clip would pay a shepherd’s wage and some.
At Uradale we decided to try having our own Organic wool spun and dyed so it could be sold direct to customers. I believe that there is always scope for ‘honest products’ – the ones which are what they are. Trying to get this across to TV crews desperate for new angles and faced every day with hype can be rather wordy. However I hope some of simpler aspects of the message got through. Broadcast is scheduled for October to coincide with Shetland Wool Week.

Organic Inspection
Another visitor to the farm was the Organic inspector - a nice man with a job to do. I swear every time we get inspected yet another form has become essential. How good the British are at the creation of self-perpetuating bureaucracies. Farming organically this far north is damned difficult, but we are cut no slack. Exactly the same stringencies are applied to us with less than 100 ‘growing days’ per year as a farmer in Home Counties of England with more than 300 ‘growing days’ per year. It is now just past midsummer and grass is only just starting to come. The ‘Archers’ cut their silage at least a month ago!

heath spotted orchids are flowering in abundance at the moment
The Rio Summit has been and gone. I can recall the first one and the excitement of thinking the political leaders of the world really had understood ‘sustainable development’. The sense of disappointment I now feel is akin to that felt for the Blair years. Sustainable use of resources is not difficult to understand, it’s not like space travel or religion. My 4 year old could put these people to shame. The debate may be concentrated on wealth and power at the moment, but the wind will change.