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Scotland's Larder: Euan Cameron from Pittormie Fruit Farm

Euan Cameron of Pittormie Fruit Farm discusses the challenges of running a small family fruit and veg farm in Fife

Published: June 15, 2021

Euan Cameron is a busy man, if he is not planting, tending crops or harvesting on the small family farm in Fife, he will be off delivering fresh produce to; Broughty Ferry, Carnoustie, Dundee or Edinburgh.

He joined his parents working on Pittormie farm after he finished studying at Dundee University in 2005, having gained a degree in Geography, and a Masters in Civil/Environmental Engineering, but he laughs, "I don't use any of that now."

Small but beautiful

His father was the grieve of the farm here, until the owner decided to sell part of it to his parents, Jack and Gillian.

The farm is only 35 acres, so he said, "we need to run it like a market garden, that is the only way to make a living from the land."

In the past there was an old fashioned berry shop here in the summer, but now the farm shop is open June to October selling Pittormie's own delicious produce.

Pittormie berry shop
In the summer the Pittormie berry shop opens its doors. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Traditionally, people would come to buy fruit to make jam, but Euan said, "that has declined in the last 15 years."

They now grow around 50 different types of fruits and vegetables.

He said, "the greengrocers are most keen on the stuff that you are not going to see in the supermarkets; Tayberries Tummelberries, Worcesterberries and Josta berries.

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"In winter we shut the farm shop and run a wee egg shed/ honesty box, it is quite difficult to make the farm shop look full at that time of year without buying produce in."

Open all hours

They sell the farm produce to quite a few greengrocers and Euan said, "they like our produce straight from the farm."

These include; Fraser's fruit and veg in Dundee, Cheryl at Clementine of Broughty Ferry, Tattie Shaws in Elm Row, Dig in Bruntsfield, Root Down in Portobello, and Fruit-a-licious in Morningside."

Some of their soft fruit goes for processing into wine at Cairn O'Mohr and for beer at Williams Bros Brewery

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Another source of income is, Jannettas in St Andrews, Euan said "They take an awful lot of fruit, they like using locally grown Strawberries and Tayberries in their ice creams."

Strawberries. Picture Lisa Ferguson

As a small scale producer, Euan said, "it is quite easy for me to cater for these companies, I'm not having to pay someone to do it, it is just my own time.

Other crops also include; Cabbages, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Broccoli, Squash, Cucumbers, Courgettes and Pumpkins.

A tight fit

Initially they only grew a couple of hundred squash plants, but as the market has grown they now plant more.

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Using a planting machine and biodegradable film made of corn starch, they keep the use of chemicals to an absolute minimum and, Euan said, "at the end of the season we can just plough it all in."

Euan and Ross Cameron at Pittormie
Euan and Ross Cameron hoeing this years crop of leeks. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

From August onwards Euan explains, "we harvest twenty different types Squash; Onion, Crown Prince, Buttercup, Harlequin, Acorn and Gem squash which are very popular with South African expats."

Berry bus

Euan said, "growing up on the farm was fun but hard work."

At that time they mainly grew soft fruit, Raspberries, Strawberries and Gooseberries and Redcurrants for the wee berry shop and to supply the cannery.

"We would have berry squads and the berries would get weighed and our summer job was paying the pickers.

"We had to sit on the money box to make sure it didn't disappear," he laughs.

In those days it was bus loads of local pickers, he adds, "last year we were really lucky because some of our neighbours had been furloughed."

pittormie fruit farm
Skye and little cousin Ruairidh enjoy helping pick the berries. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It is a waiting game to see what happens this year, they might have to put out a facebook post for local pickers.

Euan said, "we have used workers from the Czech republic before but I have had absolutely zero emails from anyone looking this year, so my brother and I will just pick what we can.

"it is not like when I was a kid and you got told to go out and get picking berries, the world has changed and you have to just roll a bit with it, but it is definitely the downside of Brexit."

Finding your niche

When his parents took over Pittormie, the local cannery shut so they had to find other markets for their fruit.

Euan said, "so it has always been a bit of a juggling act, so we are not putting all our eggs in one basket."

This year they are not sure exactly how Covid-19 will continue to affect them.

Pittormie farm shop
Fresh produce on offer in the egg shed at Pittormie. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Euan said, "we found during lockdown, folks really did go back to basics, as a fruit and veg business we benefited as people always needed to eat.

"When people were only allowed out once a day for their exercise, they came to our farm because they were getting out and getting better quality produce," he said.

Euan is philosophical, "what will be will be. I will just grow the stuff, and if I don't sell it in our shop I will sell to a greengrocer or a wholesaler.

"We just need to adapt, hedge our bets and do a bit of everything."

Last year their wholesale trade was really badly hit, but Euan said, "overall I can't complain, we were much busier in the farm shop."

Pittormie.
Pittormie. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

A farming year

Jan "We usually look after the fruit, Tayberries, Brambles and the Tummelberry and Raspberries cutting out the old canes and tying up the new canes. "

Feb "Tidy up and prepare for the season and get the machines ready."

March "We fertilise and at the end of month we sow all our Squashes and Beetroot. We use cell trays, so you are basically sitting there for days, hand sowing them into trays.

"The minute the seeds germinate they go from the greenhouse, where there is heat to the polytunnels."

Early April "we prepare the growing beds, we have a machine which makes slightly raised beds and kill off any weeds before we plant the vegetables."

May "sees us planting lots."

June "Picking Gooseberries and Strawberries."

Homemade Strawberry jam from Pittormie berries
Homemade Strawberry jam from Pittormie berries. Picture Lisa Ferguson

July "Then it is; Redcurrants, Blackcurrants, Tayberries, Tummelberries, Worcesterberries and Jostaberries."

August "Harvest early tatties we have a couple of acres of mainly the old fashioned varieties like; Golden Wonder,  'Red Duke of York', Kerr's Pink. We have twenty different varieties this year, ones you don't see in supermarkets."

September "Pick Plums and Apples and harvest the Squash."

October "It's proper winter veg time with Carrots, Leeks and Neeps."

November "I start cutting canes out again so you are back to square one"

December Euan admits, "it is pretty much never ending. Well that is what my wife says anyway."

He met wife, Rae-Anne at Uni, where she was studying Medicinal Chemistry, she is now a Chemistry teacher.

Seedlings grown under cover
Seedlings grown under cover before being planted outside at Pittormie. Picture : Lisa Ferguson

Back to the future

The couple have a girl Skye (4), Euan said, "she used to be funny about getting dirty, but if we are planting she wants to help, so I don't want to knock her enthusiasm."

He adds, "we have 100 hens for free range eggs and she is quite good with the chickens."

His brother Ross joined the business in August, he has two children, Ruairidh and Niamh, who is just a couple of weeks old."

Ruairidh is tractor mad, Euan said, "he is only two and a half but he pretty much knows every tractor.

"It is amazing what they soak up at that age."

Growing old

Euan said, "our parents are getting a wee bit older and my dad, who is 71, is wanting a slightly quieter life and mum is 65, but I think they are quite chuffed with what my brother and I are doing."

Pittormie
Jack and Gillian Cameron took the initial risk to buy Pittormie. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

"We are quite cautious about everything, 'you can only spend your money once' so we do things on a small scale first to see how it goes.

"The hardest thing is making a living from such a small parcel of land," he said.

The land, soil and climate means Pittormie is good for farming and Euan said, "we have just built up the niche demand for things nobody else grows.

"It is quite labour intensive and I wouldn't do all the hours, if I rented the farm, but you don't mind doing it for yourself and the next generation," he said.

Supply and demand

He also supplies some produce to local restaurants; John Kelly at The Grange Inn, Rory Lovie at Bridgeview Station, Jamie Scott, The Newport and Dean Banks occasionally pops in he said, "I have known them for years and they are really laid back and easy going."

They are currently harvesting gooseberries and Euan said, "we pick what we need and the rest go to the birds."

It is always a surprise each year to find out what crop sells the best.

Last year they had a great crop of tatties and the leeks received praise from all the greengrocers.

Euan said, "that is because I harvest it one day and take it to them the next, but getting that feedback makes it all worthwhile."

Hard work

He is proud of what his parents have built up, he said "I couldn't have taken on Pittormie if they hadn't gambled to buy the land when interest rates were expensive.

"They probably took bigger risks than I would take, so fair play to them."

The brothers both stay nearby, but Euan said, "I can see me moving to the farm at some point to let the folks have a proper retirement."

He still loves working on the family farm, he said, "I don't think I'd like to be stuck in the office if I am honest."

Pittormie, is a proper family concern.
Pittormie, is a proper family concern. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Pittormie Fruit Farm

Dairsie
Fife
KY15 4SW

01334 870 233

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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