Owners Pete and Heather Ritchie have grown Whitmuir Organics in the Scottish Borders from a small farming operation to the point where it is now a thriving farm shop, cafe, restaurant and gallery, employing 25 full and part time staff.
“Having farmed the north-facing land for 10 years and sold some limited produce out of the back of a silage shed, we were faced with the decision of whether to continue to ‘tick over’ in this way, or try and expand the business by exploring new markets and products”, says Pete.
“Customer feedback suggested there was a strong desire for fresh, local produce so, in addition to selling our own home-reared and farm-butchered beef, lamb, mutton and pork with our own soft fruit, vegetables and eggs, we opened our first small farm shop and packed it with a wide range of organic produce.
“Demand grew from there to the point where we decided to open a restaurant. This was hugely successful and encouraged us to look at expanding our business radius and footfall further.
"In December 2009, we opened Whitmuir The Organic Place, a brand new, purpose-built food hall, farm shop, restaurant and gallery which has gone from strength to strength and now attracts visitors from right across the Central belt of Scotland.
“Whilst much of the produce we sell is grown on our own farm we can’t possibly grow everything that people want to buy, so we buy in from other local organic farmers.
"This relationship is mutually beneficial – they provide us with what we need, while we support like-minded businesses who share our ethos for locally-produced, fresh, organic food.
"We also offer space to a small number of specialist suppliers who can enhance our own product offering. For example, a local beekeeper took some ground from us and his hives are now producing honey which we sell in our shop. Likewise we have a medicinal herbalist who aims to work and sell from here.
Pete and Heather are keen exponents of the need to educate the public about food and farming and now run their own programme of events at Whitmuir, which attract locals and visitors alike.
“We run a series of winter talks on various aspects of our farming and food operation, and also hold regular workshops and participative events where people can try things for themselves.
We’ve also recently built an ‘observation bee hive’ on the farm, which gives visitors the opportunity to see wildlife and nature up close and to really get a feel for what we’re about”, says Pete.
Using visitor feedback
The couple are keen to use customer feedback to improve and develop the business, and as such have developed a network of over 200 ‘farm supporters’, who value being part of the farm and are keen to provide support for a local enterprise.
“Our supporters supply feedback every day and twice a year we carry out a survey, which we find extremely valuable for our business development process. It really helps us focus on our customers and ensure we develop in a way that fits with the needs and desires of the local community”, adds Pete.