A PLANT Day Out: If Life Gives You Apples…

6 October 2016
By Courtney Giles

It’s 7:50 on a calm Thursday morning in Tayport. Will, Andy, and I set off for Cyrenians Farm near Edinburgh for a workshop lovingly named ‘If Life Gives You Apples’. The workshop was a well-organized even put on by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens or ‘the fed’. The timing of the workshop was divine. With the apples beginning to ripen on trees all over Tayport, and with the Fruit Fest around the corner, we were hoping to gain some new ideas and inspiration on what to do with them all!

A photo of red apples
Cyrenians Farm apples awaiting their date with the apple press.

Cyrenians Farm and Community is considered a social enterprise. This means that it not only produces fruit and veg for sale (just one of its income streams), it supports at risk youth, provides mental health and community services, volunteering opportunities, and hosts team building workshops for small and corporate business groups. Food and community are central to Cyrenians mission. The grounds are wild and beautiful and the people equally so. I definitely recommend a visit.

When we arrived at the Cyrenians Farm we were greeted by the farm manager Rob and several staff and volunteers. The workshop itself was focused on apples and orchards, however the majority of the discussion centered on how to promote and market a community-based fruit and veg operation.  Attendees included 20-30 representatives from other community gardens, orchard projects, and small business interests throughout Scotland. We packed into a small out-building on the farm in a room lined with hay bales for seating. It was fascinating to hear all of the perspectives around the room, from small projects just starting up to established gardens looking to generate more income.

A photo of a group of people sitting on hay bales and talking to each other
The workshop space at Cyrenians Farm. The marketing (left) and selling (right) breakout groups in action.

We enjoyed a demonstration of apple juicing early on. Later came an an overview of what Cyrenians is and some lessons they’ve learned along the way to becoming a growing social enterprise. The Tayport crew was happy to see that Cyrenians is using the same juicing kit purchased by PLANT this year! The juicing kit was purchased with the help of Will Whitfield and funds from the Climate Challenge Fund and will be on proud display at Fruit Fest next weekend. We can’t wait to put the Vigo masher and press to use!

A photo of a scratter and a juicer.
The Vigo apple masher (yellow) and hydraulic apple press (orange) ready to go. The apples are fed whole into the big yellow funnel. A grinder at the base crushes the apples, which passively fall into a collection bucket on the ground. Apple mash is then placed into a mesh bag in the stainless steel cylinder of the press, where water pressure fills an inner rubber balloon and presses the juice outward through small holes in the steel cylinder. The juice drips down the sides of the cylinder and collects in a circular reservoir at the base of the press where it pours into a clean collection bucket. Two shallow crates of apples produced enough mash for 3 pressings and 5 to 10 liters of juice.

I learned the most during the workshop breakout session. The group split into two, one ‘Selling’, the other ‘Marketing’. The goal of the exercise was to choose a product (preferably relating to apples) and generate some ideas on how to sell or market that product. When you hear ‘product’ it’s easy to think – apples or cider or baked goods. Here, we were encouraged to think beyond the food product and consider services that could also be offered in association with the fruit, such as community activities and consulting services. For apples, activities include cultural heritage days, harvest festivals, tree pruning workshops. Consultation could include home visits or training sessions hosted by a local garden.

I was in the marketing group and we chose cider as our product. A bit inside the box, but there was too much interest within the group to pass it up. Here are some interesting tid-bits about cider that I hadn’t known before the workshop:

  • it has one of the largest profit margins for apple products
  • it’s easier to make than beer
  • in the UK, 8k pints can be sold before a license is required

In the marketing group we spent a lot of time discussing the importance of storytelling. Storytelling allows a small business or organization to put the mission and the values it represents first. This has been important for farms like Cyrenians and many other garden projects for attracting like-minded individuals, who may want to support a worthy cause rather than just the fruits and veg of their labour. As we’ve seen at PLANT, community engagement is key. This can be accomplished by having a diverse range of events and regularly scheduled seasonal events throughout the year. There were some great examples of seasonal events surrounding the cultivation and maintenance of apple trees, such as spring mulching sessions, summer pruning, autumn harvest (and juicing and cider tasting!), and wassailing in winter. Community involvement in all seasons is critical, and in places like Tayport, where many of the trees are spread throughout private gardens, we have a unique opportunity to pool our resources and truly enjoy the harvest together! Our Fruit Tree Walk at Scotscraig Drive and the Fruiting Hedge at the Community Garden will add to this wonderful fruity resource as they mature.

The connection between Cyrenians Farm and local Edinburgh chef Mark Greenaway is another specialized approach for marketing and selling produce that has been mutually beneficial to the farm and his restaurant. The farm works with Mark at the beginning of each season to select fruit and veg for the restaurant, and as the food is harvested it is delivered fresh each week. The food deliveries come in at a fixed price regardless of the contents. This means that the restaurant doesn’t know what it’s getting each week, but they know its fresh and there is no hassle over the cost of individual ingredients. Both, Mark the chef and Rob the farm manager stressed the usefulness of social media for promoting their individual businesses and each other’s (find them on Twitter @markgreenaway and @cyrenians1968). Mark tweets good news about the farm’s veg and how it’s incorporated in the weekly menu, and Rob tweets about the delivery on its way to the restaurant. All in all, it’s free advertising for both parties with no middleman. Also, Cyrenians isn’t shy to strange varieties or exotic plants, so there are often ingredients delivered to the restaurant that no other chef in Edinburgh has. This makes the farm-to-table connection particularly special and the food served unique. Knowing this, it was no surprise that the lunch spread by Mark Greenaway was impressive. Twenty-four hour beef and pork and a beautiful assortment of grilled, marinated, gratinated vegetables, and for dessert, salty caramel baked apples and cream.

A photo of a flower and leaf salad and baked apples.
Some of the farm fresh lunch served up by Mark Greenaway: Fresh salad (left) and baked apples (right).

Bellies full, we went for a wander around the farm and orchards. Almost 50 acres for veg production and 20 acres for fruit trees. The farm has several small polytunnels for the exotic, warm weather plants, including sweet potatoes and different varieties of chilli peppers (with some registering 3 million on the Scoville scale!). It also has large insulated tunnels for salad and edible flowers. And of course, we couldn’t miss the orchard!

Photos of chillis, onion in an air pot, sweet potatoes and apples
From left, a curly chili paper, an impressive onion, one of the first sweet potato plots to be grown for sale in the UK, and of course the orchard. Note the air-pot being used for the onion? This technique uses air-pruning to keep the roots trim, with no risk for edge effects and soggy soil that may occur in traditional pots. In comparison to the traditional pot, this onion was much plumper and had a much more robust root system, meaning it could capture water and nutrients more effectively.

It was a great day out. Will and Andy seemed to enjoy themselves and I certainly learned a lot. We’re lucky in Scotland to have organizations and events like the ones I’ve described here. Next stop, Tayport Community Garden. Hope to see you all there soon!

Courtney is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie. Her research focuses on intercropping and the root-soil-microbiota interactions that affect how plants scavenge phosphorus in soils. To learn more visit James Hutton Institute website here.

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3 comments

  1. Hi, thanks for the write up and the kind words about the farm. I particularly like the bit about the people at our farm being ‘wild and beautiful’. One wee thing though, the farm is only 8.6 acres in all so we grow fruit and veg on *5* acres and the orchard is over *2* acres.

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