On a farm north of Aberdeen, which after more than 50 years had to gave up its dairy herd, something very interesting and rather unusual is happening. The Sinclair family diversified to survive – first into haulage and contracting and then as the home of the first anaerobic digestion plant in Scotland, and that’s nowhere near the end of this story.
The 500kw plant run on grass, a wee bit of rye, silage and slurry and some draff (brewing bi-product), went into action in 2014. Turn the clock forward a year and Ellie Sinclair, who’d been working up to that points as a tour guide for Brew Dog (its brewery provides the draff), saw the opportunity to get involved in the family business. She’d never grown a thing, but saw the space, the power and the opportunity for a new direction.
Free green energy for heat and light, an old shed on the farm and a gap in the market for top of the range, locally grown tomatoes and chillies in north East Scotland.
“On Christmas Day we sampled the first tomatoes and they were fantastic. So since January we started growing full time in one of the sheds with lamps and heaters powered by the plant and haven’t looked back,” says Ellie.
Thirty miles or so away in Stonehaven, Calum Richardson, owner of The Bay Fish and Chips, was fascinated by a new social media follower – The Veg Company. The next time he was visiting his meat supplier and butcher in nearby Ellon, he noticed a punnet of tomatoes in their farm shop and discovered they were from the The Veg Company, located in the next door farm and run by Ellie. So he paid her a visit there and then and the rest as they say is history…
Now The Bay takes regular deliveries of tomatoes; mostly varieties that can’t normally be grown in Scotland, as well as bespoke tomato sauce, chutneys and chilli jams.
Calum said: “I’m always excited about finding new suppliers, and this is just massive. The tomatoes are fantastic, local and produced with renewable energy. What’s not to like? Ellie’s started growing lemons now too and it would be incredible if we could source all our lemons and tomatoes from Aberdeenshire.”
The digestate, the bi-product of the AD process, is proving to be a very effective fertiliser. Peardrop, and Sweet Million tomatoes are just some two of the varieties growing at a rate of knots alongside the purple peppers and Naga chillies.
Word is spreading fast too. Ellie says she has had people contacting from her from all over the world. Her motto is start small, think big. With plans to take over the whole of one of the farm’s larger sheds on two floors, it certainly looks like this fledgling business is well on the way to being a soaraway, sustainable success.