A search to find an alternative use for crofting land has led a former asset manager and his wife to set up an organic fruit and vegetable farm on the Isle of Lewis.
Martin and Jennifer Adil-Smith, who have been helped by Business Gateway Outer Hebrides, launched Heb Veg last month (March) in Knockaird, Ness, after beginning their journey to live a more self-sufficient life on the island four years ago.
Having secured a Common Agricultural Grant and funding through Business Gateway's Outer Hebrides Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (OHYES) to help set up the business, the couple have now planted 1,000 saplings, including fruit trees, using a grant from The Woodland's Trust.
Thanks to the installation of four polycrubs, known as the 'strongman' of polytunnels – as they can withstand gusts up to 120mph – the couple's potatoes, carrots and tomatoes are starting to grow, with lettuces, peppers and courgettes being seeded this month (April).
Once ready to harvest, the crops will be sold to a local grocer – Cross Stores – with the duo hoping to sell any surplus to restaurants and hotels in Stornoway. A local veg and fruit box scheme could also be launched.
Martin said: "We are delighted that Cross Stores has agreed to stock our produce, giving locals the chance to enjoy food grown on their doorstep. Getting to this stage has been a real hearts and minds exercise, as traditionally crofting hasn't focused on fruit and veg production. However, our passion for what we want to achieve has helped keep us moving forward.
"We live in one of the most sparsely populated areas in the UK, and one of the windiest. Because of this there are so many derelict crofts. By installing polycrubs, which are made using marine rigging and polycarbonate plastic, and by planting trees that will eventually provide a natural windbreak, we hope our success will inspire others to follow our lead."
He added: "Since last November we’ve been engaged with Business Gateway, with our adviser, Donna MacLeod, helping us access the final piece of the funding puzzle that allowed us to move forward full steam. She was brilliant, working with me to fill out the forms and smoothing any wrinkles in the application. Working in partnership like that is how the process should be. Her advice, patience and enthusiasm for what we want to achieve was a real breath of fresh air."
Donna MacLeod, Business Gateway, said: "Martin and Jennifer have set up a unique business on the Isle of Lewis that will provide the local community – and further afield on the islands – with produce that otherwise would predominately have to be imported from the mainland. Through 1:1 support we provided guidance that helped the company prepare supporting documents for the successful funding application to OHYES. Martin also entered his croft diversification idea into the OHYES Business Ideas Competition last year and scooped a runner's up award. We are delighted to support such a forward-thinking and determined entrepreneur and look forward to seeing the business progress."
Following the birth of their two children, Jasmine (6) and Samira (4), Martin and Jennifer re-evaluated what they wanted out of life and, having grown their own vegetables on an allotment, they decided to search for a farm that would provide them with a new way of living.
Having watched a programme about the Outer Hebrides in 2014, they turned their attention to the islands and fell in love with a croft on a Friday which they then bought the following Monday and then moved to the Isle of Lewis.
Martin said: "After the financial crash of 2008, I left London to take up the Head of Property Development role at Edinburgh Airport. When the airport was sold I took severance and turned my hand to writing horror books, which was liberating.
"But when Samira was born my wife didn’t want to return to work and we made a decision to totally alter how we lived. Having grown our own veg we knew the quality and taste was better than anything you could buy in a supermarket and that inspired us to do what we are doing now.
"If someone had said to me in London that I’d become a crofter I'd have laughed, but seeing the kids run free and being able to work the land ourselves really does something for the soul."
For more information on Heb Veg visit www.hebveg.com or search @hebveg on Facebook.
Find out how Business Gateway Outer Hebrides can help your business by visiting www.bgateway.com/westernisles or call 01851 808 240.
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