Historic Perthshire castle hosts digital farmers’ market

Megginch Castle Court Yard by Ashley Coombes, Epic Scotland Ltd.
Katharine Johnston

Megginch Castle, once home to a community of apple-growing monks, will play host to weekly digital farmers’ market NeighbourFood.

From Friday 18 September, locally grown or made produce will be available to order online for collection from the Castle’s courtyard on Thursdays. The first collection will take place on 24 September 3-7pm, with customers allocated half hour time slots to ensure that social distancing is maintained.

Situated in the heart of the Carse of Gowrie, halfway between Perth and Dundee, Megginch Castle has a proud history of food innovation. It is home to one of Scotland’s oldest orchards, which includes the National Collection of heritage Scottish apple and pear varieties and nearly 400 types of cider apple. Apples are thought to have been first grown on the estate by a community of monks, who were based at Megginch until around 1560.

The castle’s guardian and NeighbourFood market host Catherine Drummond-Herdman said: “We wanted to set up the market to give local people access to local food, boost the local economy and reduce food miles. As well as eating locally grown produce, customers will get the chance to meet the growers and producers when they collect their shop, re-establishing that lost connection between what we eat and where and how it is grown. The demand for local produce is certainly there; over 170 people have already signed up ahead of the launch and we have 13 producers raring to go. We’ll have everything from fruit, veg and dairy produce to locally-made wine and chocolate on offer.”

One of the first producers to sign up to the new market was Tay Bees and Honey producer Gavin Ramsay, who’ll be joined on launch night by one of his well-behaved bee colonies.

Gavin said: “Megginch, with its varied habitats and ancient orchard, is a fantastic place for bees of all kinds and this new market will give people the chance to sample some of the amazing honeys that can be gathered in this part of Scotland. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for local producers to connect with local customers!”

The market will also provide hands on learning experiences to local school children with additional support needs.

Catherine explained: “As part of The Starfish Way initiative, run by the Perth and Kinross Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme, we’ll be giving children the chance to grow their own produce in our walled garden and then eat it or sell it at the market.”

Charity Forth Environment Link, has been instrumental in getting Megginch’s new market off the ground. The organisation has already helped set up five other click and collect farmer’s markets across Scotland, thanks to funding from Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government’s EU LEADER programme.

Stuart Guzinski from Forth Environment Link said: “We’ve been working with communities across Scotland to offer support and share our experience of setting up a successful digital farmers’ market in Stirling in 2016. As well as Megginch, we’ve helped set up new markets in Balfron, Blairgowrie & Rattray, Peebles, Killin and Falkland in the past year. There are also two more markets to follow in Fife and the Borders. The project is about increasing access to Scotland’s larder, creating rural employment, offering small scale producers a safe route to market and connecting shoppers with the people who make or grow food locally.”

The funding for the project comes from a joint collaboration between  four Scottish Rural Network LEADER programmes, Forth Valley & Lomond, Perth & Kinross, Fife and Scottish Borders, through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Rural Perth and Kinross LEADER Coordinator, Sharon Rice-Jones said:  “The award from Rural Perth and Kinross of £44,200 towards this project is one of a number of projects benefitting from a portion of £3.8 million of LEADER EU and Scottish Government funds available for the development of rural communities and rural enterprise until 2020 in Perthshire. It is a fantastic opportunity for many small and micro businesses, and we are pleased we have been able to support it.”

She added: “ Rural Perth and Kinross has an abundance of growers, producers and sellers of amazing food and drink and the NeighbourFood platform complements the work of the Perthshire Food Tourism Group, Farmers’ Markets and various food hubs enabling greater local purchasing - keeping the pound local.  Megginch Castle NeighbourFood is the second market to be established in Perthshire with LEADER Funding and we look forward to more markets coming online soon.”

Megginch Castle NeighbourFood has also received £5000 in funding from Connect Local.

Ceri Ritchie, Chair of the Regional Food Fund said: “This project demonstrates strong collaboration and will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the local economy, promoting Perthshire as a real food tourism destination. It is fantastic to see the NeighbourFood platform being used to its full potential and will stimulate a great sense of community between businesses and consumers across the region.”

For further information on registering as a Megginch Castle customer or producer click here.