Scotty Brand are working with a Borders farmer to re-introduce Scottish tomatoes to the market.
Strange as it may seem, especially as Scotland was once famous for its tomatoes, but until recently there were no commercially grown Scottish tomatoes available in the shops.
When Clyde Valley Tomatoes stopped trading in 2015, it looked as though the country’s once thriving Scottish tomato industry had come to an end.
Until now. As of this week, Scotty Brand are selling Scottish grown tomatoes in selected Lidl, Morrison and Waitrose shops.
They have been grown in a high tech glasshouse which farmer Jim Shanks has built at Standhill Farm near Hawick. The 5pm Dining blog went down to the Borders to see it.
Approximately the size of 2 ½ football pitches, the state of the art glasshouse is a very impressive sight and it is technologically very innovative.
The high cost of heating has traditionally been an obstacle to growing tomatoes commercially in Scotland but Standhill Farm makes clever use of local resources to overcome this difficulty.
The glasshouse is fully sustainable. Water for the tomatoes comes from rainwater falling on the roof while the farm’s biogas plant generates both CO2 and energy from the farm’s cow muck.
Heat comes from an ultra-efficient wood-chip burner which is fuelled by wood from the farm and surrounding area.
The glasshouse is equipped with thermal screens both to preserve heat and, occasionally, believe it or not, to reduce the heat of the Scottish sun.
Pollination is carried out by bees especially brought into the glasshouse. Rather than use pesticides, the farm uses biological methods of pest control. For instance, parasitic wasps are released into the glasshouse to control white fly and aphids.
Traditionally, the Scottish tomato growing season would end in June or July. The technology used at Standhill Farm means that tomatoes can be grown until early November.
Low in food miles, high on taste
Michael Jarvis, head of marketing for Scotty Brand says, ‘We are very excited that tomatoes will be part of our product range again. Scotland’s tomato-growing industry was previously a thriving industry and we are thrilled to see that tomatoes are growing commercially again in the country.
‘We are continually working on category expansion for Scotty Brand and are delighted that the company now has an established reputation for delivering Scottish food that is good value, low in food miles and high on taste. Our tomatoes are consistent with the quality and expertise behind our Scottish offerings. The Scottish climate does have its advantages too, as our tomatoes ripen at a slower rate than those grown in more southern climates, resulting in a sweeter and tastier crop.’
Understandably, Jim Shanks is just as pleased with his first tomato harvest. The third generation of Shanks to have farmed at Standhill, he views the tomatoes as a useful diversification for the farm.
‘You either change or be changed,’ he says. ‘The more diversification you have, the better you can ride out the rocky times. We’re producing tomatoes on a dairy farm, this is leftfield stuff but we knew that there is a demand for Scottish tomatoes.’
Growing the tomatoes and getting them to market is quite an achievement but it is just part of the story.
‘We are a family business,’ says Jim. ‘We are part of the local community and I feel very strongly and very passionately about that. I hope that what we have done is strengthened the local rural economy and created jobs through innovation. Most of all, we have created a fantastic quality product.’
Scottish tomatoes: simply the bestDouble Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie agrees. The chef was at Standhill Farm to prepare a couple of dishes using the tomatoes. He is a big fan of them:
‘Scotland was once famous for growing tomatoes and I am delighted to see the industry back in production. It ticks all the boxes that I’m interested in: the fact that it is environmentally friendly; the fact that it is local; the low food miles; that the tomatoes are grown in Scotland. What these guys are doing here is absolutely fantastic.
‘I tasted the tomatoes for the first time on Saturday. I know it is early in the season but they are probably the best tomatoes I have tasted.’
As well as a chilled soup, the chef served the tomatoes with herb salts, flavoured oils and a little goat’s cheese.
‘After tasting these tomatoes, the only thing that I could do with these was to serve them raw,’ he said. ‘The tomatoes we are eating today came off the vine this morning. There is nothing better and there is no point in me trying to make them into something different. If we were to serve these in the restaurant, this is how we would do it. The most important thing for me as a chef is to get a great product in the first place. All we can do then is try and do it justice.’
There will be two packs of Scotty Brand Tomatoes available: 240g Annamay Cocktail variety – sweet juicy on the vine tomatoes; and 250g Sweetelle baby plum tomato variety.