Andrew Donaldson, Comrie Croft
Why am I writing about a farm in Perthshire, about as far as you can get from the sea on mainland Scotland, on a blog about Island Revival? Good question! The thing is, though Comrie Croft is not surrounded by ocean, in many respects, farms and small rural communities on the mainland run the risk of becoming ‘islands’, isolated and disconnected from economic opportunities, services, culture, spiritual and social life and without the means to sustain themselves. Recognising that our parish has been severely depopulated over the past 200-300 years and that similar processes continue today, Comrie Croft was established to counter the forces of ‘island isolation’ and to demonstrate that things don’t have to be this way: there are so many opportunities for land-based businesses to have positive impacts on their community and local environment.
Growing out of a traditional mixed farm which couldn’t support one household any more, Comrie Croft was purchased by its employees, family and supporters within the local community back in 2008 (50 in total). Within its 231 rough acres, Comrie Croft has given birth to a complementary mix of enterprises, infrastructure and activities designed to work together synergistically, like an ecosystem, on the most environmentally and socially sustainable basis possible. To begin with there was a bunkhouse, sheep-grazed pasture and woodlands. Now there is a thriving wild-style campsite and glamping using in-house designed and built Nordic tipis which stay dry and cosy whatever the weather, Tomanh’a Market Garden – a flower farm and market garden growing wildlife-friendly healthy food for local eating, The Tea Garden Café which uses lots of the produce from the market garden, a farm shop selling produce from the market garden and many other local producers, a DIY barn wedding venue where couples are encouraged to use the many excellent local caterers and suppliers, free to use mountain bike trails (rated #1 in Scotland) and Comrie Croft Bikes – a full-service bike shop, Flow School mountain bike guiding and coaching, Strathearn Mountain Biking Club, The Scottish Tea Factory – Scotland’s first tea processing and tea workshops facility, and The Wee Event Hire Co.
On the drawing board is an 8-household off-grid, affordable co-housing development using local, low processed building materials and a micro-brewery. By spending as much cash locally as possible, and encouraging guests and visitors to do the same, the Croft attempts to amplify economic benefit to the area. There is also a strong focus on employing people on permanent, full-time, year-round contracts – 27 at the last count. This is good for the business as it builds skills and experience, whilst also enabling people to build their lives in the area. There is a cost to pay in the winter, but efforts are always being made to get the public to experience the joys of winter camping!!