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Community / Passionate about helping people to produce their own food

Turriefield owners Penny Armstrong and Alan Robertson.

SHETLAND’s premier producers of locally grown vegetables have recorded an increased interest in ‘growing your own’ advice since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, although people continue to rely largely on the supermarkets for their supply of fresh produce.

Penny Armstrong and Alan Robertson of Transition Turriefield have been working the ground at their Sandness croft since 2008, demonstrating that growing vegetables in Shetland’s wild and windy climate is possible.

They said the number of requests for information such as ‘what could be grown in Shetland and how to prepare the soil?’ has increased, and after a spike the number of asks for advice is “still double than what it normally is”.

Even now at the end of May it is still not too late to get started, as sowing and planting times are very different in Shetland compared to the rest of Scotland and the UK.

With Turriefield currently closed to all visitors and volunteers due to social distancing and travel restrictions, enquiries are being responded to via social media, e-mail and occasionally on the phone.

A Q&A section on their website at http://www.turriefieldveg.co.uk/grow-your-own-info/ adds further guidance.

“Lots of people are well aware that it is better to grow your own,” Penny said, adding that this had always been there in the back of people’s mind and lockdown provided the motivation to get on with it.

It also helps entertain and educate the bairns while schools are closed, Alan added.

While the initial panic buying and stockpiling appear to be a thing of the past – at least for now – Penny said she is convinced that ‘growing your own’ will soon become more important than ever before.

“I still think there is worse to come with the economic downturn plus what is going to happen to the workforce that is actually producing the fresh food, either here or abroad,” she said.

“I don’t think there is an acknowledging of that by government at all – and we are the last in the line [here in Shetland].”

The transition project supplies a number of households with locally grown fresh produce through its popular veg box scheme for around ten months of the year, as well as a number of local shops such as the Eid Co-op, the Weisdale Shop and Scoop Wholefoods, in Lerwick.

“We do use volunteers as part of our veg box scheme in a way that commits people to do volunteer hours,” Alan explains. “We want to get people involved in local food – and when they come along we want to give them something meaningful.”

“We will never be able to meet demand. The way forward is supporting and teaching people to produce their own food,” Penny added.

But with social distancing preventing volunteers from heading out to Sandness for their gardening lessons, the couple had to scale back a little, at least on the big projects such as building more polytunnels and raised beds for which they ran a successful crowdfunding campaign last year.

“Having said that we are able to run what we do on our own with the help of our son who is home from university at the moment,” Alan said.

“So we are doing alright and are actually ahead of the game at the moment.”

Anyone interested in getting started can contact Penny or Alan via this page: http://www.turriefieldveg.co.uk/contact-us/