“Fresh fare from field and farmhouse” is the aim of the farm shop business at Knowes – and that maxim has been held to for 30 years.
The husband-and-wife team of Peter and Hilary Cochran originally sold eggs from the henhouses on their farm in Dunbar in the late 1960s.
But the couple needed a bigger outlet to sell the range of goods produced on-farm, and opened the farm shop in 1979.
The shop is a hub of activity and its central position is indicative of its importance in the whole farming operation.
About 1000 customers, both young and old, visit Knowes every week and on average they each spend about £10 per visit.
The farm is a perfect stop-off point for cyclists to catch their breath, view the beautiful surroundings and buy some fresh foods from the shop.
Hilary says offering quality fresh farm produce and a high level of customer service are vital to their success.
“Our relationship with customers is by definition highly personal,” she says. “They cherish that relationship – they become wound up with what we do.”
Knowes is a tenanted farm which extends to 160ha (400 acres), including 25ha (60 acres) for growing potatoes, which is relatively modest in the modern era.
But what the unit lacks in size, it more than makes up for with a vibrant team that is passionate and committed to excellence in farming.
The farm employs 20 local people, including a father-and-son team who live on site and are responsible for running the arable operation.
The Cochrans work to integrate arable farming by using the best of modern science to harness traditional land husbandry and good crop rotation.
They farm holistically, but not organically, to cherish the natural fertility of the soil.
“We have a holistic view. We grow the grain, we mill it and we feed the meal to our hens,” Hilary says.
“We use the manure and we cultivate the land. We have a traditional rotation. I would like to think we use the best of modern science, which is appropriate to us.”
In the vegetable and herb garden plots, foods are grown directly in soil without polythene. Routine spraying and artificial fertiliser are avoided, just “sun and dung”.
Vegetables are harvested and sold fresh daily in season and, wherever possible, refrigeration and washing treatments are avoided to protect flavour and prevent spoiling.
Knowes’ award-winning eggs are produced from indoor and outdoor hens, reared from day-old and fed meal milled on-farm using Knowes’ wheat and without using antibiotics.
One-third of the sales is homegrown foods packaged with the “Knowes Own” seal of approval.
Knowes produces 13 different potato varieties, an entire spectrum of tastes and textures, freshly dug from June until October.
Almost 900 dozen eggs are sold weekly, directly from the farm to the end user, and 120t of potatoes are sold every year in the shop.
Homemade soups, patés, puddings, preserves and sauces, a total of more than 100 different products, are made in the farmhouse using Knowes’ fresh produce.
In addition to the farm shop, Knowes sells to local shops, cafes, restaurants and golf courses.
Knowes has about 150 different food suppliers with more than 50 from within a 30-mile radius. Turnover has trebled since 2000.
They provide the farm shop with a unique range of quality goods – a shop window for local firms to sell their produce.
But the influence of Knowes extends much further than the farm shop.
Donations and sponsorship of local events, regular attendance at farmers’ markets, and school and local visits to Knowes have attracted new customers.
In August, the Cochrans raised nearly £600 for the Scottish Deaf Golf Team, by selling more than 1250 iced biscuits.
• 160ha (395 acre) arable tenancy
• Grows cereals, eggs, potatoes and vegetables. Knowes Farm Shop is the commercial heart of a modern, mainstream, working farm
• Eggs sold from henhouses on-farm from the late 1960s into the 1970s. Farm shop opened in 1979.
What the judges liked
• Integrated business, growing feed for chickens and hens in self-sufficient holding
• Strong sense of “community” attached to farm shop business
• Growing own crops, vegetables and herbs on farm to sell in farm shop
• Owners demonstrated high level of passion for running business