The Mitchell family has farmed at Castleton since the 1900s, way back when they could count Lewis Grassic Gibbon as a neighbour.
With this rich history and heritage comes a sense of responsibility. And Ross and Anna Mitchell don’t take that lightly.
Sustainability is a guiding principle at Castleton Farm.
Their sustainability agenda takes the best of traditional agricultural practices and merges them with the technological advances that helps them minimise their impact on the environment.
They understand that future generations have an equal right to enjoy the planet.
This “bigger picture” view, combined with the approach of doing things properly and not cutting corners, means they intend to pass down a healthy legacy.
Why is sustainability important?
There are three main areas of focus on the farm at the moment for sustainability efforts. These are:
- lowering the carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- regenerative farming
- reducing the use of single-use plastic
Castleton Farm produces more electricity than it uses. And self-sustainability in energy production has always been a key target.
So energy is generated in a variety of ways, through solar panels, biomass boilers, CHP (combined heat & power) units and a heat pump.
- a biomass boiler for the farm shop business
- a photovoltaic system on the packhouse roof to capture solar energy
- three CHP (combined heat & power) units
- a heat pump using river water
However, demand for power fluctuates through the day and the infrastructure doesn’t currently exist to store it. That means Castleton exports electricity during the night, and imports it during the day.
If it was commercially viable to store the power, then Castleton Farm could be fully self-sufficient.
Changing the way we farm in Scotland helps us change to more sustainable food and farming systems. These will nourish the health of both people and the planet.
Castleton Farm is committed to regenerative farming, an approach it has been using for some years now.
It is centred around improving and revitalising soil health.
By minimising soil disturbance, and protecting it from wind and water erosion, it supports a healthy soil food web. That’s the community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil.
In practice, this means a wide variety of different crops is planted. We try to have a living root in the soil all year round.
“Break crops” such as legumes, lupins and beans support biodiversity. Cover crops such as mustard, radish and vetch provide vital protection for the soil during the winter.
And livestock graze off these cover crops over winter, which again boosts the fertility of the soil.
It’s a complex and connected process but having an active living crop on the soil at all times increases biological activity.
Instead of dead soil over winter, the landscape is visibly active and alive all year round.
Sustainability of packaging
The current plastic fruit punnets used by Castleton Farm contain a minimum of 80% rPET (recycled plastic material, namely polyethylene tetraphyte (PET)).
If our punnets are then recycled after use, they can go round and round the chain as a strawberry punnet many times.
You can watch the recycling story of one of these punnets here.
There are strict regulations of materials – including plastic – that come into contact with food.
We looked at sourcing a sealable food-safe pulp punnet.
We found one in Canada but couldn’t confirm it was from sustainable sources. Taking this into consideration, along with the carbon footprint of its transport, its cost, the increased weight to match the rigidity of plastic, and the fact it is single use, made it an impractical solution.
rPET takes plastic that has already been created, so not only does it prevent that plastic ending up in landfill, it uses up to 50% less energy used than making PET from scratch. rPET is also 100% recyclable, and is collected in UK kerbside household rubbish waste collections.
Adaptability and innovation
These are just some of the ways that Castleton Farm is addressing the sustainability challenge.
Owner Ross Mitchell said: “The fruit-growing obviously forms the main focus of the business enterprise, but this emphasises the needs of looking at the whole picture all the more.
“We need the best quality healthy soil to grow fruit in. We need to be resilient in the face of changing weather conditions and all the while be working towards reducing the use of fungicides and pesticides by non-chemical means.
“The tradition and heritage behind Castleton Farm underpins our respect for the environment.
“But it is dynamic thinking that will help us achieve our sustainabilty goals.
“From diversifying into new crops, to trying out new products and different processes, it is our adaptability, innovation and ideas that will see us succeed.”