SASCHA Grierson is happy to confirm that the organic farm and butchery she runs with husband Hugh is a horse-free zone. There is no danger of horsemeat being found in any of the products that come out of Newmiln Farm, near Perth, and she can personally vouch that the meat sold by Hugh Grierson Organic is 100 per cent pork, beef, lamb and chicken, untouched by any taint of the equine. She knows this because she has seen her husband raise every one of the animals that winds up in their butchery and then on the Grierson family dinner table, along with many others up and down the country.
Not that she has anything against horses, being brought up on a farm in Ireland where her dad kept ponies and was also involved in horse-racing. But as she says, to deal with horses, “You have to be brave, and I don’t have the brave gene.” So, there are no horses at Newmiln Farm.
Horses are a hot topic for discussion, though, because of the current food industry scandal, which Grierson fears will mean more red tape with which to tie small businesses up in knots. “The local butchers round us have been very busy since Horsegate,“ she says. “I think it’s a slow-burn issue and I’m concerned there will be waves of legislation that hit us as well as the supermarkets, although we were doing nothing wrong in the first place.
“I’m concerned for the small producers. It’s yet another food scandal that validates the fact that small businesses service local communities in a trustworthy way. It’s in our interests to have high standards, not to lie to people – you would get found out. It’s about trust.”
Provenance has become a matter of concern for all of us, and Grierson confirms that customers are buying from them because they know exactly where the meat has come from. “More people are prepared to think differently, beyond the steak, roast, mince, burger or cubed meat the supermarkets sell. There are so many different things on a beef carcass to cook, and you can have a conversation with customers about food that you don’t have pushing a trolley around a supermarket.”
Grierson may not consider herself brave around horses, but she and her husband are not averse to taking risks, deciding to make their farm 100 per cent organic and sell their produce direct in 2000. Over the years, they have added organic eggs, chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle, then in 2011 their own butchery, which is now open three days a week. Grierson can also be seen every week at Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market and every month at Perth’s, and their meat is popular at restaurants such as 63 Tay Street, Perth, and Café St Honoré, Edinburgh.
“Hugh farms. I sell,” says Sascha. “I like farming but it’s all about the food for me. For Hugh, it’s about managing the land in the best way possible.
“From our carcasses in the chill plant to food on a plate, doing cookery demonstrations, sharing recipes, showing schoolchildren round the farm, I love all that. We are lucky. We run our own business and work from home. We don’t have to commute, sit in a car or do office politics. It frees up the brain and we live and die by our own decisions,” she says.
“Hugh grew up on this farm and has been farming here since he left university. Over the last seven years, I have learnt from him that you’re not in this for five years, you’re in it for a generation. He bought a herd in 2004, when cattle prices had hit rock bottom. He said, ‘The good times will come again and we have to invest.’ And the good times have come back.”
The couple, who live on the farm with sons Edward, 14, and Angus, 12, met at university in Edinburgh. After their children arrived, Grierson left her job as “the three-hour commute was too much”. Not that farming was a big leap for her, having grown up on a farm in County Kildare. “Food was right at the heart of the family. Also, cooking from scratch is something I really enjoy. I’m blessed that I have all this produce on the doorstep. We have this great larder and people are waking up to that.”
• Hugh Grierson Organic butchery (01738 730201, www.the-organic-farm.co.uk)