Three Ayrshire initiatives are proving that growing fruit and vegetables or beekeeping can have wide-reaching benefits far beyond the obvious
With around one in five army veterans troubled by anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, Gardening Leave – located in the grounds of the Scottish Rural University College’s Ayr campus – uses horticultural therapy to improve their physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Having begun as a pilot scheme in 2007, the Auchincruvie garden is now the charity’s flagship site (with additional centres in Glasgow, Dundee and two in London) and more than 300 serving and former members of the Armed Forces have benefitted from the activities offered there. Alongside woodworking and wildlife-based arts and crafts, attendees learn how to grow vegetables in the raised beds and greenhouses, with the fruits of their labour making it to the shelves and menus of local shops and cafés, such as Su Casa as well as being displayed at a variety of competitions including the Ayr Flower Show, Dundee Flower and Food Festival and the World Jampionships.
Isle of Arran Community Land Project
Residents and tourists on the Isle of Arran will soon be able to enjoy even more locally-grown produce - and learn how to do it for themselves – thanks to the Arran Community Land Initiative (ACLI). A grant of £180,000 from the Scottish Land Fund allowed the charity to acquire 80 acres of disused Whiting Bay farmland in December 2014. As well as opening up the area for leisure use, and a project to save native tree species the Arran Whitebeam, there’s a particular emphasis on food production, with community gardens for growing and education, plus crop and grazing areas, all part of the group’s vision to make the island less reliant on goods ferried in from the mainland. ‘It started off as a conversation in the pub,’ says treasurer Juliette Walsh, ‘and a lot has happened since then. By introducing crops, orchards, allotments and community growing spaces to these fields we hope to help the island become more self-sufficient.’
Graeme Sharp – Scottish Bee Advisor
If you're a regular at one of the Ayrshire Farmer's Markets, chances are you've tried Graeme Sharp's Scottish honey. But what you might not know is that the man behind it is also one of the country's leading apicultural experts. As Scotland's only ‘bee advisor’, he delivers training in different aspects of beekeeping – from feeding and forage sources to swarm prevention – at the practical apiary on the SRUC’S Auchincruvie Estate, mainly to amateurs. ‘Most of Scotland's 3000 or so beekeepers are hobbyists, with only around 25 large-scale producers,’ explains Sharpe, who also spends much of his time travelling the country, advising local beekeeping associations and specialist bee farmers on topics such as colony management, disease control and environmental benefits. ‘Many of the commercial enterprises tend to be generational businesses as start-up costs are expensive, although a recent apprenticeship scheme has seen some graduates set up on their own.’