Shapinsay is one of the most accessible islands in Orkney.
You can walk onto a ferry in the very heart of Kirkwall and less than half an hour later you step off into the picturesque Balfour village. Beef farming is the mainstay of the economy here and the cattle from this lush, green island frequently gain the highest prices at the auction mart sales on the Orkney mainland.
But across the agricultural sector there’s long been an emphasis on diversification. For Glynis Leslie, whose family run the farm of Odinstone in the centre of Shapinsay, this involved taking a talent for making jams and preserves and developing it into what is now one of Orkney’s most cherished food brands.
“We started with just three products. We had strawberry jam, beetroot chutney and rhubarb jam. And then it got more and more and more,” laughs Glynis.
We’re standing in the ‘jam factory’ of Orkney Isles Preserves. It’s a converted bothy across the road from the main farmhouse itself, where Glynis originally began her business. “It just got too big for the farm kitchen. You couldn’t move for jars,” she remembers.
The bothy was converted in 2001, allowing the business to cope with increasing demand. But meeting that demand also meant increased energy costs.
“I was always very interested in renewables and recycling so in 2009 I decided to install a small wind turbine. It provides the electricity for the factory, when the wind blows,” says Glynis.
She’s working over an electric hob in the bothy. Two huge pans are on the go and she pours a bag of sugar into one, coating the bright red strawberries which are being boiled down into jam. Lynsey, her co-worker, tips a chopping board full of tightly-diced apples into the other, as a chutney starts to take shape. Looking out through the kitchen window, the twin blades of the small wind turbine can be seen, spinning enthusiastically in the Orkney breeze.
“It’s a good help with the electricity costs,” explains Glynis. “It’s a six kilowatt turbine. We’ve got four hobs and they’re three kilowatt each so obviously, even if it was working to capacity, it’s not going to be generating everything. But it certainly helps.”
Adopting a green energy approach has also helped with marketing of Glynis’ products.
With consumers increasingly aware of where their food comes from and how it’s produced, highlighting that the energy used has come from a renewable source carries considerable weight.
“I emphasise that,” says Glynis. “My marketing says that the products are made with green energy, and it just helps with the overall costs of everything to keep the business going.”
From its small beginnings Orkney Isles Preserves has grown considerably, increasing that initial range of three products to a mouth-watering thirty, and counting. Glynis employs two members of staff and works closely with other food and drink producers across Orkney, frequently collaborating with the likes of local distilleries.
Running a business in an island community is often about small margins. Viability comes through hard work, initiative and finding ways to minimise overheads, many of which can often be greatly increased in rural areas. Embracing small-scale renewables, and the reduced energy costs that come with that, can be hugely valuable to a business like this.
“It’s made a huge difference to our electricity bills,” says Glynis. Although it also means I don’t like making stuff when the wind isn’t blowing!”
Thankfully, here in Orkney, the wind is not a resource that Glynis is ever likely to run short of.
Find out more about Orkney Isles Preserves.
The Promoting Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.