I first met Ruth Harris a couple if years ago, and she’s a lady you can’t help but like. Her enthusiasm, for the meat she produces, and the welfare of her animals is infectious. A couple of hours at Harris Farm Meats can pass by very quickly as you browse the produce in the shop, wander round the farm, and generally chat about food. I asked Ruth to tell us more about the journey her and her family are on.
How long have you been at the farm?
I took over Farm about fifteen years ago, I have always been around farms and have fond memories of summer holidays in the Highlands, accompanying my uncle down Scotland’s hidden glens to a make shift shearing station. The Shepherds would appear from all angles with a dog in tow, hundreds of sheep straight off the mountains, and the day would be full of the buzz of sheep shearing, stopping only for a sandwich lunch break accompanied by an assortment of farmhouse baking. I loved it and it was only during this time that I ever heard my uncle shout, he would roar tremendously at any shearer that would cut the sheep or treat them with anything other that total respect and empathy. I learned about farming through doing it, I believe this is the only way and you always learn something new.
Why goats, rare breed pigs and mutton, they may seem like a fairly niche market, even as recently as five years ago?
I diversified into Boer goats and rare breed pork for various reasons. Farming is an increasing struggle in Scotland, it took over two years finding the right quality breeding stock, and the price was never up for negotiation as quality costs money. I was passionate about giving animals the very best, and going back to simple traditional farming and producing meat like it used to taste. I was also clear in my mind that I would only do this on small scale, incorporating simple traditional farming and the very highest animal welfare.
I was passionate about giving animals the very best, and going back to simple traditional farming and producing meat like it used to taste
The fact that rare breed pigs have a provenance, have not been manipulated for quick growth and commercial gain for me is paramount. Nature at is best. I produce traditional food and source when required from like minded farmers , my produce shouldn’t be niche , it should be back to basic good old fashioned quality farm food, not mass produced, but reared with the passion of an animal lover and the hunger of a farmer. It should be accessible for all have full traceability and always be slow grown as nature intended.
You focus on high welfare, can you tell me something about this ethos?
High animal welfare should be the easiest for a farmer to do, for me a farmer must be an animal lover. Empathy and compassion should be natural. Someone once asked me what the difference was between a femal and male farmer , my husband spoke up and said they put human emotions on to their animals. He is extremely proud that I do this, and for me this should be my animals absolute right. I enjoy meat and know that it’s hard to buy ethical meat, real ethical meat, not one that has a fancy label on it. I know that my animals have the very best and it’s care before business every time. My animals are comfortable around people and live a natural as possible stress free life. It’s always hard when they go…..and it always should be.
You’re building up the farm shop focusing on local producers, is this something you think people will want more and more?
I am blown away by my customers demand for local produce and desire to get away from the commercial food industry, I would love to see a local cooperative in all towns of local meat, seasonal fruit and vegetables, baking, and other produce. There are so many small artisan produces we just need more people to really care what the buy and eat and help local communities feed themselves . My customers also want quality local produce, traditional tastes, and care about animal welfare, my farm shop offers this.
Your children all help out, how important do you think it is for children to understand produce and provenance of their food?
Most of my children support me on the farm, my son Jamie and daughter Charlotte work daily on farm , the others help when asked, however all are incredibly knowledgable about the journey their food takes from field to plate. They have respect for the animals and have gained an understanding on what traceability, quality, and animal care means. I open my farm up to visitors and happily show them were their food comes from, I explain what provenance and slow grown mean, and how animals should be cared for, and the respect I demand for my animals. Children are encouraged to ask questions and they get a truthful answer, they need to know what goes in to their food, and that animals are valuable not just in monetary terms but ethically. A lot of people and not just children have little understanding of where food comes from, you can’t respect what you put in your body if you don’t know where and how it was produced.
What animals are your favourite?
I love all my animals for different reasons, some of my goats are verging on mischievous and would give Houdini a run for his money, others just love a cuddle and some human company. Goats are extremely expressive, they talk in so many ways, I adore them. They do require a huge amount of care and attention, rearing goats in Scotland is challenging and pushed farming knowledge to its limit. I’m always learning and they always throw something new at me. The health qualities of goat meat is incredible but the bottom line is that it is stunningly diverse, and beautifully tasty meat. My rare breed and Kune Kune pigs offer something completely different from the goats, the Kune Kune especially are wonderful to have. Pigs are funny, they have strong characters and moving pigs from one field to another is never simple, never dull and always gives you a giggle. The meat quality in the rare breed is second to none, inter muscular fat density is perfect in these free range pigs, the natural instinct to root around and forage allows muscle to develop naturally and slowest, as one 84yr old customer put it ‘this is how meat used to taste when I was a young girl’. That makes me happy.
Where would you like Harris farm meats to be in the coming years?
I would like Harris Farm Meats to continue to source local ethical quality produce, I would like to see more consumers engaged in where their food comes from and ethical statues of producing the food. The slogan field to plate is important, local food should be in local schools and hospitals, and should be accessible and affordable to all. I would like to start a training farm for children and adults with learning disabilities to gain an understanding of animal care and welfare, as well as a therapeutic side to the farm for those with a dementia, complex needs or requiring mental health support needs; plus a small cafe supporting local run by those with additional support needs. I would like to give children greater access to the farm to learn where their food comes from and gain an understanding in slow grown ethical eating, agriculture and farm life. Wherever I go the ethos of always putting the care of my animals first, and producing quality traditional farm food will always remain.