Cultivating Organic Tourism in Scotland
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference to a trip away and at The Lint Mill the home produce, the fresh flowers, home-made cakes and bookshelves stacked with games, jigsaws, novels and maps and a grand piano, all make this a special place to stay.
But what about the friendly Golden Guernsey goats Eva, Loki and Strega with their cheeky kids? How about the noisy guard geese Miss Bennett, Cyrano and Amelie? Tempted by a proper organic breakfast with fresh produce from their very own kitchen garden, orchard and livestock?
I talked to Colin and Deborah Richardson-Webb who have been running The Lint Mill for almost a decade about self-sufficiency and how running an organic smallholding and green tourism go hand in hand.
So tell me more about the smallholding, what are you growing and rearing on site?
Since moving to The Lint Mill we have created a large kitchen garden with lots of raised beds, a 48ft polytunnel, two fledgling orchards and a soft fruit cage. There is always a good selection of home grown organic vegetables available throughout the year, from early purple sprouting broccoli, through many varieties of bean, cabbage, salad crops and root vegetables in the winter.
We have a particular interest in traditional and native breeds, and we produce our own rare breed, organic pork, lamb, mutton and eggs. We breed mainly Soay sheep but have a couple of ‘old ladies’ who are Shetland and Hebridean ewes. We currently have British Saddleback x British Landrace pigs, Scots Grey and Scots Dumpy hens and of course our golden goats.
The food served to our guests is almost all home produced from the fruit and vegetables we grow, to bacon cured onsite, sausages, lamb, pork, chicken and, eggs. We also use the goats’ milk to make soap for ourselves and our guests.
What inspired you to start the B&B and share your experience with others?
The initial instinct that propelled us to move to the country was, like many others who take up smallholding, and as clichéd as it sounds, a search for the ‘good life’. We wanted to find a way to live more simply.
We recognised that to make the smallholding work one of us would have to devote ourselves to it full-time and the other would have to continue in a salaried job. We also recognised that we may need another source of income and that is the reality of how the B&B began. Colin works on the smallholding and the B&B full time and Deborah is a Professor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It soon became clear that we loved sharing our experience with our guests especially as people began to tell us that their visit had inspired them to start growing vegetables in their garden, buy organic food and even in some cases, start to move towards their own dream of living off the land.
How important was it for you to certify organic and go for the Gold Green Tourism Award?
As time has gone on (nearly a decade) we have become much clearer and more politicised about what we are doing here. We know that it is a huge privilege to own land, we have only ever felt like custodians, the land will be here long after us and we want to put more into our land than we take out. We try to employ a subsistence farming model, just growing and rearing enough to feed ourselves and our B&B guests, selling any small excess to our family and friends and engaging in the occasional barter. We aspire to a human scale system, drawing on Schumacher ‘Small is Beautiful’ economic model that enables sustainability.
The Green Tourism Business Scheme was an important way for us to signal our environmental credentials to potential guests. The whole process was useful, especially writing our eco-policy and we were delighted to receive a gold award. We offer our guests simple and non-intrusive ways to help the environment during their stay.
Certifying with the Soil Association was the next logical step. We had always employed organic principles but we wanted to certify with a body that people recognise and trust to make our commitment clear. Once again the process turned out to be useful and interesting, checking that we met, were working towards or exceeding the certification standards. Being part of the Soil Association has enabled us to access lots of helpful advice and information from grassland management to promoting our small business.
What does the future hold for The Lint Mill?
Well, we have just started running smallholding courses as it seemed time to share our experience of thriving and surviving on the land with those who were looking to do the same. Deborah is also a trained facilitator with Natural Change Limited and she is looking to combine this work with her arts and education work in events that offer an opportunity to spend time with the land in creative ways. Colin is an excellent chef so who knows, you may see a pop-up restaurant at The Lint Mill before long.
Fun Fact: what is a Lint Mill?
Lint Mills prepared the fibres of flax plants for spinning into linen (called lint in Scotland). The first were built in the 1720s; in the century which followed some 700 were added. Mechanisation saw the demise of Lint Mills along the Clyde valley and you can see what happened next in the story by visiting New Lanark, a beautifully restored 18th century cotton mill village, just 7 miles away from The Lint Mill.
Our Policy Manager at Soil Association Scotland went along to ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Smallholding’ course and couldn’t stop raving about it. She said:
"Deborah and Colin are an inspirational couple and it was great to see the organic system in practice and how it underpinned the wider ethos of their business. They’re so open to sharing their knowledge and skills and I’m in touch with them now about getting hold of some Scots Grey chickens for my own garden!"
VISIT THE LINT MILL
If you wold like to visit The Lint Mill find out more at their website.