By Karen Carruth

Diversifying a 250-acre arable farm in South Queensferry into one of Scotland’s best-known and respected farm shops in the form of Craigie’s Farm Deli and Café, has given John Sinclair years of experience in his field.

Experience and knowledge that he freely shares – and one of the reasons he was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the recent Farm Retail Awards, organised by the Farm Retail Assocation (FRA), held at the Nottingham's Belfry.

Rob Copley, chair of FRA, said: “John is such a worthy winner of the Lifetime Achievement award. He was an esteemed member of the FRA committee for more than 15 years as well as running a hugely popular and successful farm and farm shop near Edinburgh.

“Not only is John highly respected in the industry, he is also a genuinely lovely person and we are so grateful to him for all his hard work and loyalty to FRA. His accolade is very much deserved.”

The award came as a complete surprise to John, though he suspected his wife, Kirsteen, had some prior knowledge. He said: “It was strange to hear your obituary read out in public,” but he’s really pleased to have received the award.

“I don’t really think I am doing anything different to the other guys who are on the council of the FRA, I receive it as a pat on the back for the rest of the sector.”

John is known for his openness for sharing information about the business of farm shops, and his encouragement of people coming into the sector. He doesn’t see it as competition, he is always happy to sit around a table and have a chat.

Currently, he is part of a group of farm shop owners that meet every few months and talk about developments and how they can take the sector forward.

John said he got this attitude from his father, who passed away at aged just 57. He taught him that if something wasn’t working on the farm, learn from it, change it and move on. An attitude that isn’t always common in farming, but one that has served John and his business well.

John is a fourth-generation farmer at Craigie’s Farm, just north of Edinburgh, he and his wife picked up the struggling dairy and beef farm from his parents, who had by then started planting soft fruits, with a shoogly table at the end of the road selling his mum’s home-made jam, and has turned it into what is regarded as one of the UK’s leading farm shop destinations.

Today, it welcomes 260,000 customers each year and John is known for trying new ideas and following through until they are working like clockwork. And this year he is in the final stages of doubling the footprint of the farm shop which will see a brand new play barn and 150-seater café open by the end of the year.

A man that is rarely idle, he has been a RHASS board member for 12 years, recently taking on the role of chief steward of public safety and he is also honorary treasurer, which he enjoys immensely.

Encouraging the youth of today is very important to John. Hundreds if not thousands of children from local schools and colleges have been on educational visits to Craigie’s.  

He said on this subject: “One of the biggest problems farmers face is that there is a whole generation who don’t know where their food comes from or how it is produced.

“There is a big issue where people are not cooking with raw ingredients and farmers are in the ideal position to help educate the public, to bring them onto the farm and show them what good food is, where it comes from, and how it is farmed.

“We still do lots of school visits here, we are an ideal set up to take the kids around, it just organising the time to devote to it. Though when they are here I love it, but my goodness it is exhausting, I don’t know how teachers do it.”

John credited his team at Craigie’s for allowing him to remove himself from the day to day running of the business and to concentrate on strategy and where the business is going, as he says you can’t sit still in this business.

He said: “I joined RHASS and FRA at a time when the business was just developing here, and I remember being in meetings and my phone would be buzzing away, with some disaster or other that had happened.

“Then I would get a call to say: 'It’s fine, we’ve fixed it.' By removing myself it gave the staff the confidence to make these decisions, and know they weren’t going to do anything that would harm the business.”

He said he had really enjoyed watching the career paths of his staff develop. The general manager started at Craigie’s clearing tables and had worked her way up to a position of responsibility, which gave him great satisfaction.

On his time on council of FRA, John said: “The FRA has gone through a period of change lately, taking on a new managing agent in the form of the Great Yorkshire Show Society, which is moving the organisation forward again. The council got a lot of criticism for changing the managing agent, but we could see where we wanted the association to be, and we stuck at it, and it is in a better position for it.

“It was particularly telling at the conference as numbers were back up to where they were around five years ago. I have now left the council to devote time to my other obligations, but the business is still a member.

“The FRA is a tremendous association, it offers financial benefits to those in the retail farm business sector, including a good rebate from cash and carrys, good credit card terminal rates, but the biggest benefit is the network of people involved.

“You can just pick up the phone and chat with people who face the same issues, whether it is till systems or staff bonuses, we share the information freely.”

Modest as he is as to why he was given the award, those around him clearly appreciate the work he has put into all the organisations he is involved in.