Anna and Ross Mitchell
Founders of Castleton Farm and 2022 Winner of the SRUC Alumni Entrepreneur Network Award for Diversification.
HND Leisure & Recreation Management & BSc (Hons) Agriculture
Campus: SRUC - Auchincruive
Class of 2002
“Castleton Farm is a family business because the Castleton team is our family,”
Ross Mitchell’s decision to study Agriculture on the other side of Scotland from the family farm sealed his fate when on his birthday, three months after arriving at SAC Auchincruive (now SRUC), he met his future wife and business partner Anna.
But as the old saying goes, “Farm in the east, wife from the west!”
There was never a truer word when Anna, who was raised on a dairy farm in Ayrshire and studied Leisure and Recreation Management, moved to Aberdeenshire to begin life with Ross at Castleton.
In 1998, the Mitchell family decided to sell the family’s dairy herd to concentrate their efforts on soft fruit.
“In 2000 the first polytunnels went up which really revolutionised growing fruit in Scotland, protecting our crops from the weather and allowing us to grow higher quality fruit more consistently, providing retailers with the product they wanted,” explains Anna.
Diversification came in 2004 in the form of a seasonal farm shop selling berries, other local produce and ice cream.
“The success of the seasonal retail outlet gave us the confidence to open our purpose-built café and shop,” continues Anna. “We felt we needed the café to create the footfall which would allow us to open all year round.
“I had worked in hospitality previously and had always found it enjoyable. My interest in the industry and the management theory learned during my course certainly laid the foundations to take Castleton to where we are today.”
The first Castleton café and shop was much smaller and has been extended over the years.
“In the beginning, we made jams to sell alongside our scones. The next step was to sell our jam in the shop. We were also selling strawberry tarts in the café, buying in tart jelly. I was horrified to see the ingredient list contained no berries so that led to us producing our own. We were lucky to be able to use the skills of the SAC Consulting development kitchen at Elmwood to formulate the product which is now sold in several retailers as well as commercially. SRUC even use it at the Royal Highland Show in their milkshakes!”
Today Castleton operates an impressive large retail outlet selling its own products as well as food and drink items from other local companies. The busy café has a hundred and eighty covers and serves breakfast and lunches each day. The production kitchen turns out ready meals, home baking as well as jams, vinegars, and tart jelly.
It’s a match made in heaven with Anna in charge of the day-to-day running of the retail operation whilst Ross manages the farm.
“We started with strawberries, then introduced raspberries and blueberries. As far as we are aware we are the most northerly commercial blueberry grower in the world. At the end of the northern hemisphere growing season, we were able to fill a gap in the market. We were then asked to emulate this with cherries so in 2011, we planted Scotland’s first cherry orchard.” explains Anna. “However growing techniques have moved on and the southern hemisphere now produce much earlier, so our production overlaps resulting in us competing with their berries.”
Diversification and technological advances continue on the Mitchell farm. Biomass boilers and CHP units heat the tunnels and create electricity to run the packhouse and provide energy for the farm buildings and accommodation. The farm’s fruit growing season has been extended as a result, starting in March and finishing in early December. At the height of the season, Anna and Ross have around 600 people living and working on the farm. “Castleton Farm is a family business because the Castleton team is our family,” says Anna.
“And on a family farm where everything is done on site, we appreciate how working together, and looking after each other, helps us achieve more.
“Farming is in Ross’ blood through and through. He truly is an entrepreneur and has the passion to follow his dreams.”
An exceptional story of teamwork. The perfect combination.
You will develop independent learning skills and team working skills which will provide a strong foundation for future study and/or employment in the industry.
- BSc/BSc (Hons)
- MA at SCQF level 5
- MA at SCQF level 6
- TA at SCQF Level 8
Food and Drink Manufacturing Industry
The food and drink industry is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector.
- Skills for work
- MA at SCQF level 5
Gain a deeper understanding of the production, marketing and management of organic farming and food. This postgraduate course is delivered part time via distance learning with study weekends on campus.
Rural Business Management
Develop the business skills you need to make a valuable contribution to the rural industries or smaller enterprises.
- Top-up degree
- BA/BA (Hons)