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John Sinclair

Course: HND Agriculture
Campus: Edinburgh
Graduated: 1989

John Sinclair owns and runs Craigie’s Farm with his wife Kirsteen. Craigie’s is a 250 acre arable farm, located near South Queensferry, 6 miles from Edinburgh city centre. It boasts a farm shop and café, as well as many activities for visitors, including pick-your-own fruit and bike trails.

John Sinclair from Craigie's Farm

 

John is a big proponent for helping the next generation set up in business. Two groups of students come out from SRUC to visit Craigie’s annually. One group comes out to study John’s orchards and soft fruits as part of their specialised field crop studies. The other groups visit Craigie’s with a view to farm business diversification and entrepreneurship, to see how the café, farm shop and family activities are run.

The Sinclairs have been farming for generations. John had a forward thinking father who had succession planning in place early.

“I knew when I left college that when my dad reached the age of 60, I would be 30, and he would hand me control of the cheque book. He never made it to 60 but I was well prepared to take the business over. I’ve said the same to my son and daughter. It’s really important, that they get support from people who have been successful in business.

“We try to make a conscious effort to not put any pressure on them, ‘you’ve got until you’re 30 to decide’. Deep down we hope they will, but if they don’t we’ve got the business set up in such a way that we can sell it on.”

As well as supporting young people, John sees great value in networking and learning from peers.

“We’re quite involved with the Farm Retail Association Network, which is great. I’ve learnt so much from well established businesses, and now we get a lot of new start ups coming here for help on what to expect in the first few years. It’s a great network, so you’re always learning, always picking up new things.

“The Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme, which is delivered by SAC Consulting, has also been fantastic. It’s helped assist our business growth and helps me, as a leader of the business, set up proper staff structure and get it at a certain level for further growth.”

The farm shop at Craigie's has recently been extended, but John and Kirsteen’s plans for the business continue to grow.

“We’re a 250 acre arable farm so there’s no way you’re going to get a living from that farming conventionally.

“I feel farmers are always developing, improving and bringing on new ideas, and the ones that don’t get stuck in a rut. There will always be enthusiastic young farmers coming along that will take over and grow businesses. It’s quite an exciting time, lots of opportunities.”

At Craigie's, John has two main customer groups: family groups and more elderly customers.

“The challenge is if we do too much down the family side, and get overrun with families with young kids, then it puts off our older clientele. We’ve also found families with young children tend to be less interested in artisan food.

“So we’re looking at a site about a mile down the road, and developing it into my worst nightmare, a kids’ indoor and outdoor play barn."

John and Kirsteen used their networks to find examples of businesses down south in which children's play barns were appended to farm shops.

“What happens is a very successful farm shop basically nose dives.

“So we thought why put our successful farm shop at risk, if we can develop something on a second site? This allows us to focus more on what our core values are, the food and the provenance of the food. So we’re trying to get that balance between our two customer groups right.”

SRUC alumnus John Sinclair from Craigie's Farm, with alumni officer Genevieve Whitson

John highly values education, but sees it as an opportunity for personal development, rather than simply for the official qualification.

“People should go to college to gain more than just knowledge. The social side of things is really important, with all the contacts you make. Quite often you learn how not to do things, and learn from your mistakes as much as anything.

“Further and Higher Education is about trying to get that broad knowledge and being able to think with an open mind. It’s about giving you that breadth of experience and knowledge.

“I disagree with the importance of having letters after your name. We ask anyone that’s applying for a job here for their cv, but probably wouldn’t read half of it, because it’s more the person that we’re interested in.”

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