Wilma and David Finlay of Cream o' Galloway in Dumfries and Galloway
"We have a business to run but we also believe that we have a duty of care for our community, our animals and our environment."
Cream o' Galloway is a 340ha farm on the edge of a National Scenic Area in south-west Scotland, with 90 Ayrshire cows, a small Angus suckler herd and 500 ewes. The business includes ice cream production and tourism, with a family visitor centre and woodland (with nature trails) which welcomes over 70,000 visitors a year. David and Wilma have won many awards, including BBC Radio 4's Farmer of the Year 2006 and a Green Tourism Gold Award. Cream O' Galloway ice cream is sold across the UK.
When did you go organic?
David: We started the business in 1993 – just six months after we first met! Wilma attended a two day course on ice cream making, having previously worked in IT in Glasgow. We launched at the Royal Highland Show in 1994 and opened the farm to the public two weeks later. We gradually built the business, re-investing every penny, and finally took the plunge and went organic in 1999.
Describe your typical day
Wilma: David is usually up at 6am to attend stock and meet staff. I usually surface about half an hour later and I'm at the office around 8am. My role is much more office bound than David's: he is the imaginative visionary, while I try to keep everything on an even keel, making sure the finances stack up and organising the day to day running of the business. We try to have lunch together to discuss and agree any major outstanding issues. We’ll meet up again at dinner, where we always cook from scratch. We're usually in bed by 10 - apart from pub quiz nights on Wednesdays!
Organic principles: why do they matter?
Wilma: We have a business to run but we also believe that we have a duty of care for our community, our animals and our environment. Organic principles deliver these outcomes more certainly than any other at the present time.
What are your plans for the future?
David: Consolidation and continued gradual expansion. We have a farm-based local community wind turbine, ground source heating system, and solar panel installations but we plan to reduce our ecological footprint further and to develop our animal welfare and generate quality jobs.
What other organic ventures do you admire and why?
David and Wilma: Before we diversified we visited the Roskilly's Farm in Cornwall. If we hadn't met them 15 years ago we wouldn't be doing what we are now. Low Sizergh Barn, Cumbria, and Ian Miller at Jamesfield in Perthshire, because they have all had a real go and risked everything. Patrick Holden, because of his conviction and passion.
What would you have done differently?
Wilma: We tried to tackle the multiple market with limited success, but major capital cost. In hindsight we should have focused on local food and tourism. Tourism in particular has kept us alive financially.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
David: To do what you believe is right, without upsetting too many people en route.
What is the biggest threat to what you do?
Wilma: Organic cheats and GMOs.
How can the organic market be improved?
David and Wilma: If we can raise awareness of the environmental, socio-economic and health benefits of organic farming, then the market for organic food will grow significantly. Rising energy costs, public opinion, and the environmental impact of industrial farming means organic farming will reach a tipping point. Our experiences have reinforced our opinion that producers must stick together to survive the vicious downward price pressures from global markets – and to successfully negotiate with the multiples.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
David and Wilma: Undoubtedly having an open and enquiring mind again. There are so many others – healthy animals, increased biodiversity, reduced vet bills, a belief in your products, but engaging with others who are trying to find ways of doing things differently is of great benefit to us.
What is the key to your success?
David and Wilma: We make a good team. David is the innovative, out of the box thinker, while Wilma is happy to deal with the detail of processing, marketing and the paperwork. Both of us have very determined streaks and tend not to take no for an answer.
What keeps you awake at night?
David and Wilma: Wilma is lucky, she can sleep through just about anything. But David is more of a worrier - there are inevitable potential niggles during the building of our new dairy system, which will no doubt have David up at 3 in the morning working out alternatives.
What do you find most frustrating about what you do?
David and Wilma: We have been selling our beef, lamb and milk at little more than the non-organic price for the past 18 months. Yet the beef, lamb and milk appear on the shelf at a premium of 20-30% or more. This enables the critics of organics to dismiss organic food as overprice, elitist food.
This price premium could be the result of profiteering middle men, inefficiencies in the organic food chain, or maybe just the extra cost of tracing organic food through a conventional food system. Maybe a bit of all three. But the depressing fact is that as the system operates at the moment, no matter how competitive we are at the farm gate, we are never likely to be price competitive by the time our products reach the customer.
How can we get more people to buy organic?
David and Wilma: We don’t want to put a downer on this, but we believe this is only going to happen when the availability of cheap energy becomes a major issue. At the moment some people who are sympathetic to organic farming feel they shouldn’t 'display their wealth' by buying organic products in austere times. But we have little doubt that within 5 years, organic farming methods of production will be much sought after by small family farms and organic food will be more on a par pricewise.
Supermarkets - good or bad?
David and Wilma: Neither good nor bad. They are the preferred conduit from the producer to customer and reflect the buying habits of our society.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
David and Wilma: Step aside and ask Caroline Lucas to take over.
The world would be a better place if...
David and Wilma: We internalised the costs of all our activities. We would not have found ourselves in the current situation if we had had to pay the true cost of environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. The sooner we start doing this the sooner societies across the world will benefit.
When were you happiest?
David and Wilma: Probably right now. We have been re-energised by our plans to build a new dairy which will break the mould in so many ways. We are planning a system where dairy calves stay with their mothers and the cows are milked once a day. We are also changing the breed to be more dual purpose. Being busy and being challenged makes us happy – though we know that there will be inevitable friction along the way.
What is your favourite word?
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
Laptop and wi-fi connection
Is the customer always right?
David and Wilma: If the customer has all the information about what they are buying – how it is produced and the impact it has on society – then yes the customer is always right. If we don’t agree with customers' decisions, then it means we haven't put forward a persuasive enough case.
To find out more about Cream o' Galloway, visit www.creamogalloway.co.uk