Crofting: national development plan

This plan highlights the core elements necessary to ensure that crofting remains at the heart of our rural and remote rural communities.

Local Food Networks and Agri-Tourism

Local food chains play an important role in ensuring that households and communities get access to food. The Scottish Government is keen to encourage the building of, and participation in, local food networks.

One, commonly used definition of a local food network, is provided by the Permaculture Association: "Local food networks seek to ensure that food is grown and processed as close as possible to those who are going to eat it. Local food networks seek to create communities of producers and consumers of local food and to support local food initiatives"

The Scottish Government wants to encourage crofters, and other local producers, to work collaboratively to develop their businesses, share knowledge, access new markets, and connect with others in the food and drink sector. Crofting is ideally placed to bolster local food networks with its small-scale sustainable food production. It is widely acknowledged that many crofters produce high quality food such as beef, pork, lamb, mutton, fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey.

Why do local food networks matter?

  • They bring producers and consumers of food closer together. This fosters a greater understanding of where food comes from and how it is produced, and engenders more respect for the people, families and businesses producing the products.
  • It also creates 'communities' of people and producers who have shared values, shared interest in keeping money in the local economy, closer relationships between local people and, arguably, healthier societies. Such relationships go way beyond the simple, transactional act of purchasing food.
  • Local food networks are also characterised by the quality of their fresh produce and the standards they uphold, with an emphasis on environmental sustainability, high welfare, full traceability and, in some cases, organic principles.
  • They provide an outlet for small-scale producers that would struggle to gain sales in mainstream retail or food service markets.
  • There has been an explosion in interest in local food over recent years and Scottish consumers place a lot of trust in produce from the country. For example, Scotland Food and Drink (SF&D) Provenance Perception research 2019, showed that:
  • 69% of Scottish shoppers claim that they would be more likely to buy a product labelled 'Scottish'.
  • 49% of Scottish shoppers claim that they would be willing to pay more for Scottish produce.
  • Local food is a significant contributor to the Scottish economy. According to Connect Local, Scotland's former local food advisory service, the value of the local food and drink sector growth was £440 million in 2017.

Regional Food Groups

Scotland Food and Drink, the industry body for food and drink businesses, manages a network of 15 regional food groups across Scotland, including a number in the crofting counties of Orkney, Shetland, and Argyll & Bute. Groups are cooperative associations of individuals and businesses, including producers, hospitality, and tourism enterprises, with the aim of promoting and growing their area's food and drink economies via business support and food tourism development.

In September 2020, during 'Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight', SF&D announced a new £250,000 fund, supported by the Scottish Government, to fund coordinator posts across the groups for a 12-month period. The posts are match-funded from other partners including local authorities. This new programme aims to create an active network of regional ambassadors who work in conjunction with local authorities to promote regional food and drink and tourism strategies.


Agri-tourism diversification increases economic stability by reducing financial risk, stabilising croft or farm income, and reducing the reliance on agricultural support. Agri-tourism and croft diversification will have an important role as part of rural tourism, as it supports:

  • rural economies.
  • business resilience, enabling crofts and farms to endure uncertain times and potential economic shocks.
  • better use of land assets.
  • opportunities for tourists from both home and abroad to better appreciate our iconic rural landscapes which are a significant draw for many of our visitors.

Agri-tourism provides a platform to increase food security and highlight the role that crofts and farms play. It encourages a better appreciation of the provenance of good wholesome home produced food, and it also highlights the need to lower food miles, particularly given the need to deliver an effective response to the climate change challenge.

In the 2020/21 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government set out its ongoing commitment to supporting the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) and rural communities, to help us move towards a safe, strong and green recovery for tourism. Building on the work of the RTIF, and the £9 million that the Scottish Government has already committed, the government will explore how continued support may be provided for our most vulnerable locations, many of which are in crofting areas and where agri-tourism businesses are located.

The Scottish Government will work with Scotland Food and Drink to connect crofters with the network of regional food groups.

The Scottish Government will establish a project group to review the crofting brand marque, and map networks of current crofters who produce food.

The Scottish Government will source support to project manage a crofting food network.

The Scottish Government will deliver training to equip crofters with the skills to market their goods and promote their business.

The Scottish Government will continue to support agri-tourism through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

Case Study

Helen O’Keefe

In January 2021, Helen O'Keefe won the Scottish Crofting Federation's 'Young Crofter of the Year' award.

"I came to the North West Highlands from Australia in 2015, after falling in love with the land and the people while on holiday the previous year. I grew up on a small farm and wanted to get back to some kind of agriculture, specifically to be able to grow and sell real food, not just to keep animals and garden for fun.

I was fortunate to be able to purchase three crofts and the Elphin Tearooms, with help from my mother who had moved over from Australia to help me both financially and with labour. The Tearooms provides an outlet for croft produce, both in the kitchen and direct to consumers. Elphin has many skilled, productive backyard vegetable growers and several crofters who already sell meat and eggs direct to customers. I wanted to highlight this and show the public the potential of crofting townships for food production, and provide an easy route to market to encourage others to grow more and sell direct.

We added our small farmshop in 2019, to sell meat and vegetables provided by myself, another crofter, and several other domestic gardeners. Working together as a community provides benefits to us all by sharing branding, marketing and distribution costs, and providing a larger range of products to attract more customers.

In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, my neighbour and I made the decision to start an online food hub on the Open Food Network called 'The Green Bowl', through which we could continue to sell local meat (beef, pork and mutton), eggs, vegetables, soft fruit, herbs and baked goods to surrounding areas. We take orders once a week and deliver to Ullapool or have pickups from Elphin. We have also delivered to wider Assynt and Coigach. Our suppliers are all within Elphin and Knockan, with myself and another crofter supplying the meat and eggs, and other products supplied by us and four other non-crofting neighbours. We hope to expand our horticultural produce next year, with each producer growing more, but also by bringing in more producers. The Green Bowl has been a big success, with a very positive response from the area. There is strong demand for local food, and the ordering and delivery system that we have in place works well for our customers and us. Selling through The Green Bowl helps us to sell more food to local people, which we really value.

I have a flock of about 100 sheep, mostly pedigree Shetlands, breeding for wool, meat and live sales. I sell fleeces direct to spinners and crafters, and have wool spun into yarn to sell directly to knitters. All cull animals (mostly two year old wethers) are taken to the abattoir and meat is sold directly to customers. I have started crossing a portion of the flock with a Beltex tup to sell store lambs, providing a cash injection and reducing the stock numbers during the winter.

I have created a vegetable garden, a small orchard and three shelter belts, one of which is designed to protect the orchard from wind. I have also planted over 50 trees within the fields to provide shelter and forage for livestock. I have used CAGS to deer fence the crofts, which has been essential for the orchard, vegetable garden and trees, and also, unexpectedly, for successfully cutting and baling our first hay last year. The grass simply does not grow enough for hay with 20 stags eating it each night! I have also used CAGS to purchase a lamb weigh crate which will be very beneficial for my direct meat sales (knowing which sheep to send to the abattoir) and to monitor my store lamb progress (plus more accurate dosing). Subsidised training programmes, run by the Scottish Crofting Federation and the Farm Advisory Service / SAC have been very helpful for me, as well as assistance from SAC staff and our local SGRPID office".



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