Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

From field to shop

September 7th, 2013

WHAT’S FOR tea tonight? – the first question the family ask when they arrive home after their day’s work. It’s also the quirky name of the distinctly different farm shop at Burn of Balmakelly Farm on the St Cyrus road mid-way between Marykirk and Laurencekirk on the A937.

Marie Thomson was a busy physiotherapist and, driving home each evening to farmer husband Barry and two hungry teenagers, found herself asking the self-same question when she stopped at farm shops to buy something tasty for the family’s evening meal.

In 2007 she took the plunge, opening her own farm shop which has rapidly grown into a full-time business with some very green credentials.

Starting with basics – garden produce that her family enjoyed – peas in the pod, early potatoes, beetroot, lettuce, leeks, carrots, brassicas, it soon was clear this was what her customers wanted too. She took over two fields on the farm to expand her growing programme.

A farmer’s daughter as well as farmer’s wife she has firm views on best horticultural practise and sustainability. A strong believer in traditional crop rotation, she also favours the use of natural livestock manure and mulching with natural material such as grass cuttings – helping to retain moisture in the ground. Rainwater collected off the farm building roofs reduces the need for expensive irrigation.

So far as possible Marie grows her fruit and vegetables from seed rather than buying in plants. This helps ensure traceability and customers know from her farming methods that what they are eating has been grown in as natural a way as possible

She believes in growing for taste and freshness, not for appearance. A knobbly, twisted carrot gives the same health benefit as a poker straight one. Harvested that morning, fresh from field to shop with no road mileage – it’s why her customers come to her.

The shop has an appetising range of choice to take home for tea. Poultry, beef, pork, game are all sourced as locally as possible for quality, and meet strict traceability requirements. Local bread and oatcakes, cheeses, oilseed rape cooking oil from Aberdeenshire, soft fruit in season, hand made preserves and much more, fill the shelves.

Ensuring that the shop is stocked with seasonal produce year-round requires careful planning. Spring is the leanest time in the growing year but polytunnels and protective agricultural fleece help extend the growing seasons to provide late cropping of winter produce and early cropping in summer.

And Marie has her own tips. She’ll advise you to use turnip tops in spring when there’s a shortage of other green vegetables. You can steam them, stir fry them, put them in soups, stews, curries – delicious!

Neighbour Vera Aitken assists in the shop and is as knowledgeable about the produce and its treatment as her boss. Both girls appreciate the value of personal contact with customers and the benefits it brings.

Customers ask for help selecting the most appropriate vegetable for a particular meal, and also advice on cooking methods. For instance, Marie recommends that lean water buffalo requires a slower, longer cooking process.

Describing herself as a farmer’s daughter with dirt under her finger nails, Marie has a passion for converting her customers to locally grown farm produce. Most of all she wants to inspire her customers to think about what they are eating.

A buzzard rose from the grass verge as I drove past. Reversing back I found a dead hen pheasant in the deep grass, its breast stripped of feathers. The buzzard thought it knew what was for tea that night, but I had disturbed its meal.

The pheasant was quite cold, rigor mortis had set in, and it had clearly been dead some time – doubtless a hit and run casualty.

There’s still a bit of a dispute whether buzzards are true raptors or whether they are carrion feeders. My own view is that they are a bit of both.

The dead pheasant in this instance was unquestionably carrion. On the other hand I’ve heard of several sightings of buzzards plucking red squirrels from high branches, and red legged partridge and rabbits are known to be favourite prey.

Looks like they are opportunist feeders, never passing up the chance of a meal.

Written on Saturday, September 7th, 2013 at 6:14 pm for Weekly.