Fruitful venture

Simon Hogg samples one of his Kersmains produced jams.
Simon Hogg samples one of his Kersmains produced jams.

WITHIN a year of turning a hobby into a business, a jam-making Kelso farmer is looking at expanding out of the kitchen, writes Sally Gillespie.

Kersmains’ Simon Hogg cooked up some jam and chutney on the farmhouse Aga last summer and took it along to the Kelso Sunday market.

Now there’s a sandwich named after the farm and he may need a bigger kitchen.

“We went to the local Sunday market last June, the dog show weekend, with an old decorator’s table and a table cloth. I’d made 42 jars and within two hours we had sold 38.”

After a summer’s trawl round local markets, Simon and his fiancée Ashley Baird now sell the homemade preserves in local shops and at Woodside garden centre where a cafe sandwich is named Kersmains.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking and last summer made some jams and chutney for our own use. Friends tasted them and everybody liked them,” said Simon.

He said he had initially been embarrassed to admit being the creator of the popular homemade goodies.

“A few of my friends were arriving and asking what I was doing and if I’d made it. I blushed but after I realised it was going well, it was fine. I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t making money, but I enjoy it too.”

The pair were inspired by Ashley’s brother Callum in south-west Scotland who sells beef direct to his customers.

Simon, 31, said: “I thought it would be great to have a bit of diversification and something a bit novel.”

He did an agriculture degree at SAC in Edinburgh before working on the farm, travelling for a year and returning in 2004 when he became a consultant with the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC).

“You see how people run their business. I wouldn’t say every business has to diversify but I have seen how diversification can work and how it can be another source of income.

“However, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. I enjoy the cooking side of it and going out and meeting people, and that also raises the profit and your farm profile.”

But going to the markets meant the couple had to set aside weekends to make, jar, label and sell the product.

“We realised we had built up a good customer base. Markets are great and I’m all for them, but we were keen to get into some local shops,” said Simon.

A friend opened Granny Jean’s bakery in Kelso, so Simon took the preserves in to let people taste them and it became the first store to stock them.

Meet the Producer events have followed and the Borders Pantry jams and chutneys are now available in Pharlanne and John Scotts in Jedburgh

Simon has a logo and the jar labels are printed professionally rather than produced on his computer at home.

“I have played around with the recipes but I’ve kept them very traditional. I keep the fruit whole. The flavours that sell the best are strawberry, raspberry, mixed fruit, and the usual chutneys.”

He hopes to expand to supply bed-and-breakfasts, guesthouses and hotels.

“It’s amazing how, not even a year on, we will have to decide, if we get more orders, whether to build something on the farm.

“We’re just going to keep going and see how we get on.”