INTERVIEW WITH SARAH MCBURNIE
TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE UNST REGENERATION
U.R.G.E. is an enterprise (or could perhaps be called a co-operative), whereby a few like-minded people have got together with the specific aim of growing as wide a range as possible of chemical-free fruit, herbs, salad and vegetable produce on Unst, the most northerly island in Britain (part of the Shetland Islands). They also offer advice and expertise to other companies looking to complete similar projects.
- U.R.G.E – First Harvest for Farmers Market
1. What is the aim behind U.R.G.E?
To make Unst self sufficient in fresh produce with the smallest carbon footprint and eventually supply the rest of Shetland.
2. How is the local community involved?
Everyone is welcome to visit the site to source seasonal produce direct, pick our brains on food production, get advice on recycling, natural fertilisers and anything we can help with.
3. How does it benefit the local community?
Truly fresh food with no chemicals involved means lots of healthy people.
4. Can visitors to Unst be involved or can they visit U.R.G.E?
Yes, we have lots of visitors, both locals and tourists and any help is very welcome.
5. What produce do you grow?
Almost everything you can think of from apples, cherries, grapes, raspberries and strawberries to salad leaves, herbs, brassicas, beans, chillies tomatoes and cucumbers. We make chutneys and pickles, dried herbs and produce free range hen & duck eggs.
- U.R.G.E – growing cherries
6. How difficult has it been to grow this produce on Unst?
The difficult bit has been developing the growing areas, making the soil and building the protection (from the weather & pests) the food grows as long as we water it.
7. Have you received any recognition for U.R.G.E?
Yes, we won the Shetland Amenity Trust Environmental Award for chemical free food production in 2008 and are now being held up as a perfect example of what can be achieved with little money, marginal land and lots of effort and determination. I have also been invited as a guest speaker to 4 events between Sept and Nov 2010 to enlighten people as to what can be achieved.
8. How would you like to see U.R.G.E progress within the next 5-10 years?
We would like to develop all the land we have bought in order that the really hard work is over (our aim is for ten poly tunnels eventually plus a lot of rigs and raised beds) then we can spend the winters replenishing the growing areas and preparing them for the next season.
9. Would you like to see this scheme replicated on other remote islands? is it sustainable?
Definitely, but a lot of people don’t want to work for only free food (we have probably put about 20,000 unpaid hours into URGE so far), satisfaction and the exercise for the years before the project is fully fledged and able to provide paid work but it is definitely sustainable with enthusiasm and energy only.
10. Where can I find more information on U.R.G.E
On the U.R.G.E website. There is also a link on See Shetland Tours and in The Yellow Book (Gardens of Scotland).
- U.R.G.E – Poly Tunnel