THE “Goldilocks Principle” is an interesting concept. In essence, it is the theory that if something is too difficult or too easy, it will fail – but if you get the balance between the two just right, you are on to a winner.

I’ve been pondering this theory as I’ve been finding out more about Scottish agritourism in this month dedicated to its promotion.

The organisation was set up in June 2020 to formalise the network of farmers, crofters, and suppliers who have been developing a successful and burgeoning industry.

Agritourism in Scotland is defined as: “Tourism or leisure on a working farm, croft or estate which produces food.” It brings £60 million into the economy, much of it flowing through small communities.

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Many more farmers and crofters have entered the retail business, selling directly to the public through premises on their land or local deliveries.

And this is where Goldilocks comes into it. The popularity of her porridge which was “just right” is, of course, a staple on many of the farmstay breakfast menus, but the Goldilocks Principle is one reason our agritourism sector has enormous potential.

Scotland is a nation with an abundance of farms and crofts. Even if you live in the middle of our largest cities, you are only 50 minutes away from cuddling a lamb and enjoying a wee scone afterwards. Just far enough away for a day out to feel like a holiday, just close enough to be accessible.

Caroline Millar runs The Hideaway Experience from her farm just outside Dundee. It’s only a 10-minute drive from the city, but every one of those minutes counts as the main road twists into lanes turning between fields undulating towards the Sidlaw Range, with large lone trees bending to the cries of the birds above and sheep grazing in the lush grass around the lodges.

The city is in the beyond. It’s just you, the fields, and the sky.

No wonder, then, that Millar has been supporting other farmers into agritourism since 2007, and now is the sector lead, co-chairing the National Agritourism Strategy Implementation Board with Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and the Islands.

The National: Mairi Gougeon has been promoting agritourismMairi Gougeon has been promoting agritourism (Image: PA)

Millar says: “A lot of our visitors are from cities. We have people who come and are astonished by how dark it is at night and can get a bit freaked out when they hear the owls. A lot of people are in search of the perfect Instagram picture, or they are foodies looking for a new food story to tell their dinner guests.

“Farmers are working really hard to tell the story of their food – putting together welcome baskets with produce from five or six local farms, for example. Visitors love it!”

She adds: “We are seeing a huge interest in the sustainability of farming and the welfare of the animals. We have a real opportunity to get more folk on to farms across Scotland. They are more likely to close the gates behind them and keep their dogs on leads because they understand the countryside and feel more connected to it.”

The Scottish Agritourism Strategy aims to get 1000 farms into agritourism and for 50% of those farms to be providing their own food and drink as part of the experience. John Davidson is currently the deputy chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, ahead of moving to take up the post of chief executive at the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland later this summer.

He has a strong understanding of the potential for farmers to put the best of Scotland’s larder on the table. Scotland Food and Drink will launch a new 10-year strategy at next month’s Royal Highland Show, working to build on the successes of the industry while addressing some of the significant challenges facing this crucial sector.

High on the agenda is the importance of Scotland’s brand. Davidson says: “I think clear provenance and local food and drink is fundamental to the success of agritourism. Scotland has a well-deserved reputation as a nation with high standards and green credentials.

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“Generally speaking, the more local the food is, the better.

Scotland is a small country, and the Scottish name itself is a story people want to hear. There is strong demand, and I would encourage farmers and crofters to work with others in their area to enhance our reputation for what we already do extremely well.”

More than 70% of Scotland is farmland. There is huge potential to expand the connection we have with the people and places which grow the food we eat, whether that is spending a night in a yurt, wakening to fresh scones or perfect porridge; enjoying a day out at one of the many visitor experiences farms offer; or exploring the produce sold by your local farm through a veg box scheme, a farmers’ market, or on-farm shops.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign.