They may not be joined at the hip like they were as children, but the sisters behind Guardswell Farm and Guardswell Grows work hand in hand.
For most of Anna and Kirstin Lamotte’s childhood, the duo would be out on their family farm, uncovering a whole world while crafting their dens.
The 150 acres of grassland that make up Guardswell Farm are situated between the Perthshire villages of Abernyte and Kinnaird, which is a multi-purpose rural venue, offering a contemporary twist on farm accommodation.
Run by the Lamotte family since 2011, Kirstin and Anna’s family once operated herb farm Scotherbs in Errol, with every generation of their family now involved in Guardswell.
Launching her own vegetable growing business two years ago on the farm, younger sister, 28-year-old Kirstin, has grown Guardswell Grows from scratch, utilising some of her grandad’s and mother’s old polytunnels.
With International Women’s Day and its week-long series of events in full swing, the sisters showcase just how well family can work together.
Anna, 30, is responsible for the farm operation and has diversified the business since 2017, offering it out as a wedding venue, and organising a range of unique events which sees the public learn more about the countryside by attending workshops or staying in one of their various huts/accommodation on the premises.
She said: “I run the Guardswell Farm side of the business and it is more sort of agri-tourism-based. We have a farm venue which we hold events, workshops, have a cookery school and hold weddings at. It is a multi-use rural space and we have huts and houses that we have on the farm too to get people back into nature.
“When I started Guardswell Farm, Kirstin was away working in Canada and when she came back she wanted to start Guardswell Grows. We grew up on a herb farm and were always at trade shows, talking to chefs about the produce and that sort of thing. We were just young kids running around and having the best time.
“We were pretty close when we were kids and Kirstin was definitely the more bossy one which is unusual for being the little sister. We were really fortunate to have one of those upbringings where we could go outside and just go and get on with it. We had dens in every corner of the farm although people are more nervous of allowing their kids to do that as much. Our grandparents lived there, too, so we had this multi-generational family all in one place.”
Keen to pick up where her mother and grandad left off, Kirstin decided after working on an organic veg farm in Canada that she would grow and sell her own produce.
She said: “The idea of growing veg came into my head when I went to Canada around four years ago. I was in British Columbia and worked on a four-acre mixed vegetable organic farm. I fell in love with it and loved growing good-quality food which was good for people and the Earth.
“Growing up, my mum and my grandad ran a herb farm for around 25 years called Scotherbs, so me and Anna were always around helping to plant and grow things.
“When I came back from Canada they had sold the herb farm and there was the green house and polytunnels still there, so I got thinking about what I could do. Now I use them to grow my veg.
“I think part of the fun is being able to grow a mix of different things. People can come and try a mix of produce. It is also beneficial because if one crop doesn’t work or fails, then there’s all these other crops to bounce back on.”
Situated at the bottom of the drive to the farm lies a horsebox which has now been converted into a veg store. In the horsebox, Kirstin has organised an honesty box which customers can put money into when picking up their veg, meaning they can come and go as they please.
“We have an honesty box farm stand at the end of the drive which we made from an old horsebox. The last two seasons we’ve been filling it twice a week on a Tuesday and Friday so people can just get their veg there,” said Kirstin.
“We’ve been putting some eggs, potatoes and bread in it too, and we did a few farmers’ markets like the Perth one. Two seasons ago we had a farmers’ market at Guardswell which ran monthly and we organised it all ourselves. It was great and was a lot of fun.
“Hopefully we’ll do it again as everyone seemed to love it. We didn’t manage to do it last year because of Covid. We also did veg boxes every week and we supply Fraser’s Fruit & Veg in Dundee – he’s always been very local in buying our veg in summer. We’ve just opened the farm box this weekend, so we’ve got some produce like salads, spinach and things ready for people to enjoy.”
Working with family
Working on the same farm, Anna and Kirstin bounce ideas off one another all the time and are forever helping each other to better both of their businesses.
Anna said: “We work really closely together because they are so complementary of each other. We see each other every day and we’re pretty much under the same brand and work with each other and play off each other.”
Kirsten added: “It is great working with Anna. Our businesses are still sort of individual, although they do run alongside each other. We’re not on top of each other. I love working with her because she’s always got great ideas and is really motivated. It is good to have someone who is always going to have your back – I guess that’s the big benefit of working with family as they are always going to look out for you. Even though there can be some head clashes! I’d say 99% of the time we’re looking out for each other. Our family are all pretty close.”
While the veg firm has just reopened for the season with salads and a small range of produce available, Anna is looking forward to being able to reopen her agri-tourism business and welcome guests back to the farm.
Popular with weddings, she knows the next few years will be busy with couples having to reschedule events and ceremonies due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We used to do farm lunches, brunches and pop-up dinners and all the veg and herbs would come from Kirstin and she’d stand up and do a bit of a talk about it during the event,” said Anna.
“It has been really tough and with the majority of Guardswell Farm’s income generating from weddings and events, it has been quite challenging. These bigger events usually bankrolled more socially impactful elements of what we offer like kids’ growing workshops, so they have been wiped out as we haven’t had a wedding since March last year.
“Our properties are quite large and the fact our huts are out in the middle of nowhere is quite frustrating at times – we have such regimented cleaning practices in place and they would really help with people’s mental health. It would be nice to get people back here.
“It is frustrating we aren’t open just now but hopefully we’ll be able to reopen soon. I guess we have another challenge on our hands as we run weddings every second weekend and other food events in between. But what has happened is we have to fit in all the postponed bookings and are now booked up a year in advance. The next year is looking very wedding heavy. It will take us a wee while to get back to what we did with the other events.
“We also want to do animal husbandry with our angora goats and Hebridean sheep and we want to get more people interested in that side of our business. People will also be able to come out for a volunteer day and get to know how to farm and that sort of thing.”