The humble tomato originated in the South American Andes where they grew wild before being cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 AD. The tomato did not arrive in Europe until the 16th century, (where it was known as the Peruvian Apple), with Spanish conquistadors, Jesuit priests and even Christopher Columbus being given credit for bringing them from the other side of the Atlantic. Back in the 1950's and 1960's, the Clyde Valley was producing enough tomatoes to feed Scotland with plenty left over to satisfy a healthy export market, keeping hundreds of growers in business, Unfortunately, an increase in cheaper imported tomatoes form across the EU seen all but three producers go out of business.
After the fall of the Clyde Valley, J&W Craig was the largest of the remaining growers left however after working for 40 years, for the business set up by his grandfather in 1910, owner Jim Craig called it a day and retired from the tomato growing game.
Thankfully, tomatoes are set to make a return to Clyde Valley thanks to a £100,000 plus rescue package funded by Clydesdale Bank, South Lanarkshire Council and Scotherbs, under the newly launched Clyde Valley Tomatoes brand. This new venture which is run by David Craig (no relation), under the tutelage of tomato growing expert Jim, who plans on growing up to 140 tonnes of tomatoes in his first year of production.
Here's their story;
How did you get started?I always wanted to run my own business, but didn’t quite know what. In May 2012, I was introduced to Jim Craig (former owner of J&M Craig) through a mutual acquaintance, and I immediately thought “yip, I want to grow tomatoes”. 14 years experience in the food industry helped pull the business plan together.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Where there is a will, there is a way. Investigate every avenue, and talk to as many people as you can. Oh, and never burn your bridges behind you, you never know when you might want to lean on an former colleague, customer or contact.
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years time?
Growing lots more tomatoes, for an ever increasing customer base. We want to do our bit to solve the food security issue in the UK.
If you could only have one of your own products, what would it be & why?
We’ve still to crop it, but we hope it’s going to be the large plum vine tomatoes we’re growing – Savantas. I’m sure they will be one of our runaway success products.
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
It would be my partner Scott. We can talk about that day we had a crazy idea to go and grow tomatoes for a living! The menu would be simple, aged ribeye steaks, peppercorn sauce, roasted Clyde Valley tomatoes and a great bottle of red wine.
In the last few weeks, over 10,000 tomato seedlings have been planted with the first harvest expected in April and production carrying through until November. All going well, Clyde Valley Tomatoes have hopes to stock a host of suppliers including Whole Foods Market in Giffnock, and Dobbies Garden Centres, as well as being the preferred choice for some of Scotland's top chefs.
Only time will tell if this is a project heading for greatness, but with hard work, dedication and the careful mentoring from Jim Craig, lets hope that the Clyde Valley will once again be bursting with colour and flavour in the coming months.
Watch out for David and Clyde Valley Tomatoes at farmers markets in Lanarkshire and Glasgow, but in the meantime you can keep up to date on Facebook and Twitter.