Fiona Turnbull shares the story of Fruix Storage

once-upon-a-time

 

“Today I went to a meeting: there were 60 people there and four of them were women.  That actually felt like a good number!” laughs 40-year-old Fiona Turnbull, a sheep farming entrepreneur and joint-owner of Fruix Storage in Kinross.

“I’m definitely not one of those women trying to make it in a man’s world though,” explains Fiona. “It’s more about making a life for me where I could contribute to my family income, look after my daughter and do something I loved at the same time: I’ve never not been involved in lambing.” 

Farming remained a passion but career options became limited: “My husband’s farm was a lovely place to live but there were no sheep. And the idea of being a shepherd on someone else’s farm wasn’t feasible as a mum. You’d usually work where you live and undertake really long hours. I wanted to be with my baby too.”

When her daughter was six months old, Fiona could no longer resist pursuing her dream and bought some sheep of her own. On the side, she dabbled in child-minding and established a small bed and breakfast business: “Anything I could do that meant I didn’t have to put my daughter to nursery!”

When two more children arrived, farming took a back-seat – apart from bravely undertaking a postgraduate degree in Agri-business, of course – and a completely different role appeared. For six years, after her youngest went to school, Fiona was the Regional Manager at the Princes’ Trust in Fife: “I’d just finished my business-orientated degree and they could tell I had a few businesses of my own so I was a fairly good candidate for helping young people with their entrepreneurial dreams.”

Fiona continued her other ventures, including sheep farming, in the background and by 2012 this had grown enough to support her financially and require her attention almost full-time: “I’ve now got 420 acres and 800 ewes. I’m someone who likes to make the most of what’s around me. I developed the sheep farm by persuading my husband to give me a field on his farm and encouraging a neighbour to rent me some land. Eventually I managed to buy some land and, later, my dad’s retirement meant he was keen to form a partnership with me.”

Of course, balancing work and family life has proved challenging – yet manageable – for Fiona, from balancing a baby on her hip whilst bidding at a farming auction to asking neighbouring farmers for favours, aged just 21 and pushing a buggy: “Looking back I probably did look a bit eccentric,” laughs Fiona.
Growth is still on the agenda. With 800 ewes likely to produce 1350 lambs each year, Fiona sells a large proportion to ScotBeef, who supply Aldi, Marks and Spencer’s and various exporters. But she will keep a small percentage of the female lambs to take into her flock and grow.

But this isn’t Fiona’s only booming business venture: she’s the driving force behind her husband’s business, Fruix Storage. With an empty steading on Andrew’s farm, the couple thought long and hard about what to do with it. A storage business was born and Andrew is responsible for the day-to-day running but Fiona considers herself the business development aspect: “It’s been an amazing transformation into a great business. We’ve got 40 tenants; around 75% have their own small business and the remainder is personal belongings or people between house moves. I’ve secured planning permission to double the size of it. I’m eager to improve and hate the thought of turning someone away.” Of course, it’s a fairly different business model from sheep farming: “It’s something people want and, therefore, you’re in control and can set prices accordingly. As a sheep farmer you take the price available on the day and that’s it.”

Her heart is firmly in the world of sheep farming, however: “It’s a bit of an adrenaline buzz at lambing time. You can tell you’ve done a good job if the lambs go out onto a nice field of grass, happy with a full tummy. To me, that’s one of the best bits. But, overall, the fact we can live off the farm is incredible. At age 21, I would never have believed we could have done that.”

Fiona has been on quite a journey, from farm life to an office-based role then back to rural life. And, in terms of the future, Fiona realises the farming business is changing: “In the early days it was just about building up a flock. Now it’s about fine-tuning, improving and developing. I’m really quite driven by becoming more technically efficient and making better use of my grass. If I could have 1000 ewes on the same land, for example, I’ll naturally increase profit using the same resources.”

“And for Fruix Storage, I’d love to open another facility. Even if it’s not for ten years, we have learned so much and the market continues to grow: we have to take advantage of it.”

“Looking at the long-term it is, of course, a family business and it would delight me if my son would take over. At the moment the farm isn’t huge and I can look after it myself with my dad’s help – but it’s frantic at lambing time and my children are a great support. They do tease me though, that I will still be in the field aged 85 with my headscarf and stick, even if my son does take over!”

balancing work and family life has proved challenging – yet manageable – for Fiona, from balancing a baby on her hip whilst bidding at a farming auction to asking neighbouring farmers for favours, aged just 21 and pushing a buggy