Member of the Week - Farmer Jones Academy

Richard Jones and Sarah Mackenzie started the original Farmer Jones business back in 2015 but converted to the Farmer Jones Academy (FJA) with a real focus on training youngsters for the Food and Drink Industry 2 years ago. They currently employ 6 part-time members of staff working alongside Richard’s business partner Sarah. FJA also have 2 Directors – John Murray from Scotland Food and Drink and Jock Gibson who runs Macbeths Butchers at Forres and sits on the Quality Meat Scotland Board - alongside Sarah and Richard. Sarah’s background in sales and marketing and her degree in business have integrated well with Richard’s knowledge of the industry and huge range of contacts.

We spoke to Richard Jones, FJA founding Director: “I am Richard Jones, probably better known as “Farmer Jones” from my days on MFR and that is where the name came from! I am the Founding Director and manage the day to day business, looking after enquiries and making sure the company stays afloat! Being a Community Interest Company (CIC) has meant I have had to develop a whole new way of running a small business!”

We asked Richard why Farmer Jones Academy would like to be member of the week: “A lot of people ask me what does Farmer Jones Academy do? This is one way of explaining what we are all about and hopefully impart some of the passion we have for Food and Drink to others and particularly those looking for careers in the biggest single industry in Scotland.”

Following a successful 18-month trial period of our pilot programme in Nairn Academy, FJA were invited by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to bid for a contract to deliver 40 Foundation Apprenticeships in Food and Drink Technology to students in their final 2 years at school (S5 & S6). Having successfully filled these places, they started in June with their own unique delivery methods in 5 school centres at Tain, Fortrose, Inverness Royal Academy, Nairn and Kingussie. In order to do this, we took on part-time trainers who are delivering across these 5 centres with no less than 7 secondary schools now taking part.

FJA has applied for SQA Accreditation which means that our own staff will assess and verify students as they work their way through the 2-year course and the real benefit to youngsters is that there are no end of year exams! They will finish the course with the equivalent of at least 1 or 2 Highers and can gain fast-track entry to a Modern Apprenticeship or go straight to the workplace with qualifications already in place, or even go to University if they wish.

We asked Richard to share their business plans over the next 12 months: “FJA have been asked to consider taking the FJA programme right across Scotland! They will also be working to deliver bespoke FJA programmes to others outside of schools … watch this space!”

Richard told us about their awards and commendations: “We received an award at the Lantra Awards in March for best work in education. We have also been featured on Radio Scotland’s “Out of Doors” programme and on STV News.  Spanish Television programme “Enviado Especial” came and filmed us in action and we go out across 14 Spanish speaking countries in September. And Finally, … we are getting a visit at Nairn Academy in late August from Deputy First Minister – John Swinney where FJA success at recruiting Foundation Apprentices has come to the notice of Scottish Government who want to see how we integrate our work into the school curriculum!”

We asked Richard what he values most about their Inverness Chamber membership: “We do a lot of work with DYW who have been getting a fantastic help in giving us contacts with the right people in schools. Andy and Eilidh were responsible for helping us get started!

Chamber keeps us up to date with what’s happening with other local businesses and an invaluable chance to meet and network with other members and then of course there’s all the breakfasts and dinners and the famous awards!”

Richard provided his top-tip to other chamber members to make the most of their membership: “Go to as many things as you can and meet as many people as you can … network, network and then network some more!”

Richard is hosting a Gala Dinner at Nairn Academy on the opening night of Nairn Book and Arts Festival Week - Monday 9th September at 7.30pm and tickets are just £25 each. To be held in newly opened Beach café at the Academy, it’s a night of fun, music and of course fine dining with top chefs Pete Sealey of the Sundancer and Saurav Kumar from UHI. Guests will gain an insight into training of the next generation of food producers and professionals and be entertained by Lord-Lieutenant George Asher.

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