I love the smell of wild garlic during the spring and I am irresistibly drawn towards plump, ripe blackberries in autumn. I always know that autumn has well and truly arrived when I see families out on the cliffs and hillsides calling to each other and picking enough for a crumble or a pie. The smell and taste of a wild blackberry is like no other!
This week, we talk to foraging expert, Vix Hill-Ryder, founder of The Family Foraging Kitchen. Vix has taken foraging to new levels.
Based here in South East Cornwall, Vix and her team organise walks and activities with wild food as a theme, alongside workshops in traditional countryside crafts from willow basketry to beekeeping.
She has recently started filming a range of videos which have made her work accessible to lots more people. We thought it might be interesting to find out a little bit more about her business, motivation and plans for the future.
Tell us about your background?
I was lucky to be a child of the Rame Peninsula here in South East Cornwall. My Granddad was big in the Scout movement and a keen amateur Botanist. He gave me my earliest knowledge of the local botanical landscape, followed by my father who went on to become a lecturer of horticultural studies at Plymouth College. Despite my green roots I went off to university and got an MA in English Literature before spending my twenties travelling the world teaching English as a foreign language and fundraising for the charity sector. Foraging was, until my thirties, a mere hobby.
What was the journey that led you to starting your business?
My husband and I lived in East Africa working for a small charity and when we came back to the UK we settled in London. It suited neither of us and so we moved back to Cornwall. In a new challenging financial situation, I could use my plant knowledge as a means for us to eat a healthy, affordable, seasonal and sustainable diet. Each time I was out foraging wild food for my small family (now with my first son), people would ask me what I was picking and how to use it. I realised I had a skill I could share with my community.
How has your work evolved over time?
I began the Family Foraging Kitchen as an independent small trader. I am now the CEO of an award winning social enterprise! I have raised thousands of pounds of funding to invest back into my local community and I have passed my skills on to countless families and people of all ages. It's been 8 years of hard work but I feel tremendously proud of what the business offers not only in terms of wild food education but in offering heritage skills and traditional crafts.
What inspires and motivates you?
The seasonal hedgerow and botanical landscape will always be my biggest inspiration. The colours and flavours in the hedgerows and on the coast each month excite me. My motivation to keep sharing what it can offer comes from the rising levels of food poverty experienced here in SE Cornwall.
Tell us how you manage to be sustainable in your business.
Since we began we have worked to a set of environmental and ethical principles. We only ever take as much as we need and never over harvest, respecting the landscape. We promote seasonal, fresh eating that takes away the issue of vegetables in plastic with a history of food miles.
What are your 3 top tips to live more sustainably?
- Learn about the local foods on your doorstep
- Eat wild
- Shop local.
What are you most excited to work on over the next few months?
We are currently working on two exciting projects.
We are in the process of working on a re-wilding biodiversity plan for the 11 acres of land we manage at our outdoor education centre.
We are also hoping to extend our current Wild Food Box scheme for a further 6 months to help families on the Rame Peninsula affected financially as a result of the pandemic.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking to set up their own company?
Have a total passion and belief in what you do. If you love your job it stops being work. However, be prepared to put in the hours as you are the result of your labour. Also, remember that someone else's success is never your failure. You will get there in the end!
Thanks Vix, I would definitely agree that working hard at your own business is fulfilling and has its own reward!
If you are interested in taking a course on foraging, try the Family Foraging Kitchen web site here or take a look on You Tube for the great videos that the team have put together. I learnt masses from Episode 2 which is all about coastal seaweed foraging. Also follow them on Instagram or Facebook.
Responsible foraging is essential; you can find information about this from the Woodland Trust here.
I'm sure lots of people first consider foraging due to the wonderful smell of wild garlic in the woods. There are so many species of wild garlic with Ramsons being one of the most common. They are available here in Cornwall from early spring in shady, cool and damp places.
See the Family Foraging Episode 4 where Vix gives more detail about this versatile, much prized plant.
Why not try this quick wild garlic pesto recipe, using ramson leaves which you can stir into pasta, spread on bread or mix into soups, sauces and stews.
Wild garlic pesto
- 100g wild garlic leaves
- 50g parmesan cheese or 50g nutritional yeast for a vegan version
- 50g toasted pine nuts
- 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Wash wild garlic leaves thoroughly.
- Place the leaves, parmesan, olive oil and pine nuts into a food processor and blitz or bash with a pestle and mortar if you want to be more traditional.
- Add more oil if you want to have a thinner pesto.
- Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
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