At the beginning of 2019, having been working hard to manifest my Herbal Homestead vision (whilst still working full time), I saw an opportunity and applied for a year-long, wild food & foraging training programme. A fantastic, fully-funded programme, designed and run by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods. Amazing, right?
This programme was developed by Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER to help small businesses (existing and new starts) to develop foraging-based enterprises in the FVL LEADER area - and having better forged my business model more than ever through the application process - I only went and secured a damn place!
I have met and worked with such wonderful and talented people throughout the year, helped set up and work at Scotland's first wild food festival, visited Finnish participants at their wild food festival in Ilomansti, continue to run more foraging walks and natural wellness workshops than ever before, and ultimately, quit my full-time job in the process!
What is coming to fruition, is an active working group who are continuing on into 2020 as other ideas and partnerships develop - including another wild food festival in May and a trip to visit Latvian participants this time.
Below is an account of my Finnish experience:
'Cow Camp' turned out to be quite magical for me.
I was caught off guard when I realised how much enjoyment I was having through such a hands-on experience.
Set in a forested and gently farmed location, we were greeted by this short, smiling lady. Her cheeks flushed a naturally weathered pink, and piercing eyes met my attention; but it was her hands. Her strong, working hands that for me, conveyed her whole life.
A beautiful life where a large cow portrait hangs on an interior room wall, as would a relative’s. Of course, this was a relative – the grandmother of most of the herd at cow camp – yet evidently, a dear being in this unusual lady’s life.
Cow camp did seem to be just that - a camp for cows; lots of freedom to roam around the wilds, in a caring and educational setting. These bovine beauties even ‘cat-walked’ their way in procession to their own milking pens. Blinking, long eyelashes greeted us farming recruits on either side as they nodded forward, lashes any model would envy!
Being a housing-scheme gal from the city, I had never milked a cow, even after studying zoology and working in environmental jobs as an adult. Now was my chance!
I remembered not to push Ruth’s son Daniel out the way and waited my turn… the inner child was awakening!
Squatting on a tiny, wooden stool, I managed not to fall over and positioned the metal bucket between my legs as I had seen others do. I recalled again, those wonderful hands of our local Finnish friend, working the milk with ease, into the collection bucket.
My turn. I felt to gently rub the rotuned-ruminance in front of my face, reassuring the warm and gentle creature that stood patiently before me - almost excusing my crude milking-manipulation that was most likely to come!
Squeezing, “harder than you think”, I alternated teats and immediately, milk squirted out… right on my leg! Realigning my bucket and aim I then managed to collect some, phew.
Continuing, I naturally put my forehead against this gentle girl and thanked her. I stopped after a short while as I felt I didn’t want to bother her any more… my eyes aglow, and heart smiling, I communicated this to our dear farmer. I still don’t know her name, we connected beyond convention or language, and I’ll never forget her.
Echoing this human connection further, I also met other inspiring people in Finland. People who had their own land and knew it well. The locations of special old trees, gullies, and anthills were pointed out and spoken about like old friends.
I enjoyed hanging back from the group as we wandered through the lush forest. I kneeled on a spongey, mossy tuft and admiring our group in front of me, took a picture.
Glancing down, I briefly got lost in the microcosm of life underfoot; creeping berry bushes, lichens, mosses, liverworts, ferns, grasses and more. As I turned my head, voluptuous mushroom caps caught the dappled light of the glade, and my eye as they stood proud above this dense, damp world.
Most definitely, this was a magical place, a meeting place of the wee folk! Beautiful I thought, as I quickly switched back to human size perception so to catch up with the group.
Encouragingly, I met a fantastic young woman doing something very similar to me at the Finnish Wild Food Festival. Marie had a beautifully presented stall. Herbal teas that could aid many an ailment, lay finely packaged and on show, scented, homemade soap sat huddled in their hessian, draw-string bags. Baskets of sweets and glass tea dispensers pulled you in to delight in the free samples.
She was another that seemed to pierce my personal space with her gaze. Yet, her eyes softened as we conversed and related about natural remedies and herbaceous interests.
As this enthusiastic being reached out to hand me her business card, I could see a version of myself.
The Finnish Wild Food Festival was also a positive revelation to me in a way I didn’t expect. Much more food-stall related than I imagined; I was even more drawn then to a colourful, and acceptably busy table that stood at the end of a row of ‘shop fronts’…
There were wild plants in buckets, information boards, smiley faced stall holders, and crates of labelled mushrooms… all carefully positioned on a bed of verdant moss. Cool! I thought, as I found myself heading straight towards it.
I realised that this very simple, yet vibrant and ‘more alive’ stall (in more ways than one), was ‘enough’.
In fact, it was my favourite of them all.
I realised, that if I were to set up my own ‘business front’, it wouldn’t be far off this one. Its rawness and authenticity spoke for itself. I realised that pull-up-banners and business ‘PR’ had its place but didn’t quite ‘sing’ in the same way.
Maybe I could stop worrying about all the ‘official’ bits of kit I didn’t yet have and enjoy this journey. Enjoy these moments with wonderful people so to better engage in this wild exploration of a different culture, and of a different me in the making!