by Liz Knight•19th January 2012
Forage Fine Foods is a micro business established in 2011 making food, mainly flavouring and preserved goods, from wild ingredients. Forage is based on top of a hill in the Black Mountains near Abergavenny in Wales. It is currently a kitchen table business with aspirations to move into a bespoke shepherds hut.
I don’t employ anyone, but I have a network of people who forage goods for me and who are paid in finished products.
This is the third career path for me. I originally worked in sales within the IT industry, then had a total career change and joined the public sector, working with older people within a day service which supported people from rural Monmouthshire. This is where I developed a real passion for the food heritage of rural Britain. I learned a huge amount about our food culture from the older people I worked with.
I’ve been picking wild foods for years, and for a long time have thought that there was a gap in the market for wild food presented as the finished package; when I had my own children I lost the time I had to go out and pick and didn’t have hours to spend in the kitchen; speaking with other parents I discovered that many people wanted to eat wild food but didn’t have the time or confidence to pick their own foods. I hired a stall at a farmers’ market for product testing and over the last year have developed a range of products which can be used as flavourings, are easy and quick to use, and give people a chance to experience the flavours of wild foods.
I’m a bit back to front with developing a business plan – I started very small to see if there was a demand and only developed a formal business plan after this was proven. The whole activity started very small, and apart from an initial loan from myself into the business, I only spend what I make, growing organically.
I started the business with a very young baby, who was quite ill, I also worked 3 days a week for the local authority, and was pregnant with my third child (born in December 2011) so lack of time was my biggest problem. However, I knew that if I didn’t take my idea forward I might miss the ‘moment’ when people were becoming more aware of wild food. I spent the first few months utterly sleep deprived working on Forage in the night. I think you have to have a belief in your products to start a small business in the way I did. I couldn’t afford to give up work until it was generating an income so I had to combine the family, a job and developing Forage together. The house work suffered, and my husband & kids were saints living amongst it all.
Another help was simply from the encouragement I received from people; farmers’ market customers who came back for more and more produce, chefs such as Shaun Hill who encouraged me with lovely feedback and food industry people such as Clare Hargreaves from Country File who saw the uniqueness of my business and featured me as a Food Hero in the magazine. it’s amazing how being given compliments can spur you on.
As well as selling at farmers markets I also sell at events such as the Abergavenny Food Festival and in independent shops and delis. In the long term I would like to see Forage on the shelves of good quality butchers who focus on game and delis who are passionate about their producers and what they sell. I currently sell in the Hay Deli, and the smell is amazing when you walk through the door; they are totally committed to good food and only sell what they would use themselves.
I’ve just started using Twitter and it has revolutionised how I communicate with people. I love the way you can promote not only yourself but also other businesses. I am a bit of a believer in ‘what goes around, comes around’ and I always preferred doing business in a co-operative way. Twitter really allows that. I’ve just made contact with a forager in Scotland who is going to be sending me Bog Myrtle – I’ve been looking for it everywhere – it’s the missing ingredient in a new product that I can now make.
For the future, I am looking to expand the range of stockists that I supply my core range to, and I would eventually like my brand to be in the ranks of names such as Womersley Foods, owned by Rupert Parsons. I’m always developing new products and I’d like to grow the range further. I'm working on a new herb blend inspired by traditional herb gardens which will include lavender,
hyssop, savory and potentially lovage, which should be ready in time for spring lamb roasts and I'm also about to start 'Forage Favours' offering bespoke preserves with infusions of flowers from wedding bouqets.
I am keen that when I get to the stage of employing people that I can create a socially aware business, employing people who are long term unemployed for whatever reason. To me, the environment I work in is important; I don’t want to work from a box on an industrial park, so as Forage grows any move needs to be in an environment that inspires the creative spark.
If I had to give advice to anyone thinking of starting their own artisanal business I would just say to them “Do it”. I think the worst thing to have in life is ‘what ifs’ It’s acceptable if things go wrong in business, as long as you keep going, but it’s also important to know when to accept if something isn’t going to work.
I set Forage up to try and achieve that utopian ‘work life balance’ but in the first few months, there were times that Forage affected the time I spent with the children too much. I had to learn to walk away from work before the kids grew up behind my back with me muttering ‘I’m doing this for you!’
Liz Knight - Forage Fine Foods : www.foragefinefoods.co.uk
Follow Liz on Twitter: @foragefinefoods