Wild Pickings is a small, rural foraging business I founded in Mid-West Wales. I gather wild foods from the hedgerows, coast and woodlands which I then use as ingredients in a range of seasonal produce, from handmade chocolates to summer blossom cordials and flavoured salts. I take a stall at local farmers markets and food festivals and I also run a wild food cafe at local Twmpaths (traditional Welsh dances with music) where I serve hot food and cakes with wild ingredients.
Foraging has always been in my bones, I was born to be a picker. My parents met hop picking in Kent and childhood summers were spent out on farms with my mother. My early adult years were spent working for a small cider farm, collecting fruit in old orchards and I also spent a few years training as a gardener at horticultural college.
When I moved to Wales, nearly 9 years ago, my partner, a woodsman, introduced me to the world of wild food which I fell in love with. I started working for a local forager, gathering wild leaves and supplying restaurants in London. Setting up my own foraging business felt like a natural progression.
Picking for restaurants meant I was spending a lot of time outside, by myself in nature. Engaging in the landscape in this way is very inspiring, giving me space to think and be creative. I read a lot of old books on traditional recipes and began being creative with wild food, exploring different flavours and developing new recipes. It quickly became a passion and I was feeding friends and family my creations with wonderful feedback. I realised I wanted to feed people around me this food, bring it from the landscape where it grows, to the people who live there, not just send it off to the city, which was starting to feel a bit lonely and disconnected. I was spending every bit of free time picking, drying, preserving and cooking.
I didn’t have a business plan: I remember saying to my partner, ‘I have never wanted to do something so much in my life, I have to do this!’ So I jumped in and went for it. I built up a small amount of stock and traded at my first market in Autumn 2009. I took over £200 which way exceeded my expectations and the encouragement from people was incredible. By Christmas I had sold out of everything. I knew then that I could really make a go of it.
While I was setting up, my costs were very minimal and I did everything on a shoestring, buying anything I needed in small quantities and selling food straight away so there was a really quick turn over. I knew I didn’t want the pressure of loans and banks looming over me, I felt that it would somehow interfere with the magic I was feeling and the purity of what I was doing.
Wild food is undergoing a bit of a revival but for a lot of people it is still quite unusual and something they are unsure about – a bit weird! Many people who came to my stall want not just to buy something but also talk to me about wild food, asking information about the ingredients I use, how to use them at home and where to find them in the wild. At a busy farmers market I just didn’t have enough time to talk to customers, write down recipes and show them the wild food. I realised I needed to take people out to the countryside and show them so I started running wild food walks and cookery workshops.
A friend and local artist, Lizzie Spikes, offered to illustrate a beautiful set of recipe cards for me, which I have just had printed and sell alongside my produce.
Most of my customers are local people, or visitors to the area. Much of my work is very solitary, so I love taking it straight out to my customers, at farmers markets and local food shops, where I can engage with them directly and get their feedback. The feeling when someone tries something I have created and says ‘that’s amazing!’ is wonderful. I have recently become part of a collective called Handmade In The Hills, a group of rural artists and craftspeople who have been very supportive. I sell online through their website which means I am now have customers nationwide, many of whom have connections to this area and love to hear the story behind the food. I also sell through a couple of independent retailers. The people who come on my courses are often families and children. Working with young people is great, they have such wonder and enthusiasm for wild food, I think it’s a bit like making mud pies!
I use Facebook which has been great for interacting with people and letting them know where I am and what I am selling. I like it because it is fun and visual. I have also just started using Twitter, which has helped connect me to other foragers, cooks and growers. I have just started blogging, which is a really good way to keep a journal of what I do.
Up until now Wild Pickings has evolved organically, from word of mouth, often collaborating with other people in my community and I would like to stay open to opportunities and new ideas. I am constantly creating new products and trying out new blends and recipes. I would really like to take more people out into nature and get them gathering and cooking. It really connects people to their food and their landscape. I am lucky that I have an amazing venue, a magical broadleaf woodland next to the sea. I can advertise workshops directly from my market stall straight to my customers, then take them out foraging and making food together. I dream of a wild food cafe one day tucked away in my woodland which really is out in the sticks, a place which people would have to search out, like a foraging adventure. Already in the woods we have a round house and woodland kitchen so I think it would be possible one day, with the help of a few like-minded people.
If I had to give advice to anyone thinking of setting up their own wild food business, I would say that if you feel great passion for what you do, then go for it because that passion will transfer on to what you do and people will see it and taste it. Having faith in yourself is really important. Take advice from knowledgeable people: this is something I wish I had done more of in the beginning, as I have a tendency to go full steam ahead, single-mindedly. Your name
Jade Mellor – Wild Pickings: www.wildpickings.co.uk and also available at www.handmadeinthehills.com.uk