Back in 2013 I packed a suitcase and headed for British Columbia, not knowing how much the culture of outdoor living would have a longer-term impact on my consideration for the natural world. This organic affiliation with outdoor spaces was both inspiring and thought-provoking.
Why were the people of Canada so in tune with outdoor recreation? The climate certainly had an impact as the summer months allowed for the production of fruit varieties that would be the envy of many countries. Another factor was the close connection between the public and the farms/orchard operators.
Fast forward 10 years to 2023 and two failed start-ups to cater to those who wanted to connect with nature and food and here I am rambling about the same passion for picking fruit, wild foods and connecting with nature.
Last year I wrote an article about the issues facing our future food supplies if producers continue to ignore the trends pointing towards a green-focused economy. This article discussed the fragmented approach to food production and distribution, identifying key areas of improvement and future ways that we could consider using technology to enhance transparency within our manufacturing processes.
What are pick-your-own farms?
Pick-your-own farms, also known as “U-pick” or “PYO” farms, are farms where visitors can go to pick their own produce, such as fruits, vegetables, or berries, directly from the fields. These farms provide an opportunity for people to experience agriculture and learn about where their food comes from. They also offer the freshest, local ingredients and an alternative to supermarket chains that often bring in produce shipped from around the world.
Many pick-your-own farms have different types of products available at different times of the year. Additionally, many farms offer extra activities, such as wine tasting, pumpkin picking, jam making, petting zoos and family days out.
Why should we cultivate a pick-your-own culture in Europe?
Pick-your-own farms typically operate seasonally, which is another reason to love them. What happened to wait until it was berry season to pick berries, holding out for Autumn to get the best chanterelles or making apple tart in September when the kids go back to school? The food we eat is undoubtedly connected with our family traditions and identity. Increased demand for a year-round supply of all foods from everywhere threatens the very enjoyment of eating, tasting, and valuing the foods we grow up alongside.
There are many positive reasons to foster a love for picking locally grown food. From building a sustainable future to supporting local businesses to eating the freshest ingredients, the list is endless. Being closer to nature is now even prescribed by doctors in South Korea, the US and Finland with 5 hours as the minimum time per month recommended by some doctors in Finland. However, the common benefit for all who engage in pick-your-own activities is the sense of community.
By establishing pick-your-own farms and encouraging pick-your-own activities, a way of life develops within a community. Not only are traditional foods of a region preserved, but the outdoor lifestyle is also preserved and that feeling of attachment to a place or region is more firmly rooted as many people increasingly spend time attached to new ways of interacting and new virtual work patterns. A sense of community is what binds the notion of identity together.
The act of picking fruit at the weekends becomes a ritual, firmly engrained in community life.
Grow Local, Pick Local
If you already have the GIY ‘Grow it Yourself’ bug then pick-your-own farms that offer the chance to immerse yourself in the land will be right up your street.
Locally sourced food is the freshest kind you will find. Just consider the long distances traveled by food that reaches our supermarket shelves. Better tracking of our food supply chains will help us to understand the impact the origin of food has on our natural environments.
Another reason to canvas for a pick-your-own culture is to support local farmers and food lovers. By purchasing local food you are feeding the local economy ad helping to build a sustainable future for smaller farmers.
A major reason why I chose to write about local food, foraging and fixing our supply chains is to research the impact our food consumption is having on the environments where this food is sourced. Picking local and increasing our understanding of local food availability can help to reduce our carbon footprint and prevent unnecessary long-distance transportation of food.
Where to find pick-your-own farms
Pick-your-own farms are not very established in Europe. However, there is a growing interest in the development of rural tourism and green initiatives that encourage a newfound appreciation for locally grown produce. This list is not exhaustive but it does include a few key places that have established pick-your-own activities.
Spear leaved Orache is a dusty green leaf that is commonly found on and near the beach. Coastal tracks will lead you to this salty wild treat. The first time we encountered to wild edible leaf was on a coastal foraging excursion to the west coast of Ireland with our foodie friend Denis. He would often stop and taste the delicacies of the land: samphire, dulce and chamomile were definitely on the list but then we stumbled upon Orache and he told me to try some. I was blown away.
This is the salty spinach I wanted to add to every soup dish I had tried so thanks to Denis we made a new discovery and have been using Orache to experiment ever since.
What is Orache?
Orache is a green plant that loves to grow in saline laced sand and coastal areas. It is also know as Atriplex (A.prostrata)
How to Identify and Eat Orache Leaves
The spear headed leaves and the coastal location makes this tasty plant easy enough to identify.
There is a look-a-like plant called lambs quarter which is also an edible cousin of this plant but not as salty and mostly found near woodland.
The leaves are arrow like triangular shaped.
You can eat Orache leaves raw in a salad or fry them up in a little olive oil. Substitute it for some of your spinach recipes.
When to eat Orache?
Forage the young leaves in late March and April. They maintain their saltiness while also having sweeter tones that are easy to digest when raw. Harvest the mature leaves in summer time. I snip the leaves in the summer months, leaving the stems for wildlife to nibble on.
How will we cope with any scarcity of food in the future if we don’t learn about our sources of food today? There is an alarming amount of coverage about the adverse effects of climate change on our eco-system. There are many ways that our food production could change in the future and climate change could have a severe impact in the foods that we already consume today.
It has been reported that our oceans are absorbing much of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions and this is damaging our coral reefs which are key breeding grounds for our marine life. Where will our fish go to survive? And with the pressure on farmers to pivot away from traditional beef farming where will we source or meat from?
Now isn’t the time to panic, its the time to plan and make some food choices that will help us to better understand the foods around us.Of course there are innovators coming up with brilliant solutions and there are farmers schemes like CSA’s that are re-imagining modern farming but we could also take a closer look at the forgotten, often ignored food sources, such as weeds. This week we present foraging as one way to substitute some of our key ingredients.
A series of freak climate events in the 1870s caused a Global drought that resulted in the death of millions of people. In India it was known as the Great Famine. The most significant climate event was El Nino of 1877 where warm waters released heat into the air creating storms. In addition to the Indian Ocean, the Pacific and the Atlantic recorded higher temperatures than normal.
Today, we rarely find famines in the developed world. The majority of famines hit places where organisations cannot enter and trade issues are hurting local people. However, with all of these climate unknowns in front of us we must be prepared to take action in the case of a climate crisis. Eating local and community supported agriculture, known as CSA’s, have become trendy in recent years.
We hear about many people adopting sustainable agricultural practices and promoting community food initiative. They are not just farming enthusiasts but socially engaged individuals who enjoy spending time outdoors and learning about the land around them. A few examples to look up include Juniper Hill Farms and Moy Hill Farms. These farming communities should be admired for the innovative approach to farming. They also encourage the sharing of knowledge, which we love here at Orchards Near Me.
However, there are other opportunities if we decide to broaden our knowledge base and look at the traditional farming methods of nearby regions. It could be just as beneficial to learn about the foods coming from nearby resources. For example, in Europe we have many different climates that lead to the production of a wide variety of food species. In a time of crisis wouldn’t it be great to know what foods could your neighbours offer as a substitute if you run out? We believe this is all about immersive farming education and understanding the role of nature in the production of food.
Chefs from around the world, often privileged and guys that are striving for their next Michelin star love to travel to learn about other food cultures. We think the general public can also get it on this interesting past-time. Learning about the ancient art of crushing grapes in France or discovering why bee keeping is a national tradition in Slovenia or why the warm summer days of Bulgaria led to the popular cold soup of Tarator are ways to preserve traditions and carry them into the future.
Food is closely linked with the weather and geography of a region or country. Traditional dishes often reflect the mood associated with the climate. The proximity to the wild atlantic coast makes Portugal heaven for fish lovers and the cultivation of fruits and olives makes Greece a mecka for salad eaters.
If we begin to understand the landscapes around us and how they are affected by the climate we can better educate ourselves in food production and regain knowledge of how our ancestors used wild plants and integrated them into their dishes. Although large corporations have successfully harvested key ingredients for human consumption and distributed major crops around the world, it is also worth knowing about the lesser known and lesser used crops that can act as substitutes if the time comes when we need them too. This is one of the reasons why we encourage foraging and learning about the wild plants around you.
There is enough food to feed the masses as long as we teach ourselves about the food sources available to us and re-train our palettes so that we can adapt dishes to include some wild flavours.
You are never guaranteed to get warm weather when walking by the shore in Ireland. Raindrops comes in all shapes and sizes, tiny drops that sprinkle the ground, sideways rain that catches you off guard, warm drizzling rain that soaks you to the bone but all of these weather conditions combine to make it extra rewarding with you stumble upon some unique culinary treats.
From fresh mussels clinging to the sides of rock pools to the shy winkles hiding beneath the brown seaweed. You will find everything you need for a warm cup of seafood chowder along the Irish coastline. My first coastal foraging excursion was fruitful.
As a child my mother would buy us small plastic buckets and short fishing rods to scoop out the seaweed from the giant rockpools all along the Co.Clare coastlines. Picking was part of every stage of growing up. From child to adolescent I made the transition from bucket to bag and back again when picking along the shore.
My grandfather would take the whole family to a nearby beach and we would eagerly wait until the tide had gone fully out, revealing the rockpools, seaweed and most importantly the shellfish hiding underneath. The art of picking was simple, patience was the only real skill required.
Myself and my sister would spend hours scanning the shallow pools of water for the biggest winkles, crabs and mussels. Although all of the shellfish that we scoured for were easily identifiable, not all were easy to find.
Winkles were the easiest to collect. They tend to roll with the tide so it was not a matter of searching for them but more time was spent deciding on which ones to collect. I never tool the baby ones. This was my one rule for collecting winkles. Once you have avoiding the baby shells you can enjoy scooping out large handfuls of winkles alons most shorelines.
When it came to crabs I was always a little nervous to pick them up. Their claws would reach right out to stab pinch you if you were too quick. Sometimes we would just play with them for awhile before placing them carefully back in were they belonged. Laughing as they scrambled off to find their pals. Mussels were always considered the biggest treat. They clung tightly to the edges of rocks, making it more difficult to pull them off. Nothing can beat a pot of fresh mussels cooked in garlic and tomato juices. Give it a try. Believe me you won’t be disappointed.
Why not try a spot of razor clam hunting while you are by the shore. Simply bring some salt on your journey and seek out the small holes in the beach. Pour in the salt and watch in awe as the razor clams come to life.
Other favourites of mine include kelp and seaweed. These make delicious additions to salads. You can also use them to enhance the flavour of any seafood dish.
DON’T let the weather prevent you from your next adventure. Remember that a little rain never hurt anyone. If you happen to get a sunny day then take advantage of it, spending a few hours by the shore.
LEAVE enough for others. Everyday we hear warnings of over fishing so be mindful of this when you are foraging by the sea. Only pick enough for one days pickings, giving the shores time to replenish its goods over time.
WEAR suitable clothing. This is key to any foraging adventure. Waterproof shoes comes in handy when you playing in rockpools. Also, bring a spare pair of socks to keep your feet dry.
KNOW the tides. Most countries will offer websites that give you the times of the tidal currents. Keep a close eye on these. You don’t want to venture all the way to the beach to find that you have to wait five hours until the tide recedes.
DON’T be afraid of seaweed or crabs. The waves may look rough but the sea is gentle with many varieties of produce to try. You never know what treasures you will find.
When you are feeling stressed or anxious you will take anything to make this panicked feeling disappear. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Whether its an interview you have to do, an exam you have to take or the stresses of work. However some people suffer more than others and find it difficult to manage their levels of anxiety.
You may already be familiar with the big drugs like zanex or valium but many do not know that natural herbs growing all around us can help us to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Why not give a mixture of exercise, meditation and herbal teas a try to tackle your inner demons?
What are the causes of anxiety?
It is usually a combination of factors that include environmental factors and genetics.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Every person is different and we all react in different ways. A feeling of panic, an increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, restlessness and a lack of focus are just a few of the many common symptoms of anxiety.
Here are some of the best wild herbs for anxiety:
Dried St.John’s Wort can be a calming tea substitute if you want to relax at the end of your day. The active ingredient of hypericum in this herb is said to interact with the hormones of serotonin and dopamine which are associated with depression. One study by the Cochrane Review Group found that it was as good as standard anti-depressants. However like all things we consume, this herb interacts with all other chemicals in our body so if you are best to consult your doctor if you are taking other medications before messing around with this powerful yellow plant.
Used as a medicinal herb since ancient greek and roman times, this bright flower has become well regarded for its treatment of nervousness. Taking a cup of Valerian root tea can help the mind and body to relax, therefore aiding stress and anxiety. Herbalists sometimes use it as a tincture.
Lavender has traditionally been used for its calming and therapeutic properties. In some countries a bunch of lavender is placed under a pillow at night-time to improve sleep and you will commonly find lavender scented candles in spa resorts to enhance a calm atmosphere. Evidence suggests that lavender oil taken orally is an efficient mood stabilizer, may be helpful in treating neurological disorders and contains neuroprotective properties.
This sweet scented herb has been used for over 2000 years and it is believed to be a mood enhancer. It has the ability to improve cognitive function and has proved effective in the treatment of anxiety. One study published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that administration of 300 mg lemon balm extract for 15 days showed to improve symptoms of anxiety and insomnia in participants.
Why try natural remedies for anxiety?
Why not! If you are feeling anxious or stressed sometimes a walk in nature is all you need. Other herbs that we love that you may have access to are ginger and tumeric, both have natural benefits. You can also try cleansing the air of negative energy with some DIY smudge sticks. However if you want to try herbs or other remedies there are plenty of ways to try and tackle those negative feelings and herbs may be one of many things that people have used to sooth the mind since ancient times.
Sometimes foraging in winter feels like a secret adventure. Wild foodie treasures don’t fully disappear after the fruitful summer months. Fresh green leaves, nuts and berries may be a little harder to identify but they are there for the taking. Sometimes it feels as though nature knows more about what we actually need than we do ourselves. You will find plenty of sources of vitamin C and other immune boosters during the winter months, helping you to keep cold and flu symptoms at a distance.
When the evenings are dark and there is frost in the air you have plenty of time for playing around with your wild food finds in the kitchen. Every season is a time to get back to nature and reconnect with the landscapes around you. When you look at the winter hedgerows, drooping, grey and glistening with frost, it’s hard to imagine there is much life around. But the truth is, even in the depths of winter, plenty of foodie treasures can be found.
Grab your hat and scarf and head out for a local forage with friends. Here are just a few of the wild treats you can hope to discover in winter.
One of our favourite food sources in winter is the Vitamin C packed rose hip. These are plentiful in parks and woodlands at this time of year. Be sure to wear your gloves as they come with thorns attached to the stems. Enjoy sipping rosehip tea and mixing them for syrups.
Used as a herbal remedy to tackle high blood pressure in ancient times, the hawthorn berries and stems are high in antioxidants.
These tree berries are deep purple in colour. You can infuse them in drinks and the stems have a wonderful fragrance that can be used to clear any nasty odours in the house.
Gin infused with sloe berries is now one of the most popular drinks on the market and it is easy to see why. Sloes are sweet and pack a punch when it comes to flavour.
These spiky needles that come from scots and spruce pine trees contain high amounts of vitamin C and are often used in winter herbal tea recipes.
Available year round this healthy woodland green is a wonderful addition to warm salads in winter. They have a bitter but pleasing taste that will leave you wanting more.
Jack by the Hedge
Often known as garlic mustard, Jack by the Hedge is a winter gem. They have distinct heart shaped, hairless leaves that sometimes look like nettles but they won’t sting you. The leaves have a natural anti-freeze and so they are worth foraging in the winter months.
With its radish flavoured leaves Honesty is a lovely little leaf to forage in winter. Try a taste of the root and the leaves.
Smelling and tasting a little like parsley we can think of lots of dishes for this wild weed.
If they are picked young they have a nice lemon flavour that goes well with any fish dish.
To our amazement the woods are still packed with different mushroom species this year but there are some types of mushrooms more commonly found in winter than others. These include wood blewits, velvet shank mushrooms and oyster mushrooms.
Join one of our next foraging tours or find out more about winter foraging with our free foraging guide.
This week we have chosen 5 of our favourite podcasts for nature lovers.
Do you love to listen to podcasts on the way to work or on the way home? Do you listen to podcasts while you are cooking in the evening? Do you listen to podcasts when you head out for a walk? So do we! We have found a few epic podcasts for nature lovers. If you are interested in sustainable lifestyles, the power of plants, the GIY trends around the world and adventures into nature than these podcasts will be right up your street.
Get out your earphones and head out for a walk while listening to some of the fantastic episodes in the below podcasts. From inspiring stories to in-depth interviews with the experts, learn something new each week.
If you are looking for short snippets of the impact of plants and the natural world around us then the 15 minute, bite sized podcasts from Kathy Willis are a fantastic resource. Where we are introduced to some of the most amazing plants that. Kathy Willis discusses the importance of green spaces in our society.
If you are a mushroom lover, a mushroom hunter or simply curious about the natural world then this podcast will blow your mind. Paul is an expert mychologist and mushroom King. He truly believes in the power of mushrooms and his passion for these magical species will leave you wanting more. In two separate discussions Paul illustrates the power of mushrooms and how they are an essential component of the earths eco-system. Listen and learn with this one!
Named among ITunes 2016’s top debut podcasts, She Explores, empowers women to share their stories and to connect with a community of talented and diverse female artists, adventurers, and outdoor advocates. Filled with powerful stories about overcoming insecurities and conquering incredible feats, this podcast will keep you coming back again and again.
Hosted by a former Wyoming NPR reporter, Out There explores the relationship between people and wild environments. From deciding where to settle down to transformational outdoor encounters, this podcast offers a passionate discussion on our role in the environment and how we can achieve perspective in outdoor settings.
No crazy adventure idea is out of reach to this podcast host. Covering everything from snowboarding and mountaineering to the health benefits of being in nature, this podcast will open your eyes to real life examples of people living unconventionally through the power of adventure! You won’t want to go back to your day job after hearing these stories of people and brands who have turned their wild ideas into reality. We particularly loved The Adventure of Self-Love with Sarah Herron, an inspiring story about breaking out of your comfort zone.
There are so many interesting and thought provoking podcasts out there it was difficult to narrow it down to just 5 but we will continue listening and keep you updated on any episodes for nature lovers.
If you have more nature podcasts to add to our list we would love to hear about them.
For those of you who have a curious mind but are often jumping from one idea to the next then foraging might be just for you. I have a tendency to plough through life like it is one long episode of back to the future. Going from place to place, idea to idea, job to job and always trying to solve an insolvable issue as I go. Do I seem like a bit of an Aquarius? Yes, this is me. There is rarely a moment when my mind isn’t racing to grab the next opportunity.
When I was introduced to foraging by my mother and my grandfather I thought that it was a thing that every child did when they were growing up. Just like picking blackberries on an Autumn’s day. Didn’t you pick winkles and mushrooms too? Sometimes the answer was no and so my mission to forage with the masses began. For me life has always been one great foraging adventure. I seek the wildness in the mundane, I approach business like an arts and crafts project, I never considered myself an innovator but I grew to love innovation.
When I was young my mother would tell us stories of how Dad would try to invent the next big thing. He would write his big idea on an A4 piece of paper, put it into a briefcase and stroll up to the bank to get the funding he needed to take over the world with his brainstorming session. It is safe to say that the banks needed more than 1 sheet of A4 paper. However, this approach to entrepreneurship stayed with me. If you have a passion for something than give it a try.
Determination and effort were two concepts that seemed to come natural. I am not afraid of hard work. Being Irish helps. I think as a culture we always feel like the under dog, forcing us to re-imagine possibilities. However, these two traits don’t necessarily lead to success. Focus was always a struggle for me. No sooner would I have one project completed than I would be on to the next, not even staying to find out the results and listen to the feedback. Hell no, that was yesterday. What’s happening tomorrow? I got a bit of slack for this.
Although many of my ideas would work for a client I was bored when they wanted a report or even asked how they could repeat the process. For me, the success of an idea is as much about the energy as the implementation and once that energy is burned through it is difficult to articulate the sense of urgency and opportunity it created at that one time. Ask me to think of the future and I am buzzing. Looking back at the past isn’t always necessary as long as you learn from your mistakes.
Now when people say that I need to focus on one thing I ask them why? The usual answer is that you can accomplish more if you focus on one thing and keep working on it. Foraging would be quite frustrating for somebody who basks in consistency as one day you find something, the next day it is gone. I say, everybody is different when it comes to their approach to productivity. Don’t try to conform, don’t change just because somebody wants you too, don’t give in to a preordained situation; Keep transforming and keep asking questions. This is the buzz, the drive and the passion that will allow you to live wholly.
This is why foraging is a perfect match for me and others. Once the mushroom season is over I am forced to rethink my surroundings, re-imagine the landscapes, study new herbs, plants and trees. Nature wants you to focus for a period of time but doesn’t feel it is necessary to sit at a desk for 45 hours a week. Nature asks you to discover, to seek, to explore and to wander about the spaces around you.
I just wanted to put this out there for any creatives that struggle to stay focused. You don’t have to be doing the same thing, find a way to use your creative energy and you will find success. Find something where you are forced to re-imagine the possible outcomes and you will learn to love what you do.
We have had toddlers and teenagers out on the trails foraging with us and they really enjoy getting to know their natural surroundings. Do you feel that it is time to teach kids to love nature? Here are a few simple tips to help them to stay curious about nature and all of its wonders.
I grew up playing Conkers. Kids always love an element of competition and conkers is such a fun game to try out at home. This is a simple way to teach your kids about horse chestnuts and trees. To play this two person game all you need are two pieces of string or two shoe laces and conkers. Make a hole through the conker, tie the conker to the end of the string. The aim of the game is to break the other persons conker. Tip: Pick the best conker! Drop the conker in a glass of water, if it floats it will break easily.
2. Paint Leaves
This one is for the kids and adults. Pick your favourite leaves, bring them home, make sure that they are dry. Now cover them in your favourite coloured paint, stick them onto a white sheet of paper. Get creative with your patterns and make a piece of art to hang on the kids bedroom wall. What better way to get back to nature then showing how nature can be used to make indoor spaces shine.
3. Climb Trees
This seems like an ancient past-time these days but climbing trees and hanging about in the woodlands can be lots of fun.
4. Go Foraging
An obvious one for us foragers but we highly recommend foraging with children and teaching them about the wild plants around them. They have curious minds and will ask lots of questions. Believe us, we know! To learn more about foraging join one of our tours or book a private tour with us for your family here.
5. Go Camping
A summertime favourite, this isn’t always the easiest trip for a family to organise but there are many dedicated camping sites that facilitate families today.
6. Make shapes from the stars
One of my favourite hobbies as a child was to see what animals could be found in the sky. I even once found a rabbit. Learning about the sun, the stars and the planets is a fun way to awaken the mind.
7. Plant something in the Garden
If they are not growing greens at school then home is a great place to start. Just explain to them that GIY is super trendy right now so they can tell all of their friends about their home grown goods. To start off with plant something easy. Lettuce, herbs and green beans are pretty easy for GIY beginners.
8. Start a Nature Table
This is an easy and aesthetically pleasing way to bring nature indoors. Simply start to collect bits and bobs when you are out on your next hike. You don’t need lots but in the end you will have your very own natural history museum.
9. Take a hike and Bring a picnic
Pick a local hiking trail and put a date in the calendar. Getting ready for a picnic can be as much fun as eating the treats. Prepare for your hike together, go to your local store to buy the ingredients, make a flask of tea, sandwiches and any other goodies you would like to bring along. Make sure to give the kids their own bag for the journey.
10. Get Muddy
Nature isn’t about perfection, it is all about basking in the imperfections. Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and allow your kids to feel the earth, jump in the mud, climb the trees and splash in the streams.
These are just a few ways to teach kids to love nature but there are endless reasons why we think climbing trees and getting muddy should be on your kids to do list.