Guest post: Forage London

Forage London

Hello everybody, this is John, founder of Forage London. It’s a pleasure to be a guest author on Urban Farmer London this week.

In case you’re wondering how I got into foraging, about 17 years ago my girlfriend and I decided we should go and have a weekend out of London to, you know, see if we like each other where we’re not at a party! Turns out we did, 17 years later we’re still together! We went to the New Forest where she grew up and went for a walk. She started pointing out edible mushrooms. I knew nothing about that sort of stuff and I thought that was really cool. Needless to say, she got me into mushroom hunting!

I had been mushroom hunting for a few years when I had a sort of epiphany: “What about all the other stuff? All the trees and greenery?” In my quest to find out what else I could eat while out hiking, I became kind of obsessed with finding out everything there is to know about foraging.

The more I learnt about wild foods, the more I started looking at London parks in a different way. I was stunned by how much diversity there is. London is a very green city and, in my local park alone, I’ve identified over 135 different species of edible plants.

If you’re thinking of trying foraging, good! It’s easy, but you have to learn how to forage safely and the best way to do that is to go out with someone who will teach you how to look out for plants (both edible and non-edible) and teach you a basic method of keeping yourself safe. Once you get started, as a general rule of thumb, always ask yourself, “Am I 100% sure this is safe to eat?”. If you’re not, don’t eat it!

Forage London

On my organised walks I take a group of 10 or 12 people to a large green space in London. I show them a different way of looking at their surroundings. We walk, we talk and we pick things. I show them how to recognise plants, point out key features, things to look out for and then we try different wild foods I’ve pickled and fermented. Some flavours are quite extreme, so this is a great experience for any foodie.

From a health point of view, wild foods are amazing and we should be eating more! Wild foods have not been bred or modified to taste sweeter, travel well, last longer or look good. They are natural. They are off the scale in terms of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and phyto-nutrients. So try and introduce a little bit of wild food into your diet, it’s good for you and it’s fun.

I love foraging. It’s an absorbing past time and every outing is a multi-sensory treasure hunt. Whether you want the benefits of natural food or you’re a foodie who wants to explore new flavours, foraging is for you!

For more information on my foraging walks, check out my website or follow Forage London on Facebook.

(Images courtesy of Forage London)


Allotments, markets and farms: the definitive list

Alight, this is it, we’re going to give you the definitive list of what websites to check out for all your food growing needs. We’ll update it as we find new resources, so make sure to bookmark this page!

Allotment Information

Getting an allotment is tough and usually depends on what borough you live in. Most council websites will have information on allotments and they should be your first port of call, so you can put yourself on a waiting list or bag an available one straightaway.

  • This handy page from the government website allows you to check how best to apply for an allotment in your area.
  • The National Allotment Society – general information on allotments as well as a pretty comprehensive section on how to care for your allotment and other valuable advice on growing produce
  • This page collects all Guardian articles referring to allotments, which includes news, guides, photos and more.
  • Allotment & Gardens is another useful website with a ton of resources to help you manage your allotment.

Beekeepers and Honey

There are plenty of rooftops in London, which means there are plenty of places to keep hives! Whether you’re just curious about this hobby, or you’re looking to start keeping bees, check out these handy sites first.

  • The London Beekeepers’ Association provides “education and advice, promoting responsible bee keeping and raising awareness of the issues affecting bees”. Your first port of call for all your urban beekeeping needs.
  • Similar to the LBKA, the Urban Bees website offers general information on beekeeping in London, from courses to maps, books to honey.
  • The London Honey Company sells honey form the hives they manage in central London and beyond.
  • The North London Beekeepers is a growing network and a great place to start if you need advice or want to chat to likeminded honey-lovers.
  • Capital Bee is based in South East London and sells honey as well as running courses on beekeeping. They also sell bee colonies.
  • The Golden Company makes honey, among other things. It’s a social enterprise, meaning it specifically works towards doing something that gives back to the community. In their own words: “we work with young people to improve wellbeing and employability through engagement with nature and enterprise”. You can also find them at Borough Market every Saturday.

London Markets

There’s nothing better than heading off to a market on a Saturday morning to get some nice vegetables and something delicious for breakfast. There are so many markets in London that there is sure to be one close to you. Here are our favourites:

  • Borough Market has been going for at least 1000 years and has been in that specific spot in London Bridge since 1756. The full market is open from Wednesday-Saturday. It’s also open for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays, from 10am-5pm (no traders, just cooked food stalls for a yummy lunch).
  • Blackheath Farmers Market is on every Sunday from 10am-2pm, in the station car park. It’s great if you want to stock up on free range eggs and organic vegetables from local farmers.
  • Lewisham holds a number of farmers’ markets in different locations and on rotation, so check their Facebook page to see where the next one will be held.
  • Brockley Market, which is actually held in South Lewisham College, is on every Saturday, 10am-2pm. If you fancy a gluten-free French crêpe while you stock up on your organic purple kale, this is the place to go!
  • If you fancy a market where you have to constantly negotiate hipsters and their fixie bikes, then head on down to Broadway Market, which is on every Saturday from 9am-5pm. Have a Vietnamese coffee and some delicious olives, or if it all gets too much, grab a cocktail from Off Broadway.
  • Bermondsey is increasingly up and coming and has had its own Farmers Market for a few years now. Head to Bermondsey Square on Saturdays, 10am-2pm.
  • The Southbank Centre is now hosting its very own market from April 2015. It had previously been home to the The Real Food Market, which has not relocated to Kings Cross.

To find other markets in London, check out London Farmers’ Markets map or Time Out’s review of the best markets in the capital.

London Farms

London might be a crammed capital, but thankfully there is always space for a spot of urban farming. These farms sell their produce and some even serve breakfast, so be sure to check them out!

  • On your way to Broadway Market, stop by Hackney City Farm and say hello to its many animals. They also offer school visits, volunteering opportunities and pottery classes. They’re open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4:30pm.
  • Head to Vauxhall City Farm if you fancy watching Fred, Barney, Betty and Wilma, the farm’s resident goats, jump around and be generally cute and cheeky. They’ve even got horses! Visit the farm Wednesday to Sunday, 10:30am-4pm.
  • Lee Valley Park Farm has got animals, food and lots of attractions for kids…and you can even hitch a ride on a tractor!
  • Spitalfields City Farm is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm…and the perfect spot to get away from it all during your lunch break.
  • Kentish Town City Farm has got loads of activities on for children, both during term time and school holidays.
  • Hounslow Urban Farm also caters to children’s activities, including themed events like sleigh rides at Christmas and “Spooky Animal Encounters” at Halloween!
  • Surrey Docks Farm offers activities for children, but also workshops for adults, such as a course on making jams and chutneys, courses on pruning and growing fruit and more. Check out their courses here.
  • Stepney City Farm hosts a farmers’ market on Saturdays and brunch on Sundays, but you can visit the farm from Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30am-4pm.

Organised Foraging Walks

Believe it or not, you can go for a walk through Hampstead Heath and come back with a basket full of food you’ve picked! But it’s best to know what exactly you can pick. These walks are a great way to learn which bits of London’s flora can be picked and safely eaten:

  • Forage London organise walks in different parks around London, but their courses fill up fast, so be sure to sign up early. Courses cost between £30-£35.
  • Forage Wild Food also run similar courses. Check their listings here.
  • This site has some useful resources on what foods are safe to eat.
  • If mushrooms are your thing, then check out Fungi’s workshops and resources.

London might be busy, noisy and polluted, but thankfully it also offers a lot for nature and food lovers!