HARVESTING IN THE WILD
In August I was invited to the Rhug Estate in Wales to experience the wild harvesting processes behind their Organic skincare range Wild Beauty. I accepted with gusto - fascinated to see the workings of a large-scale organic farm as well as the wild places on the estate where the beneficial ingredients like heather and meadowsweet are collected. Through the wild, organic seaweed company Atlantic Kitchen I founded in 2012, I am familiar with the process of wild harvesting, which involves the collection of native, naturally occurring plants from their habitat in a way that doesn’t affect the natural balance of the local ecosystem. When collecting for personal use it is called foraging. It requires an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of a bioregion and the most respectful and synergistic intentions.
The Rhug Estate covers 12,500 acres in the Denbighshire county of Wales and has been farmed organically for over 20 years since the present Lord Newborough inherited it. It farms sheep, cows, sheep, turkey and chicken to the highest welfare standards and keeps deer, bison and bees - considered wild, not farmed animals. All the feed for the animals is supplied by the farm from the natural mix of grasses grazed in warmer months to the silage and oats dried for the cold months.
Advantageously placed on the thoroughfare between North and South Wales, the Estate has been able to a direct-to-consumer business around its’ organic and wild meat which can be bought from the deli, cafe, farm shop or drive-through.
What was so interesting to me was the entrepreneurial approach taken by Lord and Lady Newborough, which is to see the land, farm and estate has having multiple potential outputs, including meat, wool, energy, carbon, wild plants as well as providing a place for people to meet and engage with the seasonal calendar and engage with how food is made. The estate provides solar, wind and hydro energy and because it has been farmed organically for so long is net carbon negative, (which is really good) it draws down more carbon than it releases - so is able to generate carbon credits which could be sold into other businesses to offset the impact of inevitable transportation, for example.
Depending on locality and geography all these benefits may not be available to all farms, but it is an approach which puts the farmer as the caretaker of the land at front and centre, and opens up choices for how to farm that land, which is something farmers are not used to having. Being tied to government policy of the time, and reliant on the prices controlled by commodities markets and profit-driven intermediaries like supermarkets has left many farmers unable to make a profit from the land they look after. This means they are then reliant on subsidies, which are tied to certain outputs and to a level of productivity which makes chemical and pesticide use inevitable. Not only does this lock farmers into a cycle destined to fail, it also deprives the consumer of the good food that chemical-free and nature-friendly farming provides, that is free from routine antibiotics and stress hormones, and our environment is doubly loaded with the carbon emissions from modern farming and tonnes of waste from slurry and run-off.
Carbon sequestration, biodiversity and water management are all now becoming considered as outputs of nature-friendly, organic farming and could provide revenue streams directly to farmers which will allow them to take back control of how they farm, and incentivise the kinds of practices which improve these metrics.
Wild harvesting is the perfect example of working in harmony with nature with benefit. Richard Prideaux, the Head Forager on the Estate, took me to the protected areas covered in the rich diversity of ferns, heather, gorse and mosses where the plants so well adapted to the British climate flourish and thrive. The essence of these ingredients is used for Exfoliating Body Scrub with Rosemary and Rhug Honey, this is a gentle body scrub with organic sugar to help exfoliate and smooth the skin, Purifying Hand Wash with Corn mint and Dandelion a beautiful gentle hand wash with hydrating botanical cleansers combined with wild forage Dandelion and nettle and Moisturising Hand Lotion with Apricot Oil and Heather this lovely rich hand lotion has a wonderful fragrance and deeply hydrating properties also a soothing feel to the skin. It’s quite wonderful to get nature’s benefits so beautifully packaged.
There are so many benefits to working closely with nature, not least that we support those who are best placed to look after it for us and along the way be the grateful recipient of its’ powerful healing alchemy.