Monday 16 July 2018

Smart Consumer: Super food heroes! We gave up London for the sloe life

John Daly

Escaping the rat race for the good life can be a balm to both body and soul, writes John Daly

Just like the folk in those ancient television series Green Acres and The Good Life, Fiona and Malcolm Falconer always dreamed of clean country air far away from the city smog. Living and working in London -- she as a documentary filmmaker; he as a production designer -- they grasped the nettle one day and upped sticks for a very different life far from the urban bustle, deep in rural Wexford.

"London is an amazing city and we had many wonderful years there," said Fiona. "But we knew if we were ever going to change our lives and make the move, it had to be while our kids were small." Opting to exchange the city treadmill for a life on the land, the pair looked to Ireland for a new start.

With Fiona's family roots in Donegal, the pair narrowed their search for a plot to the east coast: "As all my family are now in Dublin, we'd have loved Wicklow, but not being born there, we couldn't build there. In the end, it came down to Meath, Louth and Wexford, and we chose the sunny south-east."

With a four-acre holding close to Monalin, near Gorey, the pair set about planting a 'forage forest', where every plant, bush and tree yielded produce for their fledgling enterprise, Wild About.

"You can eat every plant in the forage forest. We have a huge array of fruit bushes, berries, nuts, herbs and fruit trees, as well as the native Irish hedgerow which harvests the most wonderful elderberries, rosehips, sloes and haws."

Harking back to the old ways of our ancestors has yielded success for them. "A generation ago, we regularly used native ingredients in our diet. Many people remember picking rose hips or elderberries as children to make syrup for coughs and colds, or a comfrey rub for bruises and cuts. Fifty years ago most households would have some form of natural, native remedies in regular use," she says.

With the advent of the consumer generation we have lost many of the traditions which are an integral part of our heritage, she believes.

"They are part of who we are, and our mission is to bring these native, seasonal superfoods back into the spotlight. "

Growing all their own produce, they maintain pest control through biological ingenuity rather than chemical sprays: "We work on the permaculture principles of planting plants that attract insects that attack the pests that cause the damage."

With Malcolm having overseen the construction of their Scandinavian timber frame eco-house shortly after their arrival in Monalin, building the company brand followed soon after.

"We had a bumper harvest in 2010, and when we had given as much to our relatives as their cupboards could hold, we decided we needed to find an outlet for the excess produce. That was when Wild About was born."

They now produce an array of products, including jams, chutneys, relishes, syrups, and even nettle beers and berry ports.

Thinking local informs the Falconers' every harvest move from using their own ingredients, or sourcing from local producers. "Some things such as extra virgin olive oil we are forced to import, but we try and grow everything -- which even includes our own chillies."

Making full use of the south-east's benign climate, the Wild About superfoods are produced by the time-honoured traditions of the soil. "We work seasonally, so when the harvest comes in, the product goes into stock and when it's gone, it's gone."

Memories of their former busy lives in London are now firmly in the rear-view mirror for Fiona and Malcolm and their children.

"London was wonderful, but that was another chapter," says Fiona.

"In this beautiful part of the world, we make a lot less, but we certainly live an awful lot more." Visit Fiona and Malcolm's website

Irish Independent

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