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The Good Life

PUBLISHED: 17:50 29 December 2013 | UPDATED: 17:50 29 December 2013

Fergus 'the forager' Drennan

Fergus 'the forager' Drennan

Manu Palomeque

Fergus the Forager and friends on how to embrace a self-reliant lifestyle in Kent 


What comes to mind when you hear the term self-sufficiency? Is it Barbara and Tom Good from the 197o’s classic TV sitcom trying to establish a more sustainable life in suburban London?

Or could it be some lone survivalist, seeking out a simplistic life far from civilisation? Or an allotment gardener trying to grow enough food to limit his 
or her trips to the supermarket.

Whatever pops into your head, rising food prices, concerns over the provenance of what we eat or simply a desire to shy away from our rampantly capitalistic lifestyles is leading many of us to think about becoming more self-sufficient.

It’s why allotment waiting lists have never been longer and why the number of people devoting parts of their gardens to vegetables is the highest in a generation.

Christine Fuller: 
The Smallholder

If never going to the supermarket again is an appealing idea, then the path chosen by Christine Fuller could be the one for you. Christine is one of a growing number of people in Kent who run their own smallholding.

“I’d always had an interest in growing and rearing my own food and so it seemed natural to one day own a smallholding” says Christine.

“The one that I have in Edenbridge I run with my husband, and on it we have livestock and also grow vegetables too. Through this we have become totally self-sufficient in meat and vegetables”

Although Christine admits that this level of self-sufficiency comes with plenty of hard work, she also feels that running a smallholding comes with plenty of perks too.

“My advice to anyone thinking of doing this is be prepared for some long hours but also be prepared for lots of fun too.

“If, like me, you enjoy growing food then there’s probably nothing better than growing on a scale like this, one that is essentially designed to feed you for an entire year. You might also, like me, get a huge sense of satisfaction when you look at the fruits of your labour.”

One of the many issues thrown up by the recent horsemeat scandal was the fact that few of us really understand where the meat that we eat comes from. We have no idea how the animal was treated, how it was slaughtered or how it was transported. There are no such problems for Christine and her husband.

“We know exactly where our meat has come from because we reared it ourselves. Even though my husband tends to deal more with that side of things, I still have an involvement and I’m glad that I do.

“We both have a relationship with our livestock, showing them a kindness that I think all animals deserve, even if they are being raised for a certain end. It means that we know how they’ve been treated, what they’ve been fed and how, ultimately, they’ve been slaughtered.”

So if anyone has been inspired after reading this, what advice would Christine give for those interested in starting a self-sufficient life of their own?

“Do it slowly, don’t go rushing in. Get help before you begin by talking to other smallholders and taking a few classes. Also, diversify from the beginning.

“You have to accommodate the possibility of failure; a smallholder who grows a limited array of crops or only, for example, keeps pigs, is going to run the risk of failure should a key crop fail or the pigs get sick.

“And lastly, don’t do this alone. Join a local smallholders association, like ours, the Kent Smallholders. The support of others will prove invaluable.”

Richard Cannon: The Downshifter

Becoming self-sufficient can incorporate so much more than just food, a perspective that has inspired Richard Cannon to live his life in a radically different way over the past fourteen years.

“I’m a down-shifter” says Richard “and what this means is that I have attempted to make my life more simplistic and become self-reliant in almost every way that you can think of.”

This lifestyle shift first started back in 1999, when a number of traumatic events led Richard to question what he was doing with his life.

“I took stock of the situation and decided I could only have the quality of life I wanted by changing it and making my destiny through my own means. The aim was to essentially escape the rat-race.

“Out went my railway management job and in came the self-reliant world. The last 14 years has taken me through oddjobbing, gardening work, earning a bit on the web through surveys and mystery shopping, etc.

“Now I’m lucky enough to have a summer job of dressing room attendant for the Kent Cricket Team and spend the winter months doing casual jobs.”

Along with this more casual approach to work, Richard has also revolutionised his home-life too.

“Food self-sufficiency is a vital part of self-reliance and so very early on I decided to grow my own vegetables, keep chickens and forage for food. I’m not self-sufficient but I am certainly less reliant on the supermarket than most.

“Added to this I also try to live as frugally as possible. For example, I buy washing up liquid in bulk, I shop at second hand shops and I cycle rather than drive. These, and the many other frugal acts that I undertake when combined make a big impact.”

Although Richard has managed to establish himself a relatively comfortable life, he says the downshifting journey has not been an easy one.

“There have been times when I have been penniless, really tough times when you question whether this is worth the effort. But I’ve persevered and I’m glad that I did. The thing about downshifting is that you really have to want to do it. This isn’t something to enter half-heartedly. To do it you have to radically redefine your life. It’s not easy but ultimately if you manage to do it then it can be very rewarding.”

Fergus Drennan: The Forager

If the stories of Catherine and Richard have piqued your interest and you’re ready to start down the self-sufficient path, then what the renowned forager Fergus Drennan has planned for the next 12 months can illustrate just how far that path can take you!

“I’ve decided to live off wild food, and just wild food, for the next year” says Fergus cheerfully.

Fergus has been a wild food forager for the past 25 years, in the process gaining an extensive knowledge of the many foodstuffs that most of us would probably walk past and ignore. According to Fergus, one of the reasons for his ‘year of wild food’ is to put all this knowledge to the test.

“For much of my time as a forager, I’ve blended wild food with conventional food. But I think that I’ve reached a point now where I know enough to dispense with the latter.

“In the past I’ve twice gone for nine weeks on a wild-food diet and on both occasions it wasn’t a problem. I’d have gone on longer but both times I had to stop for other reasons, one my health (I did my back in!) and on the other occasion work commitments interrupted.”

Allied to his own desire to test his knowledge and push his foraging skills to their limit, Fergus also hopes that what he is doing will highlight some of the issues surrounding our relationship with food.

“It might sound trite, but you are what you eat. I think there is a danger that this is being forgotten. Part of the problem is that we, as a country, are now disconnected from where our food comes from, and so our eating habits are suffering as a result. “The great thing about foraging is that it gives you an immediate connection to the land and really makes you understand why the provenance of food matters. I hope that, in some small way, what I am doing can raise some of these issues with the people who follow my progress.”

As if living of wild food for a year wasn’t hard enough, Fergus has opted to make life that bit more difficult by taking his experiment beyond his Canterbury home.

“I want this year to be a real challenge, so each month I’ll be trying different things. These include, cycling around Ireland, a month walking in Scotland, an attempt to live off urban wild food, a month where I will gradually reduce the local radius from which I’ll forage and maybe even some time away in Spain. It’s all part of me wanting to challenge my skill-set.”

What Fergus is doing this year is obviously at the extreme end of self-sufficiency and something only an experienced forager could undertake. But much of what he is eating is available locally and most of us, with a little research could easily incorporate some wild food into our diets.

“Not everything we eat has to be bought in a supermarket” explains Fergus. “If you want to take more control over what you eat then foraging is a great way to do this. There are plenty of books and courses to get you started, so why not give it a go?”

Christine Fuller is one of a growing number of people in Kent who have their own smallholding. “I’d always had an interest 
in growing and rearing my own food and

so it seemed natural to one day own a smallholding,” she explains.

“I run one in Edenbridge together with my husband, and on it we have livestock and also grow vegetables too. Through 
this we have become totally self-sufficient in meat and vegetables.”

Although Christine admits that this level of self-sufficiency comes with plenty of hard work, she also feels that running a smallholding comes with plenty of perks.

“My advice to anyone thinking of doing this is be prepared for some long hours but also be prepared for lots of fun too.

“If, like me, you enjoy growing food 
then there’s probably nothing better 
than growing on a scale like this, one 
that is essentially designed to feed you 
for an entire year. You will also get a 
huge sense of satisfaction when you 
look at the fruits of your labour.”

One of the many issues thrown up by the recent horsemeat scandal was the fact that few of us really understand where the meat we eat comes from. We have no idea how the animal was treated, slaughtered or 
how it was transported. There are no such problems for Christine and her husband.

“We know exactly where our meat has come from because we reared it ourselves. We both have a relationship with our livestock, showing them a kindness that 
I think all animals deserve, even if they 
are being raised for a certain end.

“It means that we know how they’ve been treated, what they’ve been fed and how, ultimately, they’ve been slaughtered.”

What advice would Christine give to 
Kent Life readers interested in starting 
a self-sufficient life of their own?

“Do it slowly, don’t go rushing in,” she says. “Get help before you begin by talking to other smallholders and taking a few classes. Also, diversify from the beginning.

“You must accommodate the possibility of failure too; a smallholder who grows a limited array of crops or only, for example, keeps pigs, is going to run the risk of failure should a key crop fail or the pigs get sick.

“And lastly, don’t do this alone. Join a local smallholders association, like the Kent Smallholders. The support of others will prove invaluable.”

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