A winter gathering of foragers, the annual meet up of the Association of Foragers written up by Andy Hamilton.
Happy gaggle of foragers (photo Mark Williams)
Places have personalities, shaped by the events that happen across their existence. Ice sheets carving then flooding a valley. Followed by flora and then fauna, ever changing. The flora feeding the fauna and fauna fertilising the fauna. Just as we are fertilised by the people we meet and the places we visit. We partner with the land, it enriching us and us enriching it. Just by being somewhere we form a symbiotic bond, on its simplest level we breath out what the trees breath in and vice versa. On a more complex level the colours, smells, sounds and bacteria present are all shaping us. This is why I believe, choosing a good venue is like matchmaking. Get it right and you’ll remember it forever.
Graham Whitehouse chose Torphichen because of its location, near airports, train stations and roads, price and room for unpredictable numbers. But he also picked it because he knew, it was a “beautiful spot that can get under your skin”. I couldn’t disagree, nestled as we were between rock and trees in a place deemed spiritual enough by our ancestors to build sacred ritual structures. Views out across rural Scotland, marsh, field and Lochcote reservoir glistening in the distance. All gave us a serene personality for us to fall in love with, and be comforted by, across one magical weekend.
Arriving in the first car, I got the luxury of meeting the waves of attendees. Many for the first time. AoF members’ nationalities are multiplying and along with it our diversity of skills, knowledge and gifts that we all bring to the group. Talk both during and after the weekend on social media, phone calls and emails was of how welcoming we all are, of how comfortable we are with each other. Chats were plentiful, joyous and educational, from the history of Poland, giggles over long and shite poems, unravelling the education system, the best uses for a duck pancreas to what we think has shaped who we are now.
With our kinship we were offered glimpse of what the world could be if we were in charge. A gift economy, each of us excited about what we could bring to the party instead of what we can take away.
People then were my biggest highlight of the AMU. Followed by workshops, of which there were plenty. We learnt to identify conifers getting to our firs from our spruces, guided by Jennie Martin. Nev Kilkenny showed us how to observe identifying characteristics of mushrooms under microscopes. Amy Rankine organised a visit to Otherworld Brewing and a hands on experiment evaluating different blends of beer with beech. Matthew Rooney led a tour around Cairnpapple Hill and Torphichen Preceptory and other sites where our ancestors trod. Łukasz Łuczaj talked about recording different foods in different societies and countries and what they tasted like, including Tibeten, Eastern Europe, and Korean foods. Drawing on my experience of writing books I (Andy Hamilton) encouraged members to share their knowledge in print with a writing workshop.
Chocolate augmented elf cups in Charlotte Flower's workshop (photo Mark Williams)
Of course there were food workshops: fermentation (Szymon Szyszczakiewicz), butchery (Rupert Waites), preserving, brining (Craig Worrall), the delights of fly agaric (Courtney Tyler), chocolate making (Charlotte Flower), wild flour (Monica Wilde), and I organised a cocktail cabaret. These all were as generously received as they were given. Advance preparation and the guts to stand up in front of our peers (a brave move indeed!) meant all workshop facilitators were received with gratitude and appreciation.
Technical side of a workshop (photo Mark Williams)
Entertainment was also a feature of the AMU. Mark Williams made the poet who is the beating heart of Scottish culture, Robert Burns come alive, as the freshly made haggis was brought to the table..
Exactly a week has passed since and I still feel that the personality of that land, filled with you all, sits within me and has shaped me. A kindly mentor who has prepared me and filled me with excitement for the coming season.
Thank you all again for every little part you played. It could easily feel that the next bit of matchmaking is an uphill struggle, how can any place compete? I’d argue that the pieces are all there, the soil of the AOF that already teams with life. Add to that another year of learning, another year of bonding and growing from these fertile roots and we’ll grow anywhere.
I really look forward to seeing you all again soon, wherever that may be.