Also in attendance were James Stuart & Simon Jones (Convener and Conservation Director at the park authority) and Cameron Maxwell, Conservator at Scottish Forestry.
We were blessed with a beautiful crisp day with blue skies that made for some great photographs, picked up by local and national press.
Our tiny hedging whips that were planted back in early 2018 (see blog) are just outgrowing their stakes now. Our healthy array of hazel, blackthorn, rose, hawthorn and crab apple will act as a windbreak for the fruit trees and bushes below and also provide a sustainable source of food (tree-hay) for the goats in the winter to help limit our imports.
So… just as our latest project got to a critical point (more on that in a future post), I dropped everything to go a remote area of Finland for four days.
Why on earth?! I asked myself the same question but, in short, it was too fantastic an opportunity to turn down and I had made the commitment back in March when I signed up to Forth Valley and Lomond Leader Wild Wonder’s Foraging Course. Since March I have been meeting with a diverse group of incredibly interesting (and rather lovely) folk once a month to learn about sustainable foraging in Scotland.
It’s been a revelation to learn about the wonderful wild foods that are growing in our woodlands, hedgerows, hills and coastal areas and experience the incredible flavours and health benefits they bestow. As if that wasn’t enough, at every meeting up, each participant brings along a food or drinks contribution towards lunch. I’ve been struggling to expand my vocabulary to describe new and delicious tastes. In Spring, fermented wild garlic was to die for, crunchy succulent Sea kale early summer felt like a healthy treat – so much more exciting that the kale from our field – which is also pretty good! Finally, the blaeberry cream cheese tart is something that will be an annual mid-summer commitment from now on.
The course has been led by Mark Williams (gallowaywildfoods.com). A guy who knows a hell of a lot, has even more patience and knows how to share his knowledge. However, it was fair to say that everyone was excited about going to Finland, including Mark, particularly because it offered the possibility of finding mushrooms that he’d not come across before.
The Event was part of a wider “Wild Wonders” project, with partners in Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. Our Scottish group travelled to Illomansti, in North Karelia, a remote region close to the Russian border, heavily forested and sparsely populated. The reason for our visit was to attend the Wild Food Festival in lllomansi to help us prepare for the first Scottish Wild Food Festival this September 14th. However, that was on the Saturday and we arrived Wednesday evening in time to be treated to a welcoming buffet in a huge “wood cabin” restaurant and the warmth and hospitality of the people of Karelia.
This welcome continued for the next four days wherever we went and will be a lasting memory of Finland. It went hand in hand with The Finn’s respect and knowledge of their “wild food”, so much so that it is enshrined in law that it is everyman’s right to gather it, regardless of the landowner. In good years Finnish Households pick 50 million kilos of wild berries in addition to another 20 million which are picked on a commercial basis.
The next few days proved to be a blur of activity, working together to prepare a 3 course foraged meal.. and then sit down together to share it, an icy swim in a lake and the sound of chainsaws in the morning as the international Bear Carving Championships got underway in the car park to our hotel!
What had the biggest impact? Its hard to say, the openness of the forests and the joy of walking through them perhaps, or how they were carpeted with berries packed with wonderful health-giving properties. So many types of berry; blaeberry, lingonberry, cloudberry, crowberry to name a few. The bog whortleberry got my vote for most delicious straight from the bush.
I fell in love with the silver birch and the tall shimmering aspen and have returned with a commitment to plant even more trees at Achray Farm and to off set the carbon footprint of my flight to Finland by planting more elsewhere.
At the Wild Food Festival, l I talked to a stall holder representing a charity supporting families. She was a dietitian and part of her role involved encouraging families to forage and rediscover the health benefits of berries and mushrooms. How fantastic is that?
One government research and development organisation, LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland) gave a fascinating presentation regarding the social and economic significance of wild forest products. Amongst other things they have mapped the areas that are concentrated with wild foods such as the Finnish blueberry and produced an app to assist people to find them. They are also committed to supporting private forest owners (of which there are many in Finland – 600,000 owning 14 million hectares of forest) to improve the economic benefits of sustainable forest foods with harvests such as mushrooms, herbs and sap. As much as half of this produce goes for export. In addition, Resin production from spruce can be harvested for wound infection treatment for use in pharmaceuticals.
For me, perhaps one of the most pertinent take home messages from the trip came from a couple of small farms we visited. They have diversified what they do in order to retain a strong commitment to looking after the biodiversity of the place they live. It was a joy to find small Finnish sheep in the forest, delightfully friendly and who accompanied us on the remainder of our walk. This was part of the commitment to Agroforestry that both farms we visited had taken. Agroforestry is happening over here – the Woodland Trust in Glen Finglas for example, but there could be so much more. Finally, and unexpectedly, the trip renewed my batteries at a point when unexpected life events, the complexity of regulations and making them work for small-scale sustainable farming, were at risk of defeating me. Having come to farming late in life and continuing to feel an amateur I was able to add two more strong female role models working in sustainable agriculture to the small but growing number of Scottish ones I know.
Being outside most of the year gives us the personal validation that the Trossachs is a great place to live in or visit all-year-round. We have opened up our booking window for The Old Farmhouse for others to enjoy too. There is even a Christmas slot available for a last-minute escape to the country.
The end of this month (November 2018), marks our second anniversary at Achray Farm. When you live and breath a place, change can be hard to see on a daily basis. It’s only when friends pass by after a couple of weeks away and comment, or an image on the phone or Facebook pops up as a memory that brings it home.
As a more curated record, one of the things that we do for visitors walking or cycling through Achray Farm is to post a newsletter on the gate explaining what we have been up to recently and what our plans are. Whilst currently writing Issue #5, Autumn 2018, I thought that the previous issues should be available in other than a fading laminated printout, so here they are:
One of our aims for Achray Farm was to create a regenerative environment. This tenet is not only in what we produce (see Blog from April 2018), but also in how we operate on our triple-bottom line of Financial, Social and Environmental impact.
One of the biggest environmental aspects outwith our direct control is the power and heat used to supply the domestic residential, guest accommodation and operations on the farm. Although we currently utilise a “green” tariff with our energy supplier we knew there was more potential and opportunity with the space and environment to do more.
In late 2017 we began investigation into integrating a local district heating system for the buildings under current (and future) development and solar to use our own power on-demand and supply a little back to the grid. Although we considered geothermal, the risks of shallow arrays in our stony glacial till and the costs of deep bores brought us to more conventional solar and biomass combination.
Solar power in Scotland? That sounds like growing grapes and sweetcorn here but there are now large-scale subsidy-free commercial developments and panels that work well under a range of conditions, including direct sunlight (and there are even sweetcorn and grapes growing in Scotland now as well!).
Even with these, typically East coast, developments The Trossachs is not seen as a primary or high solar gain area. However, being able to optimise a ground-mounted array with unrestricted orientation and alignment, when the sums were presented the long-term financial balance along with the improved environmental impact of the farm as a whole allowed us to progress.
As it turns out, 2018 has been a phenomenally sunny year since May, making up for the long cold winter. We passed our first tree saved, have hit a couple of 30KWh days and even reached 1MWh in less than 2 months. Some modern offshore wind turbines can generate a MWh in around 10 minutes under good conditions, but I am very pleased by our performance from late April to June.
We have also installed an ImmerSun immersion control to maintain our hot water tank temperatures by scheduling hot water during the day to use our own power first before the biomass system needs to fire up.
Our biggest investment, and biggest capacity to control our impact and energy security is the biomass infrastructure. There is a lot of discussion in relation to biomass as an environmental level, but living in Scotland, surrounded by commercial forestry that creates local by-products and sourcing local suppliers.
Now, after construction of a new building, built to fit into the listed building environment, hand digging deep trenches, the installation of a new boiler and accumulator with enough pipework to make an almost sculptural engineering work of art contorted into the space. All this is supplied by a 9-ton pellet store and automated auger feeder. When filled up in the autumn (no seasonal price differences in pellet supply) this should be able to readily last us through the winter and icy/snowy forest roads that can prevent heavy deliveries for months at a time.
Pellet supply from BD Supplies was efficient with advice and a clean delivery, weighed to the Kg.
Our main energy contract suppliers, Mike and Dave from Energy Source (UK) have throughout been professional, friendly and flexible in designing, installing and commissioning our solution.