Fergus Drennan will take part in a social, psychological, ecological and spiritual experiment, in which he will only eat wild, foraged food for a year. He will document this journey to total nutritional self-sufficiency… Will he succeed?

In order to explore the full potential and sustainable use of wild foods, whilst undertaking research and an impartial assessment into the important topics of nutrition, bio-accumulation of toxins, polluted habitats and general safety issues surrounding the use of wild foods, funding is essential. In an ideal world I would fund such research myself and, indeed, whatever funds I can earn I am using to fund this project. On the other hand the project will be impossible without your support.

Please listen to the video in which I discus the project, as well as read the further sources of information below. Over the coming months,  and during the project itself, I shall be updating and sharing information about the project via this website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the media.

Could you live on 100% wild, foraged food for a year?

How we grow, source, process, prepare and relate to foods is a fundamental dimension of the permaculture way. My expertise lies in the realm of wild, feral or otherwise non-cultivated but important potential food crops that have a vital part to play in more holistic and sustainable ways of living.

Questions about the project put to me by both Positive News and fellow forager Rebeccer Lerner…

Which wild foods do you anticipate will be your staples during the year-long wild food experiment?

Acorns, chestnuts, walnuts, oysters, and various wild greens that are both abundant and can be utilised to extend their use beyond their usual growing season. Things like, nettles, wild garlic, and sea beet. Also collecting and bottling highly nutritious juices such as that of sea buckthorn berries will be very important. Of course, such ideas involve the anticipation of a good harvest.

Will you be doing this experiment entirely solo, or will you have the participation of a partner or friend or roommate(s) helping you along, as a foraging buddy or chef or just morale booster?
If solo, how will you keep your morale up when you’re several months in and craving a burrito (or what have you)?

I’d love to do this project within a community of like-minded people. However, to succeed in that way all participants would require a high degree of wild plant knowledge, processing skills, commitment and dedication, as well as being liberated from the tyranny of conventional work and the time and money dictates of modern society. In other words, it’s just a pipe dream!

Therefore I’ll be the only person living entirely through the year eating 100% foraged food. However, for a week each month and on various weekends throughout the year, I’ll be inviting people to live, experience and document the adventure from their own unique perspective as they live the 100% wild diet with me. Such people may be foragers, chefs, bushcrafters, survivalists, a mother with children, permaculturalists or people with no knowledge of wild foods whatsoever.It will indeed be a great challenge to keep morale up.

It is all very well trying to generate interest and support for my project as I’m doing now, but I’m acutely aware that initial interest, support and vital encouragement from others could tapper off as the months progress (although through regular blog posts and other public engagement I hope to maintain a wider interest and support), and there may well be times of great loneliness and self-doubt. All I can do is welcome and embrace such moments, documenting them as honestly as I’m able. Turning inwards to observe and reflect as well as outwards to observe nature and one’s fundamental connection, coupled with maintaining the life raft that is a good sense-of-humour, I anticipate will carry me safely through such dangerous and choppy waters.

What drives you?

Whilst hoping that these things aren’t mutually incompatible, I’m driven by a strong desire to learn how humans can live a life that is sustainable, fun, creative and fulfilling; a life that respects the rest of the community of life we share the planet with; a life informed by the celebration of possibilities and potential, connection and reciprocal growing, learning and unfolding. Currently I feel that exploring the world of wilds foods offers a unique opportunity to realise those somewhat lofty goals.

What’s the longest you’ve gone solely or mostly eating wild food until now? How many hours do you think you’ll spend foraging or processing food per day?

On two occasions I’ve gone 9 weeks eating solely foraged foods; 1 month was completely vegan. That was easier than I thought. I felt fantastic on many levels, although due to the climate in the UK it’s not really practical to be wild and vegan for more than a month or two.

On both those occasions over 9 weeks, I found that I foraged on average for 2 hours a day, with about 4 hours given over to processing and cooking – and many hours researching.

Tell us a little bit about yourself as a brief bio: Where and how do you live (England? Do you reside in the country/suburb/city?) What do you do for work (are you a full time wild food educator?) Tell us your age, and some interests that don’t have anything to do with foraging. Tell us some people you admire or who inspire you, if any.

I live four miles upriver from Canterbury, Kent in the South East of England. I’m 41 years old, although on many days I feel like a 7 or 70 year old. I’m a vocational forager which means that exploring the wild food realm is both work and play. I would indeed say I’m full-time wild food educator. It is certainly work but not a job – a job makes money!

Foraging, wild plants, nature, human beings, time and space, are all part of the fundamental web of life, the warp and woof of existence. In that I am interested. So I’m very interested in artistic creations using natural materials; in clothes produced sustainably from nature; paints, fabrics, musical instruments. All these ultimately involve foraging!

I’m very inspired by nature and female energies that are immense, powerful and challenging! Obviously I’m also inspired by all those who seek to live a good life in love, creativity, sensitivity and respectful engagement with the natural world and each other, be they poets, musicians, writers, politicians, friends, family. But I find that seemingly complete arseholes can be just as inspiring!

I’m also incredibly inspired by those with long attention spans! I’m frequently told not to write too much because people these day’s can’t concentrate that long. If I was to agree and adjust my writing accordingly I’d just be perpetuating the apparent problem. However, if you are suffering either from this (or the completely valid excuse that there are far more interesting things to be doing other than sitting at the computer) please skip to the crucial last question immediately!

How do you plan to handle the winter season? What will you rely on?

Winter will be tough on many levels. Currently the proposed start date for my project is, at the earliest, 1 month after I’ve all the vital funds in place. On the other hand, I’m very tempted to actually start the project at the beginning of winter when motivation is high; that way I can get what could be the hardest part completed first. Even so, over that period I will value the nourishing support of friends, as well as the nourishment of the stored autumn harvest more than ever.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge while doing this experiment? What conventional food will most tempt you to cheat along the way?

The experiment, adventure, ordeal and celebration will be challenging on so many levels; indeed, it is the sheer multi-dimensionality that is the greatest challenge. A number of people who have eaten wild food quite a bit have suggested to me that it will be easy. But unlike them I will not be shooting and trapping; I will not have a few basic staples like potatoes, rice, pasta, cooking oil or basic seasonings that I can depend on, unless their nearest equivalents are directly sourced through foraging. There is a difference in magnitude between eating a 99% foraged diet and a 100% foraged one!

Provided I can stay both physically and psychologically strong and healthy, I don’t foresee any temptation arising or cravings for conventional foods: which is not to say that the use of fresh ginger, chillies, and pink grapefruit won’t be missed.

Why are you passionate about foraging? What are some things you personally get out of it that are immaterial in nature? And do you consider yourself more of a foodie/chef type or a survivalist type or a naturalist, if you had to choose? Most foragers tend to be in one category or the others.

My interest in foraging is very organic and evolving. To do it, explore it, research it and live it simply feels like an alignment with my purpose and deepest motivations and desires – an often tempestuous love affair with wild nature. On the other hand, I wonder if falling out of my pram as a baby simply activated some recessive hunter-gatherer gene!? Who knows why? It is a fundamentally beautiful, infuriating, animating and overwhelming mystery.

As to the type of forager I am, well, the honest truth is that I like to explore foraging and wild foods from as many perspectives as possible. I trained as a chef, have a degree in religious studies, have a profound interest in sustainability and primitive skills, and was initially drawn to wild plants primarily as a child through a fascination with butterflies and moths. Also, I’m a Libran, so try to balance out my explorations in the foraging realm in all these ways equally, as chef, naturalist, survivalist, nutritionist, toxicologist, artist…

What changes would you make to the modern world to make it more forager friendly?

I think being the change is the best thing to do! But if I were able to make changes, well….there would be far too many to mention here. But here’s a few:

I live not far from a small city, there, and in many places around the world, urban (and elsewhere) trees are succumbing to disease. I’d love to see these all replaced by fruit and nut (chocolate) trees. Also, I’d make practical, fun and creative, permaculture-based environmental education a core subject of study from the earliest age, with serious study given to the works of naturalists, artists, poets, musicians, Osho, Charles Eisenstein, Mark Boyle, and David Deida in later years!

Why is your project important? Tell us a bit about what you hope your project will reveal to the rest of us about being a full-time forager.

I think human beings are incredibly creative and ingenious, and yet both the natural limitation of our relatively short life-span, coupled with the unique pressures, dictates, and (often) false goals of modern life, mean that many people are disconnected from the food they eat, from the natural world and each other. If the situation continues, suffering and misery will increase exponentially year upon year. I want to explore and share my explorations of the deep life affirming connection that working with plants and wild foods in particular can bring, fully embracing the challenges of the moment whilst also thinking in terms of the coming days and weeks, and in terms of how my activities impact now, in 5 years, 25 years, 250 years, 25000 years. Some will think me absurd, some brave, some inspirational, some deluded, some enlightened, some egotistical. No matter. This is what I feel I need to do. If it is the right thing it will happen and I will be supported. Support for this project is something I joyfully embrace, cherish and am immensely grateful for; resistance and criticism I see as an opportunity to inform what I do, and strengthen my resolve and push through.

A society grows great when old men and women plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in

Greek proverb

Why are you asking for financial support for this project?

Given the perfect storm of ecological, social and personal crises we face, humanity needs to – rather urgently and radically – examine its relationship to food, and how we acquire it. Lots of great work is already underway in this respect: local growing schemes such as CSAs are gaining momentum, Permaculture projects are becoming more widespread, and there is a resurgence in gardening and self-sufficiency. These are all parts of the solution. Yet one component remains conspicuous by its absence: Wild food. Whilst more people are being drawn to foraging, no one – no government agency, no organisations, no individuals – are exploring Wild food to anything near the degree that a healthy, sustainable, connected future for humanity demands.

So instead of waiting for the government to pump in the amount of tax-payers money it dedicates to pesticides, GM and the like, I’ve decided to simply do it myself. Of course, as a number of people have said to me: “Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t need money, so why do you”? This is understandable, though there are a number of reasons.

First, our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who ate like I propose to eat, were not embedded in a monetary economy. Therefore, they were not required to pay exorbitant rent for land or housing, they didn’t have to travel (and pay heavily for it) huge distances to utilize and explore food resources because their land base was depleted, polluted and disrupted. And because they were passed on the ancient knowledge of Wild food from the moment they were born, they also didn’t have to spend every waking moment researching that lost knowledge.

Second, I need to pay for research throughout the year. The world is far more polluted today than in former times. Within limits, nature is very good at cleaning up such abuse, indeed we see this in the ability of many wild growing plants, fungi and seaweeds to bio-accumulate toxic substances such as heavy metals. The dreadful and tragic irony is that now, in many instances, to safely consume wild plants – especially on a regular basis – it is important to determine any bio-accumulatory activity. Paid research is required, as very often even seemingly pristine habitats may be seriously polluted by former land use. Partly, as a consequence, I need to have regular and detailed heath checks throughout the year. These activities all require financing, and they are costly.

Third, I’ve dedicated the last 25 years of my life to researching and experimenting with wild food. This is my passion and a meaningful vocation to me, but there certainly isn’t any money in foraging. Therefore, unlike my friends who have followed more financially lucrative life paths, I haven’t been able to put money aside for an all-consuming endeavour such as this, despite living a very simple life.

Fourth, I’ll be blogging about my experiments and experiences throughout the year in the hope that the results, the findings, the lessons, the recipes, the discoveries of plants with various uses that we walk past every day, will be of benefit to all of you. All of this I will be doing for free, so that anyone, irrespective of income, can freely access it.

Because of this, I am asking those in my community – both local and further afield – who want to see this work undertaken, but who for very good reasons aren’t in a position to be able to, to help support it. Any contribution, great or small, will be received with deep gratitude, as only with your kindness will I be able to make it happen.

I have read a bit about your background and experience in foraging so I think I am clear on why you are taking on the challenge. But is there anything in particular you would like the readers of Positive News to know about why you are doing this for a whole year?

What are the ecological implications of living off just wild food? What are the benefits/advantages health wise and environmentally?

The ecological implications of living entirely on wild food can be framed both positively and negatively, and must take into account both the fact that we live on a relatively small island undergoing increasing habitat loss, as well as being understood within the context of our ultimately unsustainable and entrenched industrial system of agriculture and, often unthinking, business-as-usual general approach to food production. I’m frequently asked the question: “But…what if everybody foraged.” It’s a very good question, but is far from being a simple one, as it can embody so many assumptions – some rooted in fear, some in a general concern to care for and nurture our landscape, plants and general biodiversity (and ourselves), and some just based in genuine confusion, simply wanting a little extra clarity. Clearly, in a culture where most people – including myself – are addicted to convenience above all other considerations, everybody isn’t going to suddenly stop using and thereby supporting, let’s say, supermarkets and the whole entire resource depleting infrastructure that underpins them. Nope, to be sure, everybody isn’t going to start foraging any time soon. Of course even assuming that everybody or even most people did start to forage (in the UK), few would wish to consume a 100% foraged diet. Globally, foraging and a wild food diet is often associated with desperation and deprivation in countries ravaged by war such as Somalia or plagued by failed crops and subsequent famine, whereas here in Britain foraging (but not 100%) is predominantly very much a pursuit of the affluent middle class. Indeed, given the superficial general ease and convenience of our culture, in order to explore the full potential of wild foods, it’s necessary to artificially impose a structure counter to the prevailing hypnotic sense of ease and plenty. By imposing a 100% wild/foraged diet on myself I am forced to fully explore every possible dimension to the sustainable use of wild foods, drawing on the 20+ years of experience working with wild plants that I’ve already accrued. Of course, I’m not saying we should all eat a 100% wild food diet, but that, if you’ll allow me, if you’ll support me, I’m prepared to dedicate all my energy, through an exploration of both ancient and modern food storage, processing and preparation techniques, to document and share as best I can, the full potential that can be unlocked and discovered from a 100% wild food diet lived intensely through ever season of the year and within a range of different habitats.

While it’s possible for someone with your level of foraging experience to do this, how possible would it be for other people to live off wild food for a year?

Well, even in my own case, although I know that it’s theoretically possible to live entirely on wild foods for a year, the question of its actual practice is a qualitatively different one. But, speaking of quality, anybody with just a little investigation can get to know and use some of the commoner so-called weeds in the garden or nearest alley way. Such common plants as dandelion, fat hen and nettles abound, are delicious, and often more tasty and nutritious than industrially grown and internationally freighted crops, all else being equal. Unfortunately though, everything else isn’t equal in terms of being ‘all good and proper’ but perhaps is in the sense of equally problematic, equally hidden, equally unknown. Apart from home grown foods and foods produced locally by people with whom we have an ongoing connection and relationship, foods produced in a landscape to which we have a deep and personal inter-connection, all other foods are of uncertain provenance and traceability. Horse meat may lurk in food produced by the industrial machine, but dangers also lurk in seemingly beautiful and pristine wild plants and their habitats.

The issue of wild food and heath is a complex and nuanced one. I recently heard a news report on a study of the inhabitants of the Greek island of Ikaria. It attributed the inhabitant’s good heath into old age to the fact that a substantial amount of wild plants were incorporated into their diet, that life was relatively stress free, and that the land and surrounding seas were unpolluted. All those points are crucial although currently the latter one interests me most. Where I live in the South East of England, plants might look healthy but there are unseen hazards. The local marsh samphire is full of lead, the serrated wrack seaweed has elevated levels of cadmium etc etc etc ad nauseam. I think if more people incorporated wild foods into their diet in a small scale and sustainable way, such pollution would not be tolerated…….You are what you eat. You eat what you are. I want to eat love and consideration, not violence and desecration; I want to eat deep connection and vitality, not separation and stagnation! So the positive news is that I think we can all achieve this even if, at the present time, the current general trajectory of things only allows for one step forward and two steps back.

Is there a way that people who want to do something similar can learn from you about way to introduce themselves to foraging/wild food?

Yes, I’ll be updating both with blogs, facebook posts and on my website throughout the year, documenting and exploring the (sustainable?) utilisation of various wild foods; to take just one example, for instance, what plant/seaweeds/fungi is it possible to lacto-ferment for short term and intermediate term use, and, within such examples, how might one go about this using both modern equipment and completely primitive technologies? I’ll also be inviting people to join me throughout the year. Some people have contacted me already to suggest doing completely or substantially wild diets for a day or week during my project and sharing their experiences. Indeed, to be perfectly honest, I don’t see it as ‘my project’ at all really. With the sharing of ideas and insights it is as much your project as you wish it to be.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know/want to share with us?

Yes! I need funding!!! Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors I’m embedded in a world of private property and land. I need a base of operations and owe no land or property so need to fund it. Unlike our ancestors too, I live in a fundamentally polluted world. To really document the full extent of this and monitor its effects on my health will require detailed analysis that only adequate funding can unlock.

As I said in the Permaculture piece:

Nomadic Palaeolithic tribes lived unfettered by the constraints of private property, monetary economies, polluted habitats or the clock-watching tick-tock tyranny of time. As a modern-day hunter-gatherer attempting to fully and freely explore the vast potential of wild foods with similarly unfettered constraints, my relentless exertions will only be possible with the generous help and support of a modern day tribe. I ask you to please help in any way you can.