If you hanker after keeping chickens or foraging for food, you can find the good life here, right on London’s doorstep. In her new book, Rural London, Kate Hodges shows you how…
With rents rising hourly and space in the city becoming more squeezed, it’s increasingly tempting to sell up and move to the country. However, you don’t need to ditch your 020 code for a self-sufficient smallholding — there are many ways to live the good life while staying put. There are alternatives to supermarket-bought vegetables: grow your own on an allotment, go foraging for wild food in the city’s parks, or pick your own. Once you’ve gone off-grid foodwise, it’s a small step to keeping chickens or even making your own cheese.
Many of us are becoming more politically aware about where our food comes from; the Abundance movement redistributes fruit from unloved trees and Organiclea aims to give the community back the means to grow and distribute food in an ethical way. Meanwhile, the Guerrilla Gardening gang are brightening up our day-to-day lives by flower-bombing forgotten spaces and reclaiming our roundabouts. Why not join them?
Chicken-keeping at Hen Corner
Fresh eggs and friendly pecks
The joy of freshly laid eggs, contented clucks and some friendly pecks are the little things that make keeping hens such a pleasure. It’s possible to keep chickens in a small garden or on an allotment; find out how at one of Hen Corner’s poultry-keeping courses. The courses are held at Sara Ward’s end-of-terrace house in Brentford, which, with 20 hens, two colonies of bees, fruit trees and a micro-bakery, is an inspirational urban smallholding.
Woodworking courses at the Green Wood Guild
Whittle your way to contentment
Woodworking brings us closer to the natural world and back to simpler times. Based at the Rural Arts Centre at Stepney Farm, the Green Wood Guild use traditional hand tools to work with fresh green wood straight from the tree. The centre offers courses in whittling, woodworking, furniture-making and, excitingly, axe-smithing and blade-making. You might end up with a spatula, a stool or a carving knife, or even a new skill to obsess over. Try an introductory workshop to get a taste for your chosen craft.
Cheese-making at Wildes Cheese
Uncover the mysteries of rennet and curd
Cheese has a reputation for being fiddly and difficult to make. Wildes Cheese are based on an industrial estate in Tottenham, make their own range of cheeses and are passionate about dairy products. They run one-day and evening classes that teach cheese-making without the need for any special equipment. You’ll go home with a soft curd and small fresh specimen to ripen at home, plus a head full of cheesespiration.
Superhero redistributors of the fruit glut
The nationwide Abundance movement formed around 10 years ago, aiming to harvest the UK’s hidden and seasonal glut of produce. The UK imports 90 per cent of its fruit and 70 per cent of its vegetables, but there is still produce rotting on the trees in people’s gardens and in the countryside. The network of Abundance groups across London works with local schools and other volunteers to map trees, pick fruit, make jam, juice and chutney to sell and raise money, or to give to food banks. Ealing Abundance produces industrial quantities of jam, Kensal to Kilburn works with local refugee groups, Belsize Park collaborates with the Transition movement and Haringey runs foraging walks alongside the harvesting.
Find your own food for free
Writer John Rensten used to run a pub in London, The Green, which pioneered putting foraged food on the menu. He now runs courses and leads walks in the capital, ferreting out fungi and showing city-dwellers how to find food for free. His company’s wanders include uncovering the edible delights of Hampstead Heath; a walk foraging for wild medicinal flora; and exploring the Tower Hamlets Nature Reserve looking for delicious plants with a healthy side order of nature trailing. You’ll be inspired to make foraging for food a regular habit; nothing beats getting up early to find chestnuts in the mist, picking sloes dripping with dew, or gathering leaves of slippery and pungent wild garlic, then taking them home to your kitchen.
A Lea Valley workers’ cooperative
Organiclea’s vision is a food system under the control of the people, providing a fair income to food producers and using ecologically sound methods. What this means in practical terms is a fruit and veg box scheme with produce supplied by local growers and small-scale farmers, practical support for community gardens and a series of courses, open days and one-off events. They’re good people, working towards an excellent cause, and there are plenty of practical ways to get involved; sign up for one of their weekly veg boxes, take one of their courses or sell your surplus produce to them. Visit on one of their monthly open days for inspiration.
Weaving and spinning
The most relaxing spinning class in town
Taking wool straight from the sheep and turning it into fabric is a dying (and dyeing) art, but it’s kept alive at the Handweavers Studio & Gallery, which is 10 minutes’ walk from Finsbury Park. Find out about warps and wefts and twists and colour at one of their regular classes in weaving, spinning, dyeing and other fibre crafts. Their Introduction to Weaving and Spinning courses are perfect for those wanting an introduction to the skill, while there are plenty of workshops for more experienced makers, and a rainbow of yarns and fibres available for a delicious browse.
Parkside Pick Your Own Farm
Be inspired by the freshest fruit and vegetables
Work up an appetite in the sun as you pick your own fruit and vegetables. Parkside is an enormous farm close to Trent Park, with raspberries, sweetcorn, marrows, redcurrants and spinach bursting from the ground. They even grow their strawberries on raised ‘tabletops’ to save your back. It’s a happy place; kids run around stuffing fruit into their mouths, there’s loads of open space and the shop sells meringues and chocolate dipping sauce, so you can tuck into your spoils on the tables set outside. It’s a healthier, outdoor Wonka Factory, full of treats and surprises and all the fresh produce is certain to inspire you to experiment in the kitchen. Take your biggest basket.
Brightening up your neighbourhood one scrubby patch at a time
Richard Reynolds has been surreptitiously weeding and seeding London’s neglected flower beds, roundabouts and patches of scruffy land since 2004 and now spearheads Britain’s Guerrilla Gardening movement. He started tending flower beds neglected by the council after moving to a high-rise tower block in Elephant and Castle. With an army of volunteers, he now looks after a series of unloved patches of ground, including a huge raised bed the size of a tennis court on a traffic island near Lambeth North station. He often does talks and one-off events and his website is a hub for wannabe green terrorists — visit it for inspiration or to join a local group.
From: Rural London: Discover the City’s Country Side by Kate Hodges, out now in paperback, £9.99, (Michael O’Mara Books). Available from www.hive.co.uk