Fergus Drennan, also known as Fergus the Forager, describes himself as a wild food experimentalist and educator.
Drennan was born in Wimbledon and moved to Kent when he was seven. He first learned to forage as a small child when he collected dandelions for his pet tortoise. After he left school, he studied catering at college in Thanet; he learned technical skills he now relies on. Then came university at Lampeter, where he read Religious Studies. In his final year, he saved money by living in a tent and feeding himself on local greens and fungi, together with leftovers from the Student Union canteen and rejects from an organic food distributor. He says of this time, ‘I was the happiest I have ever been.’
After graduating, he spent some time teaching in China. His next job was back in Kent, selling vegetables at a farmers’ market based in Canterbury’s Goods Sheds. As a sideline, he also sold his own hand-picked fungi and wild syrups and cordials. For a while he worked with another forager, Miles Irving, supplying produce to top restaurants, including The Ivy and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. However, he felt that being forced to follow a set routine made him grow dull. Also, he realized that commercial foraging was liable to lead to over-harvesting and thus unsustainable.
Drennan believes that wild food gathering is a timeless tradition and a fundamental means for all of us to take control of our diet. Foraging is about understanding the landscape and the locality. He feels that much of his activity is about connection, saying ‘You point to any of the [foraged ingredients] here and there’s a story. Now when I’m eating that food , I’m reliving that story – of where it came from and what happened when I was gathering it.’ He also says, ‘I just love the slowness of it. It is partly a rebellion against a culture of speed.’ He spends his day searching for and preparing food; nearly everything he does is experimental and extremely time consuming. There is also a strong motivation not to waste anything. He dries acorns for several weeks, before roasting them to produce coffee or grounding them for flour. He produces leaf curd, protein extracted from stinging nettles, ground elder or wild garlic. The leaves are liquidised in a blender, boiled and then strained. Drennan has learned to use mushrooms to make paper and indeed has produced a 150 page book entirely from fungi. As he dislikes raising animals for slaughter, he is largely vegetarian. However, he uses roadkill, what he calls accidental meat; this includes pheasant, lapwing, badger, fox, rabbit and squirrel. Badger meat is suitable for burgers and foxes are best pot-roasted in red wine, with wild mushrooms. Drennan says his biggest mistake was eating frogspawn.
He has a long-standing ambition to live entirely on foraged food for a year. His overarching objective is to investigate the role foraging should play in modern Britain. He hopes to explore both the benefits and the pitfalls. He is convinced such a project is possible, and has several times gone without buying food for months at a time. At different times, he has lived solely on wild foods for every month except February. This normally involves spending two hours a day on foraging, four hours on processing and cooking and then many hours researching.
Drennan describes his activities in wild food education as work but not a job. After all, a job makes money! In 2007, he starred in the BBC3 series Roadkill Chef. His main sources of income are running day courses, for instance on foraging for fungi, alongside writing magazine articles. He has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including BBC Countryfile Magazine, The Ecologist, Country Kitchen and Survival Skills Magazine.
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