Foragers Foods is a family run farm located in rural Stirlingshire, close to the villages of Drymen, Balfron and Killearn. As well as growing great tasting chillies, culinary herbs and apples, owners Gary and Jo McAlpine produce hand-made chutneys, relishes and jams; with plans afoot to launch their own artisan craft cider.
The couple realised their long-held ambition to move to the countryside in 2013, combining their graphic design and web development business McAlpine Graphics with small-scale farming activities.
Biodiversity is at the heart of the Foragers enterprise. Wester Balfunning Farm is situated on an established wildflower and grass meadow, providing a rich, foraging haven for bumblebees and other wildlife.
Gary explained: “With a limited budget and the opportunity to purchase a small area of land, we embarked on what was to become a life changing ‘Field to Farm’ project in 2013. The field, an established wild-flower meadow, was a great starting point and is the inspiration for our business name, ‘Foragers’. We’re always striving to create and enhance areas for foraging pollinators, especially bumble bees and other insects and creatures, that have lost much of their natural habitats in recent decades. By helping them, they help us grow quality crops that are full of flavour.”
Since taking over the farm, Gary and Jo have planted over 250 apple trees and 1200 hornbeam hedge whips, as well as a variety of bird friendly shrubs.
Gary added: “We’ve also created a small wildlife pond and we’re gradually learning how to manage the meadow grasses to maximise food for our welcome pollinators. In a relatively short time, we’ve observed significant increases in wildlife as these newly created habitats mature. The orchard and open spaces are rotationally grazed by our small flock of pet sheep. This helps the wildlife and means less grass-cutting for us!”
Over the years Foragers has built a reputation for growing tasty chillies and culinary herbs, grown using traditional methods without the use of pesticides and chemicals.
Gary said: “We sell fresh chillies and herbs in season, but they are mainly used as ingredients in our unique range of tasty handmade relishes, chutneys, jams and smoked chilli products, all of which are hand-made on-site in our purpose built kitchen. Local food is important to us and we like to ensure that the main ingredient in all our products, whether chillies, apples or peaches, is grown here on the farm.”
The family’s 2-acre orchard was planted in 2015 with 9 varieties of cider apple trees as well as some cookers and crabs.
Gary explained: “It takes a while to establish an orchard from scratch so, in order to create products in a shorter timescale, we started experimenting with a variety of plants and trees in two large polytunnels. With the orchard now starting to produce fruit, we’re looking forward to producing our own Foragers Craft Cider in the not too distant future – watch this space!”
Foragers Foods can be purchased direct from the farm, via their online shop
Gary and Jo also offer click and collect from the farm (by prior arrangement) or free local delivery to the surrounding villages (further details can be found on their website).
Their products are also sold via local shops and online farmers’ markets such as Stirling NeighbourFood.
Gary added: “Online local food hubs are springing up locally and throughout Scotland. This has been a really exciting development in recent years, offering us and other small producers an excellent selling platform and helping us reach more local customers through local events and inclusion in larger marketing campaigns.”
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