A pharmacy manager who was made redundant during the pandemic has become a full-time forager and now earns almost the same as her previous salary while saving hundreds on bills.
When Lucy Buckle, 34, from Aspley, Nottingham, lost her job amid the coronavirus pandemic, she soon realised she was in no rush to go back to work.
Fed up of working 50 hours a week and constantly feeling under pressure, she decided to make a lifestyle change, and in June 2020 became a full-time forager.
Buckle says that foraging for food in the wild has saved her hundreds of pounds on her household bills, and she’s now paid to teach others her skills, which means she earns almost as much as her previous salary.
“It wasn’t until I left my job that I realised how miserable I’d become,” says Buckle, who lives with her wife Shell Buckle, 42, and their dogs Holly and Pippa.
“Foraging is amazing. I just pop out every morning to walk the dogs and pick up some nettles to make my tea.
“I call the local park – Broxtowe Country Park – my foraging supermarket, I just grab everything I need from it.”
Buckle says she first started foraging with her grandparents when she was four.
“It was second nature to pick fruit and vegetables in the wild," she says.
"But when I moved to the city, aged 18, it became a little harder."
She started managing a pharmacy in 2012 and pretty soon was clocking up over 50 hours work a week.
“I had to wear a suit every day and I didn’t feel like myself," she explains.
“I’m an active person, I’m happiest when I’m outside. So, being stuck in the office away from any natural light made me really unhappy. The whole time I just dreamed of going outside.”
Initially, when Buckle lost her £22,000-a-year job, (which saw her take home around £1,500 a month after tax), in June 2020, she was scared she would not manage.
“It was tough when they told me over the phone," she explains. “At first, I felt panicked, but then I realised this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for.
“I had been daydreaming for years of running my own foraging business, so I decided to start it there and then.”
Since swapping suits for comfy dungarees, and a brief case for a wicker basket, Buckle has not looked back.
Along with reducing her food bills dramatically, Buckle was able to sell the food she foraged on private land to local companies and makes extra money by offering classes.
She saves £300 a month by no longer travelling to work, plus £250 a month that she used to spend on work lunches and takeaways, and, through her classes and sales, makes around £1,300 month after tax.
“I started running foraging walks to share my knowledge and they just took off," she explains. “Now I run courses like forest bathing and even work with forest schools to teach kids how to identify edible plants.
“Legally, I can’t sell anything I’ve foraged on public land, but I sell produce I’ve foraged on private land, like elderflowers to a popsicle company and wild food to a local restaurant," she adds.
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Buckle, who lives just outside Nottingham’s city centre, now wants to spread the word about the brilliance of foraging.
“Obviously, foraging is great because of the environmental impact, there’s no plastic, air miles, or pesticides attached to your food, but it’s a cheaper way to live, too," she adds.
"Between February and October, I don’t buy any salad, I pick everything. I go to the local park and will fill a massive wicker basket with delicious finds.
“In the summer I can save at least £100 on the monthly food shop. You have to get creative and cook what’s in season, but it’s delicious. You get such a sense of pride making it yourself.”
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Buckle hopes that by highlighting all the great things you can find out in the wild, she’ll encourage people to give foraging a go and get creative with what they eat.
“I think if you’re interested in foraging, just give it a go, but make sure you know what’s safe," she says. “Even just taking the kids out blackberry picking is foraging.
"There are lots of things you can forage that people don’t even know you can eat," she continues.
"Pine needles make a lovely tea if you brew them in hot water. I like to start my day with that.
"My top tip is to use sticky weed, it’s very nutritional and makes a fantastic hangover cure."
As well as saving money, Buckle says the switch to full-time forager has had a positive impact on her mental wellbeing.
“Before I would be so stressed about work. Now I get up, take the dog for a walk and pick nettles for my tea and the fact I am so much happier makes me much nicer to be with,” she explains.
"I was exhausted all the time in my job, but being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me. Now I spend my days in the forest. I’m living the dream.”
Buckle’s top foraging tips
Don’t munch on a hunch – always be sure to identify what it is clearly and if you do not know, do not eat it.
Start with what you know – get a good guide book. Buckle recommends Wild Food UK foraging pocket guide book
Start exploring close to home – forage locally, so you can keep an eye on the seasonal produce.
Be respectful – always leave 75% of potential forage behind for the plant and for fellow foragers. Try to pick up litter as you forage and leave the park in a better state then you found it to say thank you.
Buckle's foraging calendar
January – Winter mushrooms such as jelly ears and velvet shanks.
February – Nettles, great for tea and hedge garlic, great in salads.
March – Wild garlic, good for beginners, makes a fantastic pesto.
April – Sticky weed, salad leaves.
May – Wildflowers such as borage, tastes like cucumber, great in a gin and tonic or salad. Nasturtium are also edible, you can eat the leaves and flowers, they look beautiful and make a fancy salad.
June – Elderflower, great for beginners and kids, makes cordial. Mushrooms are good in June also.
July – Cherries, lots of cherry trees in Nottingham on every street corner, they are the first fruit you can harvest in the summer.
August – month of fruit, great picking month for blackberries and plums, which are good to start with, as all types are edible.
September – Month of the mushroom. Especially great for boletes a type of mushroom.
October – Great month for blewits, a nostalgic mushroom most people foraged with parents or grandparents. Easy to identify but only available for a few weeks in the month.
November – Pine needles for tea.
December – Nettles and winter mushrooms, three cornered leek, like an onion, it’s an invasive species so you can pick as much as you want.
Additional reporting PA Real Life.