Eco-nnect presents the impressive and inspiring Xanthe Gladstone, in the first of our sustainable farmers and growers series. Xanthe made the move from London to North Wales to pursue a path of sustainable growing and cooking and has since nurtured a blossoming life of delicious seasonal recipes, mushroom foraging, chicken mothering, seed planting, veggie patch tending and so much more. We caught up with Xanthe to hear a little more about her exciting journey, day-to-day life and insights into an enriching quest for sustainability.
Hi Xanthe, so lovely to be chatting with you. Could you tell us a little about your move out of London to life as a chef and grower in North Wales and Head of Food and Sustainability at Glen Dye Cabins?
‘After university I moved to London to work in food and drinks marketing. I spent a year and a half there but I didn’t really suit London life, I wanted to get my hands stuck in more literally to food and cooking, and wanted to learn more about growing food and that connection. I now live in North Wales where I primarily work on growing projects but I also oversee menu development and food sourcing in our farm shop and pub. I have designed the vegetable garden at Glen Dye and continue to oversee the growing projects there too, although mainly from afar. I am also working on a few personal projects and still only at the beginning of my education into food sustainability, growing, and foraging.’
How has this past year of lockdown been for you?
‘Of course it’s had its challenges, but I have enjoyed many aspects too. Lockdown has given me the chance to focus on developing my skills further and I’ve spent lots of time working on recipes, growing, and learning about foraging. I’ve done a few online courses such as a pastry one and a bread one, and I am just trying to make the most of the down time before things get crazy again!’
Do you work with a team or mainly on your own?
‘Some and some. I have a great time who I work with while I’m working on my family projects, but I work alone a lot too in the garden and when I’m in the kitchen.’
How do you balance managing all the different aspects of your working life?
‘I find it tricky! I’ve got lots of different things going on but I love it all so I think it’s just about managing my time properly. The best thing I’ve done recently is dedicate different days of the week to different tasks and projects which makes it much easier to actually get things ticked off.’
What obstacles have you come up against in your quest for sustainability?
‘Food waste is always a big obstacle when it comes to being fully sustainable. It’s super important to try not to waste food as it accounts for 1/3 global greenhouse emissions and there is so much we can do with the food that we initially thought might need to be wasted. There’s always a solution to food waste, however, in busy lives sometimes we forget about something in the fridge or leave bread until it’s too stale to use, so that’s definitely an obstacle to overcome.’
What are your favourite aspects of your work at the moment?
‘We are fast approaching spring and that’s definitely the best time of year to be a grower. So I am loving finally spending some time outside and getting some seeds planted. I learn more and more each year that I grow vegetables so I’m really excited to take the lessons that I learnt last year into this year and do better. I am also really enjoying recipe development as there’s so much exciting produce to work with at the moment.’
What advice would you give to aspiring sustainable farmers and growers?
‘I would say get out there and get as much experience as you can. Especially in the busy summer months, growers and farmers will always be grateful for an extra helping hand and getting your hands into the soil is really the best way to learn.’
Given your knowledge and experience, how do you envisage a new farming framework to ensure the guarantee of good quality food and protection of our biodiversity and ecosystems?
‘The best possible outcome for our food system over the next few years is that we as consumers become more connected with the source of our food. This means shopping directly from farmers or from small independent shops who champion these farmers and growers. Our food system is incredibly global and we have a systematic way of accessing food. It is centralised through supermarkets like it never was before whereas what we really need to do is go back to the days of farmers markets where they weren’t something glamorous to go to for a fun day out but just where we would’ve gone to do our weekly shops.’
What can we as consumers do to help growers such as yourself?
‘Either try to connect directly with growers — Instagram is a wonderful platform to do this on — or attend a farmers market or buy products online. I think less to do with growers and more to do with the general food system, something that we can all do is pay more attention to where our food comes from. All supermarkets have to, by law, indicate where their fresh produce comes from, so when buying, try to focus on produce from Europe, maybe even just the UK, rather than further afield. This helps to reduce air miles needed for food and also is more nutritious for us to eat vegetables that are in season locally to us.’
Where do you see yourself in 10 and 30 years?
‘Hopefully running a working farm with the space to host and teach others.’
Latest book/podcast/film/music you’ve loved or been inspired by?
‘Film: Honeyland, a documentary that is truly beautiful and inspiring about a female wild bee keeper.
Book: Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake’
What question would you really like to be asked?
‘We’ve covered it all. ;)’
It was such a pleasure to hear about Xanthe’s experiences and passions in sustainable growing and cooking. Follow Xanthe on Instagram @xanthegladstone for lots of beautiful pictures, recipes and uplifting posts 🙂