A nature-loving duo will be inspiring families to embrace their “inner wildness” and help beat stress with “camp fire” cooking at a top food festival.
Forest school and bushcraft experts James and Lea Kendall will be hosting interactive cooking workshops throughout this year’s Llangollen Food Festival to reconnect parents and children with nature to boost their mental wellbeing.
The couple, who run the highly successful Woodland Classroom in Wrexham, will be unlocking the gastronomic secrets hidden in Wales’ hedgerows and forests and creating a range of mouth-watering treats during the festival, which takes place on October 19 and 20.
Children will get the chance to toast popcorn over the camp fire and make hedgerow tea, toffee apple slices, hazel chocolate parcels and hedgerow crumble from freshly foraged berries and other herbs and plants on site.
Parents, meanwhile, will be introduced to “weeds for wellbeing” and will learn about the medicinal benefits of a host of garden herbs and plants – as well as the joys of “hunting and gathering” as a family.
James, 39, who has featured in a BBC news programme about the benefits of woodland adventure for mental health, alongside wife Lea, said: “Children absolutely love being outdoors. They always have and usually they don’t need to be pushed. It’s what they’re supposed to do.
“There are the obvious benefits of good bacteria and sunlight but it’s also about developing a love for nature and an appreciation for the outdoors so that we raise children who love nature and will look after it.
“There’s much more awareness now about the impact of human activity with documentaries such as ‘Blue Planet’ highlighting the plastics in our oceans. People are also thinking of mental health and wellbeing more.
“Now is the perfect time for bush craft and forest school. People understand the benefits of being outdoors and reconnecting with nature.
“It’s our first time at this particular festival but we’re really looking forward to it.”
James and Lea, who live near Wrexham, host courses on foraging, wilderness cooking, bushcraft and outdoor survival skills. They are also trained Forest School leaders and work in primary schools across North Wales.
James is a qualified bushcraft instructor and previously managed the Long Wood Community Woodland, the largest community-owned woodland in Wales, overseeing the management of 300 acres of broadleaf and conifer forest.
Lea, who formerly worked as a learning mentor in a primary school, is a qualified counsellor and practitioner of mindfulness in a woodland setting and also hosts “circus workshops” for young people.
During the festival, families will learn the art of wilderness cooking and will have the opportunity of baking bread in a traditional Dutch outdoor oven as well as learning how to safely light and manage a camp fire and transform seasonal fruits and berries into tasty treats.
“We all have to eat. It’s a universal thing we all have in common. There’s so much food in the hedgerows and woods. Part of our aim is to teach people how to forage responsibly,” said James.
“What’s amazing is that if kids burn the food that they’ve cooked, they’ll still wolf it down and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever tasted. That wouldn’t happen around the dining table.
“They make a connection with the food and have ownership. It’s very rewarding work and we really enjoy it.”
For parents and adults, Lea will be sharing her knowledge of herbs, weeds and plants and their inherent medicinal qualities including dandelions which are renowned for detoxing the liver and camomile which provides stress relief.
“For years we’ve been brought up to believe hawthorn is poisonous but it’s actually a really good heart tonic and lowers or increases blood pressure, depending on what’s needed,” said Lea.
“Anything which is nutritious for the body is good for the gut and this is instrumental in improving mental health.
“The gut produces 90% of the serotonin in our bodies, which is the happy hormone, so if we are eating a bad diet and suffering from stress and depression we have to recognise the link there.
“Very often we can buy vegetables from the supermarket which are much depleted in the nutrients they should contain. One of the best ways to increase the good bacteria in the gut is to go wild and forage to boost your health.
“It’s so accessible to all of us. You can literally open your back door and go out and you’ll find nutritious berries and herbs which will increase your overall health and act as a preventative medicine. They are also completely free and engage your ancient hunter gather brain.
“Foraging is something everyone can do. It can bring families together and it’s great mentally and physically.”
The workshops are part of a packed programme of live cookery events for families over the two-day festival, which takes place at the International Pavilion, Llangollen.
Edible slime-making, C02 rocket building and pizza designing are also on the menu as part of science-inspired cookery workshops delivered by Kiddy Cook.
The business, founded by former BBC Radio Leicester presenter turned marketing expert Nikki Geddes, has become a national success since launching 15 years ago from Nikki’s kitchen – and now boasts 13 franchisees across England and South Wales.
“I used to cook with my daughter all the time when she was younger,” explained Nikki, 48, who delivers her cookery lessons in schools, festivals, and at other public events.
“I came up with the idea of doing workshops and they just took off because there was nothing like it. It was just the right time.”
At Llangollen, her sessions will include ‘Fizz! Bang! Wallop’ where children will discover how Co2 makes dough rise with bread bubble bombs and carbon dioxide rockets and ‘Bonkers Bacteria!’ which is an interactive session about hygiene and germ prevention.
“Our core principles are eating well and being active and if you’re doing those things you have a better chance of maintaining good mental health and being fit and strong,” said Nikki, from Hale, who has an 18-year-old daughter and son aged 15.
“We teach children practical skills like how to read food labels, how to reduce the sugar they are eating, being good global citizens and eating responsibly.
“But we are really passionate about inspiring young children to have fun with food and helping them to make informed choices to have a healthy lifestyle.
“We don’t want children to be frightened by food. If they’re allowed to be creative and taste as they go along they will be more inclined to try what they have made.”