Camilla Plum – Danish organic berry farmer

The ethics of foraging, the Nordic diet and a garden dedicated preserving biological diversity and testing the limits of what can be grown in low latitudes.

Collingwood Branch President, Margot’s account of her visit to the farm of the redoubtable Camilla Plum

When our CWA State President commented in our magazine on the amazing variety of berries grown in Scandinavia it piqued my interest.

I was in Denmark last June and a quick google of ‘berries’ led me to Fuglebjerggaard Farm – about 55km north of Copenhagen.

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I rang ahead and settled in on the local bus from Helsingør – home of Kronberg, Hamlet’s Castle for a one hour ride.

The bus spun along through villages, emerald green farmland and splashes of dark forest for an hour and I hopped off at Hemmingstrupvej where a hand painted sign pointed me a kilometre down a small road to Fuglebjerggaard Farm.

Camilla Plum’s farm was higgeldly piggledy – just like the road sign.

I knew I’d arrived when I saw the old farmhouse through an avenue of gnarly trees. The farm includes a cafe, barns, plant nurseries and a walled garden. It’s surrounded by farmland.

A tractor was baling hay and I admired orchards bright with new leaves. Chooks and cats scratched and roamed inside and out and farmworkers were busy in the gardens.

This was a working farm but quite unique – just like Camilla, whose passion is the garden.

She’s also a cook, farmer, writer, educator and innovator –  a bit like our own Stephanie Alexander. (In 2011 her book The Scandinavian Kitchen won the Gourmand cookbook Awards for Best Scandinavian Cookbook.)

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Camilla Plum, owner of the Organic farm Fuglebjerggaard, Cook, author, educator.

The cafe serves organic food from her garden including her own milled cereals. The shop sells her produce and cookbooks. There’s a kitchen classroom for workshops on growing food organically, cooking and teaching about the wealth of overlooked plants that can be eaten and educating on the ethics and etiquette of foraging.

I was lucky that she had time for a tour of the garden.

As we walked she was continually bending and plucking leaves and seed heads and popping them into her mouth, explaining the wider opportunities to use flowers, seeds and leaves in cooking.

We munched on geraniums, rocket flowers, parsley seed heads.

“They are all good in a salad”, she declared.

She offered me a daylily.

“This one’s a Hemerocallis.”  She explained. “It’s a very old variety with a very nice scent and its edible. It tastes divine. They eat them a lot in China. They dry the buds. They are called ‘golden needles’. It’s a festive food. You may as well eat the flowers because they curl up at night and then they are done. They only last a day – that’s why they are called daylilies, And they taste just like the scent!”

She pointed out her strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and red currants. Though a process of trial and error Camilla has multiple varieties of nearly everything in the garden. Exotic varieties are sourced from across the globe.

“It extends the season,” she explained “and each has a distinctive taste.”

It’s her mission to preserve the heritage varieties but also to test the limits of what can be grown in these low latitudes.

In her walled garden her pride and joy were the Italian grapes scrambling across the sunny wall.

Camilla also cultivates weeds for the table. She was born into a culture with a foraging tradition dating back to the Vikings and I realised there’s much more to it than just taking a basket into the bush and seizing anything edible.

For the Danes foraging is a way of life. You will see families in the woods gathering chanterelle mushrooms, the wild garlic known as ‘ramson’, ground elder – a fresh but bitter addition to a salad and wild berries.

As the seasons change they are also on the hunt for raspberries, cloudberries, blackberries, bilberries, plums, wild apples, hazelnuts and walnuts.  On the coast they gather mussels and shellfish and edible coastal plants.

In fact there’s such a thing as ‘forest school’ where children learn about separating the dangerous from the delicious but most importantly the ethics of wild harvesting to ensure sustainability.

With foraged plants underpinning the growing popularity of New Nordic cuisine, protecting this wild biodiversity is essential.

I left Fuglebjerggaard Farm inspired to tackle my own spring garden in a new way and with a renewed appreciation of the infinite possibilities nature offers the gardener.

Web site: www.fuglebjerggaard.dk

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