FRANK talks to young chef and seasonal food advocate Xanthe Gladstone, who swapped a stressful city career for a life on the land. At 26, while her friends are still working long hours and enjoying nights out in London, she is growing vegetables and rearing chickens at the Hawarden Estate in North Wales, where she is Director of Food and Sustainability. Here she talks about swapping the city for the countryside as a twenty-something.
Hi Xanthe. How are you and what are you up to today?
Xanthe Gladstone: Hello! I am good. It’s the best kind of autumn day today, sunny and crisp. Since it’s Monday morning I am catching up on emails and this afternoon I’m heading out to get some winter sowing done in the greenhouse.
You’re based at your family home, Hawarden Estate in North Wales, where you first lived as a teenager. Can you tell us more about it? It sounds like a magical place!
Xanthe Gladstone: Hawarden Estate Farm Shop has been around since I was very young and was run by my grandpa, who also planted over five hundred fruit trees. The farm shop has obviously developed a huge amount since then, but it has grown in a very exciting way over the last year or so. We are trying to really create food, experiences and a space that honestly reflects our passions and values.
Hawarden has endless potential, space, and opportunities for becoming more sustainably centred, regenerative, and a hub of creativity with a very special energy.
Tell us more about your work at Hawarden.
Xanthe Gladstone: I grow produce for both restaurants and work closely with our chefs and bakers to develop recipes, depending on what is in season, and reacting to what our customers are enjoying, want more of, or even don’t like so much! We have some wonderful produce on the Estate, including in our fruit orchards and what grows wildly. I help the teams to think of ways to utilise the abundance of produce that we have available.
I also help curate and run events that utilise the amazing community of chefs that we have built through The Good Life Society. I love that my work is really varied and I get to work on my feet a lot, surrounded by lots of really interesting people.
Passion is at the centre of everything I do. I feel really lucky to love what I do so much.
You’ve chosen to live in the countryside rather than having a city life and corporate career, something most people don’t do until they’re much older. What made you choose this lifestyle? Do you think more young people want to step away from the rat race?
Xanthe Gladstone: It was something that had been brewing inside me for ages and after a period of really bad anxiety, mostly triggered by being really unhappy in my job in London, it was a no-brainer. Hawarden was the first place I thought to move to. I was lucky to have the option of a base to start me off.
I had always been really interested in living outside London, but I had never really seen how I could make it work until I realised I was interested in growing my own food. Then the decision became easy as it’s much more challenging to do that in the city.
It definitely has its ups and downs. I live away from most of my family, my boyfriend and my friends and I really miss them. Part of the time I live alone, which again has its challenges, but I have learnt so much from having more time alone. It took me a long time to really train myself to not let FOMO or social anxiety affect me. Now I just make a big effort to have people to stay often, to go to London to see them and to keep really connected over the phone.
I have had lots of other young people reach out to me for advice on how to move into the kind of work that I do. I will continue to normalise not living in cities in your twenties – it’s not the only option.
I think that Covid has definitely changed peoples’ perceptions of how they want to live their life, and that might result in more people moving out of cities.
You grew up in the Scottish Highlands. Is that where your love of nature started?
Xanthe Gladstone: It had a huge impact on me and what I do now. Growing up with five siblings in the middle of the very rural Scottish Highlands definitely shaped the relationship that I have with nature and the way I value it.
When I was living in London and Edinburgh as a teenager, I remember the feeling of getting back to home and being able to breathe properly again. One of the things that inspired me to pursue food sustainability as a career was that I knew I needed nature to be part of my everyday life.
I also grew up with entrepreneurial parents, which I think guided me in understanding the importance of intertwining your life and your work.
You describe yourself as a chef, baker and gardener. What would you say is your first love?
Xanthe Gladstone: Hmm, that’s a very tricky question! I think cooking is my first love because it’s what got me to where I am today. First came my interest in cooking and food. That got me fascinated with how our food gets to us, trying to strengthen our relationships with produce, supply chains, and how we value our relationship with farmers and growers. I always come back to cooking and I am just so excited by it.
And you attended the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland – even learning how to milk cows!
Xanthe Gladstone: I did! I learnt so much at Ballymaloe and these are lessons that will carry me through for many years. My time there gave me the foundational cooking skills I needed to feel confident in the kitchen, and I learnt so much working in their gardens.
But I think the most impactful lessons came from just experiencing everyday life there. From swimming in the sea at sunrise every morning, milking cows (the reality of this is far from the wholesome image you may have!), baking bread, foraging and learning to make cheese. It not only cemented my ambition to base my work outside and within nature, but it also taught me the complexities of the food system and the importance of paying attention to every detail.
You are a sustainable food advocate. What does food sustainability mean to you?
Xanthe Gladstone: I understand food sustainability to be how we value our food; where it has come from and how it got to us. Since the food system was industrialised, it has become more challenging for us, as consumers, to connect with the source of our food. When we prioritise food sustainability in our lives, we are looking at gaining back that connection.
I talk about eating seasonally and locally, not only because it’s a lot better for our health, but it allows us to be connected with our farmers and growers, and of course less food travelling across the world is going to be less impactful on the climate.
We’re excited to have you onboard regularly for FRANK. Can you tell us more about what topics you will share with us?
Xanthe Gladstone: There is so much I would like to talk about! I will be talking about my experiences of living in Wales as a girl in her twenties, my relationship with nature and the effects it has on my mental health. I hope to inspire FRANK readers to eat and live more seasonally and give some guidance on starting to grow your own food.
Images by Department Two