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John the Poacher: Meet the enigmatic forager who supplies Hackney’s trendiest restaurants and bars

PUBLISHED: 09:30 12 November 2016

John the Poacher in Springfield Park with a handful of rosehips and chestnuts. Picture: Polly Hancock

John the Poacher in Springfield Park with a handful of rosehips and chestnuts. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

There’s a man in Hackney who forages for wild food and supplies it to businesses – and he goes by the name John the Poacher.

John the Poacher in Springfirld Park. Picture: Polly HancockJohn the Poacher in Springfirld Park. Picture: Polly Hancock

Chances are if you’ve eaten in one of the borough’s trendy spots you’ve tasted something he’s found – mushrooms, quince, apples, pears, walnuts, or maybe his latest discovery, sharon fruit.

He found that in Stoke Newington, but he won’t tell you where. You see, John does this for a living – and it’s very much a word-of-mouth gig.

His only marketing is in the form of a poster in his local haunt the Riverside Cafe in Spring Hill, Upper Clapton. Other than that he relies on businesses spreading the news, and an Instagram account.

But it seems to be working: the 39-year-old has been doing this for 20 years. He told the Gazette: “I’m in the right place for it – it’s become really foodie around Hackney. I work with a lot of the businesses. I do stuff with Square Root Soda and our flavour is sold at the Tate Modern. I get introduced to people and I introduce companies to each other as well. The gin guys and the chocolate guys I work with are now doing a chocolate negroni.”

John The Poacher finds oyster mushrooms growing on a log in Springfield Park. Picture: Polly HancockJohn The Poacher finds oyster mushrooms growing on a log in Springfield Park. Picture: Polly Hancock

John became fascinated by the wild as a child and most of his skills are self-taught.

“My grandfather and father were fishermen,” he explained. “Through that I used to fish with a group of kids. An Irish guy taught me how to snare a rabbit and then I started picking books up and went around finding interesting things that nobody else could source.

“People ask me for stuff and if I don’t know what it is I’ll go and research it and find it.

“The rarest things I’ve found? The sharon fruit is up there. I also saw an orange tree recently, and found kiwi fruit. They are the most exciting things, I think.”

"My grandfather and father were fishermen. An Irish guy taught me how to snare a rabbit and then I started picking books up and went around finding interesting things that nobody else could source"

John the Poacher

As it’s technically illegal to do so, John doesn’t sell his foraged goods, instead trading them for food and drink. “It would be nice to have some cash to go to the pub with,” he said. “But if I walk in with a basket of mushrooms people start taking them in exchange for a pint.”

He also hosts foraging walks around Hackney. If you fancy finding out more about the fascinating world of foraging, follow poacher2376 on Instagram, or give John a call: 07847 565 776.

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