OPINION: Why shows should support local food

No more. It is with great regret that we will not be attending this year’s local agricultural show.

We have attended the Lincolnshire Show every year for more than 10 years. Some years, if the weather is neither too hot, nor raining, we make a profit. If the sundresses come out (to the delight of my current husband) or the heavens open, then we just break even.

It is incredibly hard work for companies like us who do not regularly undertake outside catering. We have attended, not for profit (although a profit is always welcome!) but to support the local food movement, to give the attendees good food to eat and promote our business.

But we’re not going this year and may not again, unless the show does much more to promote locally sourced products. After all, this has so many benefits, both to the businesses providing the catering and the local economy. Shows like Lincolnshire are often also potentially the first place new foodie start-ups attend to test the market to a large amount of people over a two-day period.

A meeting was arranged last year between myself and the lovely ladies who organise the show on the ground. They got it. But I fear the powers-that-be are less aware of the benefits of promoting local.

A typical local food provider, after all, will source local meat (often from their own farm), bread rolls from a nearby baker and employ local people. A concession, (which is a company that pays a rent to the showground and usually brings a selection of trucks such as pancake-seller, purveyors of burgers and foot-long sausages) does none of these.

Yet here I am gazing dismally at the booking form. The food court (which gives local, regional and specialist producers the opportunity to promote and sell their goods to the general public) is, I grant you, on a major thoroughfare.

But you have to walk past a lot of ambient non-local food to get to hot local food, and the food being sold on the main roads around the show, including around the main ring, will be concessions selling “value” products.

The organising committee have set maximum rates for food costs all over the showground for all food and drink. They are split into two categories – “premium” and “value”. A vendor is permitted to sell a premium burger for up to £4.50, a value burger can sell for up to £4.

By instigating a two-tier system you may argue that visitors are being given choice. However, cynic that I am, I believe that the inferior products selling at just 50p beneath a premium product enables the concessions to fund the show by allowing them to charge slightly less for what is usually a far inferior product and not locally sourced.

I would love to have a talk to the people who can really make a change, but I have now been trying for more than seven years. Meanwhile, I suppose our absence will at least benefit the other local food retailers, – which is how it should be.

Our advertising has changed dramatically over the last few years. If you had told me, even in 2012 that paper advertising would be incredibly challenged by the mobile phone, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here I am photographing anything remotely interesting, then Tweeting and Facebooking it.

I do find it a struggle simply to remember to take photos and especially when we feel that the subject matter – ploughing, drilling, a freshly-baked cake or piglets escaping – is really quite run-of-the-mill. But the fact is many of our customers have very limited exposure to the day-to-day workings of the countryside.

One “follower” said that my tweet about a new-born lamb made his day as he walked down Oxford Street as it brought a bit of the countryside into the big smoke. Farmers ought to tweet more.

A national phenomenon that swept the country recently to support the breast cancer campaign involved people taking a “selfie” (with no make-up on) and at the same time gave a donation to charity. We took a picture of Minnie, the micro-pig.

She found it hard to go without slap all day, but she struggled bravely through. Now I may be wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that the majority of Farmers Weekly readers do not spend an hour wielding the mascara wand and blusher brush around their faces every morning.

Could we instigate a selfie campaign for the muckiest farmer? The most knackered-looking? The wettest? Maybe RABI could get involved? It’s a cracking way to raise money and could make a huge difference.

Raising money for charity takes many crazy forms, one of which, skydiving, has never, ever appealed. However, I recently got a call from our local skydiving club who were wanting some advice on expanding their café into a new building and majoring on good quality, good value, local food.

I arrived on an old windy aerodrome to admire their new build and the fact that here, in a corner of North Lincolnshire, we have the biggest skydiving club in the country. Why didn’t I know that? They are absolute expert in everything to do with their sport, but realise that catering is something they are very unfamiliar with.

I was happy to help and will stay in contact until the project is completed. What amazed me, is that a small extreme sports club understands the benefit of good local food. See, it can’t be rocket science.

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