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Archive for June, 2016

Local Producers Don’t Get Priority At Funded Festivals

17 Jun

I’m sorry to have to post again about this topic but it’s only by doing this that perhaps wag food and festival organisers will take notice and change things for the better.

So it’s time to put names to this latest problem which has been brought to my attention. I only do this when it has been agreed and I understand that many producers with issues at festivals are too scared to raise problems in many instances. The festival in question  is Narbeth food festival, a super festival which Ian and I have attended for many years. It’s a great festival vibrant, busy and with a good selection of Welsh food and drink producers. But then I was told that  Mike Caine from Cwm Deri Estate has been evicted from this year’s festival, I was cross. No, not cross, I was furious. Narbeth is his local festival; it’s literally down the road from him and he’s been attending it from its early days when it ran in the Queens Hall.

Mike is an advertiser in Welsh Country magazine and one of our loyal Best Of Welsh & Borders producers, the other bonus is he makes exceedingly great wine. We have always said we’ll work

Mike has written and explained his position and the Narbeth Committee have responded saying:

Our space is limited and each year we strive to vary the visitor experience by engaging with a number of new stallholders. Given the space limitations of the festival site and the need to have a wide variety of different products for sale this means that, inevitably, difficult decisions have to be made with some regular stallholders being disappointed.

Obviously space is limited, it generally is, but I simply don’t understand what the committee are saying. ‘Varying the visitor experience’, why does that relate to food stands and not to their music, street entertainment, kids entertainment or the many government funded Quango stands? If you were a regular holiday visitor to Narbeth festival and wanted to find your favourite cheese stall, beer stand or wine stand, wouldn’t you be seriously miffed if your much-loved stand had been thrown out by a committee vote? Well that’s if there was a vote. What I cannot understand is why a funded festival is not made to support local professional producers first and foremost. Last year I remember a stall selling sweets but they’d seemingly been to the cash and carry and repackaged them. How is that local produce? How could they be given a stand? Where they professional traders? No. As I understand it they both had full-time jobs and this was just for spare cash. I know this for a fact as Ian always ask new traders for business cards or flyers and of course this stand didn’t have anything at all but jars of sweets. I can also remember a stand, maybe the previous year, that just had paper plates with food on them making faces. Those types of stands cannot be more worthwhile than having a professional local producer take a stand.

PLease don’t think I ever underestimate the hard work that goes into putting on a food festival. There’s a huge number of people that give up their time for free, work long and hard to bring a great event into their area and get very little thanks. But what I want organisers and wag food to understand that this is what our professional traders do this for a living. They, like me, don’t get any guaranteed money in their bank at the end of the month unless we sell something. That scenario I’m sure must be hard to imagine for those in safe and secure jobs, but that doesn’t mean it should not be taken into account and treated as a priority. I’m talking professional producers not the ‘Pin-Money’ brigade that just want to earn some extra cash, which might not well be declared for tax purposes. Now Mike has to find another event to boost his potential income for September, which means he’ll be lucky IF he can find something and IF they’ll accept him at this late stage. He’ll end up travelling further which means his earnings will be reduced. However wag food are in words at least very keen on food miles.

Narbeth have told him he can re-apply next year. But can anyone reading this believe that’s a viable option for Mike? Are the committee next year are going to sit down and say ‘oh we threw this loyal trader out last year, but maybe in 2017 we’ll let him back in…….really?

Producers have to plan their events each year; they’ve to work out which events were worthwhile and how they can boost their income for the new year. Can organisers not appreciate how difficult this is and how stressful? Yet this is even more crucial when you have got staff relying on you for their wages, not to mention your own mortgage etc.

I’m gutted for Mike and I’m struggling to understand Narbeth’s thinking and their lack of loyalty. However this is just one example, as there are other festivals, including Abergavenny, that sometimes use the same excuse to throw professional producers out. The difference here is that Mike is OK for me to air his experience, but many others haven’t wanted me to do anything, just to be aware they can get thrown out on a whim. Plus the obvious fear producers might never get back in – even if they wanted to.

Mike has written to Narbeth and explained his position, but that’s proved pointless. Now I’m talking to his AM and also to wag food by email and will keep you posted if anything does happen. I will not stop working hard for Welsh food and drink but just wish it wasn’t such hard work and common sense was more commonly available! One option is to take to social media, but I’m not sure that’s the right way to go, but it would be a way of Mike telling his customers why he’ll not be at Narbeth this year and if he’s found a replacement event.

It’s pointless my wishing things would change with food festivals because nothing really ever does. Wag food are happy that we go around in circles and as they’ve the money to pay the piper as it were, this looks to continue.

 
 

Who Are Welsh Food Festivals For?

10 Jun

Please don’t think this is a silly question, it’s not it’s a serious one. Festivals are firstly for food and drink producers and that must be the priority because without their support we literally don’t have a food festival do we? Then Visit Wales will say our festivals are to attract our visitors. That I agree with, just wish Visit Wales would help festivals more on that front. Smaller festivals will also say it’s to bring their community together whilst still encouraging visitors too.

Hopefully we are agreed on those points, but another one is encouraging locals to buy their produce locally, using our wealth of artisan producers. Of course we have farmers’ markets that locals use, but in fairness they are very much a mixed bunch. Some are brilliant with local producers selling a wide range of locally sourced and hand-made products. Other markets, well lets just say they need improving, but to do that they also need the backing of councils as well as the support of local people. Now as I keep mentioning local, I have in my head food miles. I love using markets and festivals because I know that ‘most,’ but not all producers, are from that local area. I refuse to buy fishcakes from the south coast when I know how tough a time our local fishermen are having, likewise I will not buy garlic from the Isle of Wight when garlic is a product that can be grown here in Wales.

But my reason for this post is being told each year of food festival organisers who are refusing professional local producers stands at their events. Often its producers that have supported those festivals not just for years, but for decades, then to find their loyalty is rewarded by being thrown out. I don’t understand it. There are a number of festivals still playing this sad game, but best I not name them in case other events, like Abergavenny food festival, refuse me press tickets. I’m only raising these issues again because it is time these things changed AND, if producers tackled organisers directly, even if they’re polite, chances are they’ll never get back into that festival again.

Organisers are often vague when they reject a stand, so could it be true that they are full, but then we don’t regulars, especially locals get back in or is it simply down to a clash of personalities? Perhaps organisers forget that our professional food producers are doing this to earn a living, earning at festivals let’s them feed their kids and pay their rent or mortgage. Organisers tossing them out of an event they’ve planned and budgeted for at the start of the year, means they’ll have to try and find an alternative event for that weekend. An event could be 20, 30, 40, or 50 miles away, which just isn’t green?

My other whinge is that some organisers are giving stands to producers that I’ve dubbed, ‘Pin Money Producers’. These are people who already work a full time job, but apply and get stands at weekends to earn some extra cash, which I guess is building the Welsh black market. Ian and I often acquire flyers and business cards for traders we’ve not seen before, but usually these are the ones that never have them! If they’re not busy we’ll ask them about their business, which is usually when we label them ‘Pin Money Producers’. These are not businesses, they are not professional traders and no way should they be allowed to trade at a Welsh Government funded event. Some of these producers are actually buying from the cash and carry and re-packaging the contents of their purchases. How can tricks and deceptions like this showcase the best of Welsh food and drink which is what our visitors are expecting to see, taste and purchase?

Please don’t think I’m just attacking organisers, I’m not. I appreciate their skills in bringing a food festival together. I’ve been visiting festivals for over ten years and count many organisers that I see and speak to regularly as friends, they’re so easy to talk too and they do listen. It’s a tough job running a festival and I appreciate wag food offer very little help to these hard working people. Either they are too busy to do so, or they’ve other more important priorities. I understand that if someone new applies for a stand, it takes a lot of effort to work out if they are a genuine business or not, plus I fully accept it’s no good asking wag food if they have heard of them to help you make a decision. I wish there was an easier way to sort this professional versus ‘Pin Money Producers’ but is raising these instances with the HMRC the only way left to stop them?

I think I can sum up in saying we’ve still not got joined up writing on food festivals and my concern is will we ever achieve that?