After visiting over 20, mostly funded food festivals this year, and then taken the time and trouble to blog them, I must confess to be feeling very disenchanted about the food festival scene inWales.
Wherever Ian and I go, whenever we are talking to the food industry, we are constantly being asked about festivals and their future – as if anyone in power would tell me! But this is generally from producers who are also rather disillusioned about what Wag might have planned for 2012. For many years Ian and I have been asking and advising Wag to talk to producers and more importantly to listen to what they have to say, sadlly I thought this had fallen on deaf ears.
But dear readers, it looks like we are making some progress after all – hurrah, hurrah!!! I’m grateful for the organisers who have told me about a Food Festivals Consultation Workshop that is being held on 16th November. Of course it’s Wag’s agenda, and of course Wag haven’t told us about it, and of course Ian and I aren’t invited, BUT the important issue is that it’s happening.
I have to accept that Wag are hardly likely to admit that Welsh Country magazine and welshfoodbites can offer any help to the food industry. Maybe it’s just too difficult for them to accept that we can be of use to them and after working so hard for Welsh food over the last seven years, that’s disappointing, to say the least, but we do apprecaite it takes strong, confident people to say ‘we got it wrong.’ Our food producers however know what’s happening and our concern is for them. It’s our objective to build a better Welsh food industry, but why Wag can’t see that and work with us, is down to them. That we have to plough through the Welsh politics and Welsh Civil Service twaddle to make progress, is par for the course and will no doubt continue.
Anyway this Workshop is the good news and something that has been badly needed and is years overdue. Now we must hope that the organisers will give full and frank feedback, along with their comments, without worrying that if they ‘say the wrong thing, i.e. something Wag doesn’t wish to hear, their future funding could be in jeopardy. This is one of Wag’s main problems. I’d like to know if some of our professional food festival producers have been invited, because what is so important is that this industry is their livelihood and they too have a right to be consulted. I am well aware that some comments come back that producers shouldn’t rely on festivals, but I don’t agree with that, not every producer can plan or wants to go the supermarket way.
What has been interesting is the response to welshfoodbites, where of course, food festivals have been a very hot topic. I have been forthright in my views of what I have seen at the food festivals I have attended. Yes ok these are my thoughts, but as a passionate Welsh foodie why am I not coming away from these events delighted to have made the effort to attend them? Well quite frankly, far too many have still got the basics wrong. I’ll not bore regular readers, yet again, by spouting my ‘could-do-better’ lists. Suffice it to say if organisers cannot get the town behind them and get basic signage out early, they shouldn’t be running and certainly not be funded.
I didn’t attend many festivals in the north this year, which is purely down to lack of time. But of those I did attend, the ones that stood out for me that were funded were: Cowbridge and Really Wild and for non-funded ones: Big Cheese and St Fagans. But four out of twenty is not a good ratio at all from a foodie.
I have been vocal in the amount of money that Abergavenny,Cardiff and Conwy take from the festival budget and I know that Wag have this year elevated the ‘Big Three’ to international status, citing their value for tourism. But if tourism is so vital in relation to food, how much does Visit Wales put into the food festival budget? This also links into another question being asked, who are food festivals for: producers/tourism/economic development/other? But surely if food festivals are not there for food producers, why did Wag work to a criteria that this year food festivals had to have food as the core activity? Hitting some festivals hard including The Smallholder. If food producers aren’t that important to food festivals then why do organisers generally want their stands fees in so early, or maybe, being really silly, why do food producers have to pay to go to festivals at all? Another question is self-funding, which Wag have told me for years food festivals should aim to be, yet appears to contradict that statement when it raises the big three to international status and maintains their funding levels. Aren’t these three in particular capable of getting sponsorship? Because it they can’t there’s is no hope for some of the smaller ones. Let’s also be sensible here too, one size does not fit all and that applies to food festivals too – the needs for a small festival from Wag will surely be different say to Cardiff wont it?
For once I can congratulate Wag for listening and putting on this event. I do query who will actually be attending, but at least they are making a start. Hopefully it will prove a successful meeting and maybe pave the way forward for a more profitable stable future for food producers. I’m sure I will get feedback after the meeting, maybe not of course from Wag, but that is realistically not expected.