The quality and innovation of Eden’s food and beverage producers came centre stage last week as the focus of Eden Food & Farming Festival.
The week-long programme of events gave local people and visitors the chance to appreciate Eden’s exceptional produce and meet the people who bring it from field to fork and glass.
“It was superb to see the festival so well supported this year, with many of our events fully booked,” said Peter Ward, chair of Penrith Partnership, which organised the festival. “Even the first rainy day for weeks didn’t deter people from coming out and enjoying our main event, Penrith on a Plate.”
Funded by Eden District Council, Penrith Business Improvement District and Pride in Penrith Lottery, the festival aimed to support the local economy and add to the area’s social calendar. Having begun as a two-day event in 2012, it grew to a week-long festival last year and continues to grow in popularity.
“Virtually everyone we surveyed at Penrith on a Plate said they were more likely to come back to the town after having been at the event, and, importantly, more likely to buy Eden’s produce again having tried it at the festival,” Peter said. “Most of the stallholders told us they had a very good day of trade, with people taking a genuine interest in their products.”
As well as Penrith on a Plate and Penrith Show, the festival featured mid-week visits to farms and producers. Dairy and beef farming, vegetable production, traybakes, the release of Cumbria’s first commercial white and rosé wines and even a sheepdog demonstration with celebrity trainer Katy Cropper were all on the menu.
“Food, farming and tourism are the mainstays of our area’s economy, and the festival promotes all three,” said Richard Utting, chair of the festival committee and Penrith Chamber of Trade. “They’re crucial for employment in Eden – we all know someone who works in one of Eden’s excellent cafes and restaurants or in farming and food production – but these industries are also part of the fabric of life here.”
He added: “I don’t think most people realise just how outstanding Eden’s produce is. It’s something we should all be proud of locally, as well as making sure people know about it further afield. Lots of our producers have won prestigious national awards, with products used by celebrity chefs and taking pride of place on the shelves of national stores including Fortnum & Mason.”
The strength of bookings for this year’s event showed there is a demand for people to get behind the scenes with producers and see how their food and beverages make their way to the table.
“Despite the fact we live in a very rural area, many people haven’t had the chance to visit a farm or other producers and talk to them about their industry, and it’s crucial that we maintain and strengthen the links and understanding between the farming community and the general public,” Peter said.
Beyond the important educational element of the festival, it has been a successful addition to Eden’s calendar of events, getting the school holidays off to a great start and drawing in tourists from Cumbria and beyond – with virtually all of the events free of charge.
Looking ahead to next year, Richard said he would like to see more businesses get involved with the festival:
“We weren’t successful in attracting any corporate sponsors this year, but we will need to establish support from the business community if the festival is to be sustainable into the future. There is great promotional potential for them through our extensive marketing and we’d love to hear from anyone interested in being involved next year.”
The festival is also keen to do more to support Eden’s restaurant and night-time economy, but the small committee can only do it with more participation from these businesses.
“There’s a lot of untapped scope for local restaurants, cafes and pubs to get involved and bring trade to their businesses during festival week,” Peter said. “We need their participation and ideas to achieve it, though. If anyone is willing to help us coordinate this aspect of the festival, take part in our special menu promotions next year or float other ideas for how the festival can support them, please get in touch.”
Peter extended his thanks to everyone who has helped make the festival a success.
“I’d especially like to thank our three funders, those who hosted and ran the festival events, the public for turning out and supporting us, and my colleagues on the planning committee: Eden District Council, Eden Lighthouse for event organisation and marketing, Penrith Chamber of Trade, Penrith Business Improvement District, the Penrith Show Committee and Secret Garden Fine Meats. I hope the public enjoyed tucking in!”