There's a new festival in town [WFJ #22]
Digging deeper into The Somerset Food Trail’s quest to champion local and sustainable food and farming
From the 15th to the 24th July, Frome will for the first time co-host the Somerset Food Trail (SFT), an annual festival celebrating local and sustainable food and farming up and down the county. It’s where you’ll be able to drink a buffalo milk latte at a farm near Yeovil; indulge in a cider and cheese pairing at a Somerton pub; then go take a guided tour of a nature-friendly market garden a mile’s walk from Frome town centre.
Not dissimilar to the Malt Whisky Trail of Scotland and The Kent Wine Trail (though in this case you travel under your own steam), the SFT is put on by Wells Food Network (WFN), a partnership wanting to develop a richer food culture not just in Wells but across the whole county.
WFN’s pilot of the Somerset Food Trail concept in 2018 involved 30 events and venues. “We were keen in 2018 to include Frome,” Stewart Crocker, Chair of the Somerset Food Trail organising Committee tells me. “But at the time there weren't the resources.”
This year, their first back due to the pandemic, the programme has extended to 187 events and venues across Somerset, with 12 of those in Frome’s catchment. Though some things need more attention in future iterations – such as the limited information around events in the SFT’s rather fetching booklet – the festival is shaping up to be a promising showcase of local food culture.
That being said, is it enough to make the SFT more a necessity than a nice-to-have? “A high proportion of people, anecdotally speaking, have little or no interest in how their food is produced,” says Stewart. “And have little knowledge of how the food system is currently broken, and the damage it's doing to the environment, local economy, and human health.
“As a consequence of that, they do not generally appreciate the contribution that we can all make in transforming the food system through our food purchases. The food trail was born from recognising the benefit of reconnecting consumers with producers on that basis.”
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The Food Trail’s ambitions could also be defined by a talk leading up to the festival in Aller, near Somerton, that will explore whether regenerative farming methods, such as the ones the food trail champions, are as much the answer to the UK’s ecological problems as they claim to be.
The food trail also wants to position food and farming (or, more specifically, industrialised food and farming) as the common denominator in explaining a myriad of our collective problems – not just those surrounding planetary health. These include the more obvious examples, such as nutrition and food poverty, to the not so obvious, like determining the fortunes of local businesses and communities, and rural decline.1
This means one of the organiser’s main jobs, with the help of localised ‘cluster coordinators’, is to accredit the local farms and producers not only refusing to practice the all-too-common farming methods that are causing havoc, but also the ones actively improving soil health, community interactions, and citizens’ access to better food.
Farms that include livestock, for instance, must at minimum show they respect animal welfare, avoid the routine use of antibiotics, and provide ruminants (cows, sheep) with forage-based diets (grass, herbs, legumes, and so on) if they are to play any part in the SFT.
The problem with this – if it should be called a ‘problem’ at all – is that food from such farms is usually associated with higher prices for the consumer (a tub of ice cream from Palette & Pasture may cost £1.50 more than global manufacturers, for example). But Stewart says these usually are not unreasonable prices to pay in the grand scheme of things.
“In industrialised food production, so many of the costs are externalised. For example nitrates leaching into drinking water, animal excrement seeping into rivers – that sort of thing.2 So when we're talking about the cost of food, it's important to recognise that the cost of producing high-quality sustainably grown food, which doesn’t incur all those additional costs on the environment or picked up by taxpayers, are included in the growing process.”
In fact, one of the areas the SFT wants to broaden for successive food trails is an even larger diversity of venues and events across the county, better demonstrating to those even on the lowest family budgets how they can eat well. “What we are not about is creating some elitist notion of high quality expensive food,” says Stewart. “Our mission is to show that good food is available for everyone.”
The following selection of Frome-based events as part of the SFT are within walking/cycling distance of the town centre. Numbers correspond to their listings on the SFT website and booklet.
The Open Road Experience, which creates e-cycle adventures, is offering e-bike hire from £50 to help festival-goers explore the SFT.
72: Farm tour & Sunday lunch at Vallis Farm // 24th July
Rye Bakery holds a farm tour at its new market garden in Vallis (not to be confused with that of Vallis Veg), which will show off Rye’s efforts in developing a localised food system. A four-course lunch, cooked up by ex-Monty’s Deli chef Owen Barratt, is included in the ticket. Book via Eventbrite
77: Green gym & lunch at Frome Field 2 Fork // 17th July
Field 2 Fork, a community permaculture site just off Critch Hill, hosts a green gym (which is basically the workout you get from digging, weeding, wheelbarrowing and all the other manual tasks involved with growing food), culminating with a wood-fired lunch made from the produce you’ve helped harvest. Book by emailing email@example.com
80: Farm tour at Meadowsweet Farm // 17th & 24th July
Meadowsweet is a regenerative beef farm eight miles from Frome. Join their tour to see how cattle are helping replenish soil health and bring wildlife back to the land, followed up with a (optional) beefy lunch cooked up by Meadowsweet neighbours The Woodcutters Oven. Book via Eventbrite
And now for some more highlights, but beyond BA11…
19: ‘Fish Three Ways’ with the Queen of Cups // 18th July
At Glastonbury’s Queen of Cups – a pub always hot on using local ingredients in the best way possible – Chef Ayesha Kalaji will show you how to prep and cook local fish using three different methods. Call 01458 831255 to book
44: ‘Nifty & Thrifty’ with Sustainable Wells // 16th July
A free and family-friendly day of exploring how to enjoy local food and a low-waste household – whether it’s cooking, baking, or growing – especially for those living on tight budgets.
153: Glebe Farm and Pitney Market Garden tours // 16th July
Organically-accredited for over 20 years and exhibiting the ‘gold standard’ for animal welfare, Glebe Farm is one of the leading lights of sustainable food production in the country. Join them and Pitney Market farm, also operating on the site, on their tour of what a sustainable market garden looks like. Book via firstname.lastname@example.org
162: ‘The Craft Tradition in Somerset’, with Kate Lynch // 21st July
What does a blacksmith, hedge layer, and riddle-maker have in common with food and farming? Artist Kate Lynch leads a talk to explore just that. Book via trybooking.co.uk/BQBZ
As for poverty, this particularly applies to Frome – Frome Market, for instance, is the most deprived ward in the whole of Somerset