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Organic food comes of age at Bristol's Organic Food Festival

Eifion Rees

26th August, 2010

Held at Bristol Harbourside and celebrating its 10th anniversary, Europe's largest organic festival is a feast of food, drink and fabric that doesn't cost the earth

Ah, the Eighties. Shoulder pads, Spandau Ballet, Reaganomics and conspicuous consumption. It's a wonder anything could flourish in such poor soil.

And yet it was during the decade that fashion - and personal accountability - forgot that the roots of the organic food movement in southwest England were being laid down.

‘It was a very self-oriented time,' recalls organic pioneer Phil Haughton. ‘Organic food experienced its first big rise in popularity back then because people were concerned with personal health, not because they were worried about the environment. Things are very different now.'

One of the Soil Association's five organic heroes, Phil knows more than most how far the movement has come. He learned his trade on a community farm in Scotland before starting up his first organic box scheme in Bristol in 1985, growing it to become the largest organic outlet in the South West - The Better Food Company. Along with Luke Hasell and Jim Twine, Phil also set up The Community Farm, which works with people from Bristol and the Chew Valley to reconnect local communities with their agriculture and food.

Having survived two recessions and the rise of the supermarkets, you can believe him when he says of the organic movement as a whole - and with justifiable pride: ‘I think what we have now is unstoppable.'

Bringing the countryside into the city

The Better Food Company farms 25 acres of land in Chew Magna, eight miles outside Bristol, growing fruit and vegetables not only for the popular box scheme, but also for its city-centre shop and café, as well as a wholesale arm that supplies schools, restaurants, shops - and other box schemes - with the finest organic ingredients.

‘It was very small to begin with, very individual, dealing with a few producers who had made a clear choice not to put chemicals on their land but didn't have a market for their food,' says Phil. ‘They were thrilled when I got in touch.'

Fresh vegetables from Flax Drayton in Somerset, free-range chickens from Somerset, prime lamb from Devon and tangy cheeses from Staffordshire - within three years producers were approaching Phil rather than the other way round.

The venture was successful because the same concerns about pesticides existed then as today, he says. The difference now is that there is a critical mass of people asking questions about the harmful environmental impacts of industrial food production and distribution, aware of the benefits of local food to health and of local economies to communities, and voting with - or rather without - their shopping trolleys.

Sustenance that makes sense

For evidence, look no further than the Organic Food Festival, which next month celebrates its 10th anniversary at Bristol Harbourside.

The biggest event of its kind in Europe - and one of the highlights of the Soil Association's Organic Fortnight, which runs 3-17 September - last year the Organic Food Festival attracted 20,000 visitors to its stalls.

Phil Haughton, involved with the festival from the beginning, describes it as a ‘shop window' for the organic movement, one to which shoppers flock because ‘they're looking for something that makes sense' as opposed to big brands and supermarkets.

As well as manning the Community Farm stand he will be whipping up a succulent storm at the Chef Demo Theatre, alongside brother Barny Haughton, an organic and slow food chef, and others including Michelin-starred Daniel Galmiche and Jane Baxter of Riverford Organic Field Kitchen. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will also be in attendance, but dishing out the Soil Association Organic Food Awards rather than meals.

It will be a great day out as well as a chance to sample some of the UK's finest organic food and drink courtesy of more than 150 producers, but there will be more important things to take home than organic cider (yes, really). Lessons learned about keeping food local and seasonal are beyond price, which is why the Kids Taste Experience is a must for children. As well as being encouraged to think about where their food comes from, they'll get to try out a range of fun activities including ice cream football.

For those wanting to learn more about how our environment, health and animal welfare can suffer when we become disconnected from the land, the At-Bristol Planetarium will be screening Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. - an American nightmare about factory farming and the corporatisation of food production. Tickets are only £3 and include a goody bag of organic produce.

There will be divesting as well as digesting in the Fashion and Textiles tent. From haute couture to home furnishings, there will be a wide range of organic clothing for sale, every stitch of material made without the use of pesticides - and you can spot woolly jumpers in their natural habitat at the Sheep Show, which features regular sheep-shearing displays.

Here are seven other organic producers to keep an eye out for.

Abaca Organic
Creators of the only handmade, Soil Association-certified organic mattresses in the world, and suppliers to John Lewis nursery department, Abaca Organic is a well-respected name in the bedding world. Visit the stand to find out more about its organic farm in West Wales and tips on how to get a good night's kip!
www.abacaorganic.co.uk

Slade Farm Organics
Slade Farm Organics nestles on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast - an area of outstanding beauty - supplying the finest selection of organic Welsh beef, lamb and pork. The animals are reared with the utmost care to promote a degree of excellence not possible with mass-production farming. Slade Farm has been tenanted by the Davies family since 1976. Peter and Rosamund Davies converted the farm to organic production in 2000 and the wildlife benefit has been substantial, resulting in Environmental and Taste awards.
www.sladefarmorganics.com

Kinavara Smoked Salmon
Kinavara is a family-run smoked salmon business working from a picturesque seaside village on Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Its award-winning organic smoked salmon is made through an age-old smoking technique, producing what is deemed to be one of the best organic smoked salmons available.
www.kinvarasmokedsalmon.com

Tideford Organics
Tideford Organics offers a fantastic range of simple, organic food of the highest quality, still hand-cooked in small batches with no additives or preservatives in its kitchens in Devon. The inspiration for products including sauces, soups and delicious puddings come from life and the travel adventures of their top chefs. We challenge you not to be instantly converted.
www.tidefordorganics.com

Lily's Kitchen - Proper Pet Food
Thanks to Lily the Border Terrier there exists a range of pet food that is made from 'real' ingredients - good-quality meat and organic grains, vegetables, fruit and herbs. The food is cooked in small kitchens rather than big factories, and thought, care and attention has gone into creating the delightful recipe range. It's no surprise that they have a loyal following of pets (and owners)!
www.lilyskitchen.co.uk

Yeo Valley Organic
A loyal organic supporter, Yeo Valley is sponsoring the 10th Organic Food Festival with as much passion as it sponsored the first. Part of a family-owned farming and dairy business based in Somerset, make a beeline for the giant Yeo Valley yoghurt pot to sample out newly launched flavours including organic toffee caramel and organic plum.
www.yeovalleyorganic.co.uk

Cocoa Loco
With ethical sitting at the very heart of its business, Cocoa Loco is every organic chocoholic's dream. Based in West Sussex, this family firm makes its chocolate creations in their own kitchen. There is no compromising on the quality of the ingredients or on the biodegradability of packaging. The end result is a cornucopia of chocolate creations that are truly guilt-free.
www.cocoaloco.co.uk

The Organic Food Festival, 11-12 September 2010, Bristol Harbourside
www.organicfoodfestival.co.uk

Eifion Rees is the Ecologist's acting Green Living Editor

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