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Festivals appear around Scotland each year like bursts of summer joy. And these days they can be good places to eat, as well as party. Food and travel journalist Sophie Pither chatted to food co-operative Food from Argyll, who pitch up at all sorts of festivals with a selection of seasonal and local food stalls.
Food From Argyll is made up of a band of merry food producers whose aims are simple – to get more great local food into the market place, and to supply wonderful native food at events. Luckily for us, Food from Argyll’s borders overlap with those of the National Park and the two are firm friends.
The collective was kick-started back in 2007, when Virginia Sumsion of Loch Fyne Oysters gathered a few Argyll food producers that she knew together and headed for the nearby Connect Music Festival to feed a throng of revellers.
‘That first festival was pretty chaotic, but a lot of fun,’ says Virginia. ‘We all learnt so much about what food works best, on what scale to make everything, and all sorts of practicalities about banners and stalls, people and produce. Now, eight years on, we’re experts! So if a new producer comes on board we have all the answers to their questions and can help them out. And going as a group under the Food From Argyll banner makes it easier to book us, and a friendly experience for us producers, too.’
These days, groups of Food from Argyll members head to festivals and events including T in the Park, V Festival, Tiree Music Festival, the new Bute Fest, Belladrum, Inveraray Highland Games, Loch Fyne Food Fair and many others. They also collectively catered for a large area at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Virginia explains the success of the cooperative. ‘One of the great things about FFA is that we’re producer led,’ she says. ‘Most of our stalls are run by the producers themselves who are passionate about what they do and spend time talking to customers about the food. Even at T in the Park, we have loads of fans, which you wouldn’t naturally expect from a young music crowd. But these days everyone is starting to care about what they eat. And the T folk are our customers of tomorrow. You can’t stand still, you’ve got to keep getting out there and meeting people and telling them about what you do.’
She says, ‘What makes food from Argyll special is the passion and enthusiasm of the people who produce it, whether they grow from scratch, source from sea or land, nurture it along the way, or make it using the rich traditions and resources of the region. Here in Argyll you’re always close to the food source and as a result you get some of the freshest food you’ve ever eaten – whether it’s a langoustine straight from the sea or a pudding made in someone’s working kitchen that morning.’
And for those producers whose wares don’t fit into the festival food model – jam makers, for example, or others who don’t want to sell at events, the cooperative helps in other ways, giving advice about getting local products into more shops, selling at farmers markets, or about packaging, or pricing, or any number of things. What’s certain is that if you spot the Food From Argyll logo anywhere in the Park, you can be sure that good local food isn’t far away.