Monday, 2 February 2009

Food festival support organisation winding down after decade of success

THE organisation behind the Exmoor Food Festival and the emergence of Somerset as the number one local food county in the country is winding down its affairs after a decade of successful work.
Somerset Food Links has been offering support and advice to a growing number of small start-up food and drink producers since it was formed in 1999.
Now, the not-for-profit company will become dormant at the end of the financial year.
However, the infrastructure and intellectual assets of Somerset Food Links could be utilised by the food and drink sector if new funding streams became available.
The company has created a rich legacy of food and drink events and resources which stretch from one end of the county to the other.
Its achievements include setting up Somerset Farmers Markets Ltd, which now runs 16 farmers markets each month, in communities across the county. It also founded the annual food festivals on Exmoor, the Quantock Hills, in the Mendips, on the Blackdown Hills, and in South Somerset, as well as being integral in the formation of the Wellington Food Town project.
Other huge success stories for Somerset Food Links include:
Somerset Community Food, a charity educating people about growing and cooking food
Levels’ Best, now a premier landscape brand, for marketing quality food and drink produced from the Somerset Levels and Moors
Somerset Local Food Direct, a web-based food and drink home delivery service offering produce from more than 80 local producers
Somerset Food Links’ work has mainly been project based with an aim of creating sustainable organisations.
All of these enterprises are independent and are run by their own boards or members.
The three remaining employees of Somerset Food Links will be pursuing other interests.
Somerset Food Links managing director Andrew Moore said the decision to wind down the operation had been taken reluctantly and with sadness, but the board recognised the organisation needed a new focus and would not be able to achieve this in the current economic climate.
Mr Moore said he was extremely proud of Somerset Food Links past and present staff who were largely responsible for the organisation’s achievements.
He said: “There has been an enormous amount of goodwill from fellow food and drink producers, who we have all enjoyed working with, and have helped form the embryo of a network of businesses that produce some of the best products in the country.
“We are also very grateful to all the other individuals and organisations who have contributed to Somerset Food Links.
“In particular, we are grateful for the grant funds and sponsorship without which we would not have been able to achieve our outputs.
“They include councillors and officers of Somerset County Council, the five district councils in Somerset, Natural England, The National Trust, and in particular Exmoor National Park Authority, which facilitated much important work on Exmoor.”
Somerset Food Links deputy director, Elaine Spencer-White said: “A measure of the resounding success of Somerset Food Links is the fact that during our 10 years we have seen the number of recognised food and drink producers in Somerset more than double.
“Somerset’s food and drink producers produce a fantastic range of goods that is now more easily available to residents, which creates both direct and indirect employment as well as a healthier population.
“However, there is still much work which could be done if the funding was available as the food and drink sector is never static and there is still growth to be achieved and better infrastructure to be developed.
“If you look at the bigger picture of climate change and rising food prices around the world, then you appreciate that local food supplies need to be nurtured.
“They can play a substantial role in the economy of a rural county like Somerset by providing employment, improving the health of the population, and reducing food miles, which is good for the environment.”

Somerset was judged by UKTV Food to be the county with the greatest number of local food producers in 2007.

  • Our photograph shows Somerset Food Links deputy director Elaine Spencer-White. Photo submitted.

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