Food Fest gets locals back to their roots

Hannah Downey

Last week’s Forth Valley Food Fest inspired thousands of locals and tourists to reconnect with the land; from picking pumpkins in Arnprior and milking goats in Port of Menteith, to community garden tours at the University and shopping for local produce at farmers’ markets.

With Halloween just around the corner Arnprior Pumpkins was a particular draw, but it wasn’t just pumpkin picking that attracted the crowds. Digging for potatoes and pulling up turnips were also a massive hit with visitors.

Farm hand Susan Breckinridge said: “The potatoes have been incredibly popular. It’s like digging for treasure. People love finding a cluster of them. Getting back to the earth and connecting to your roots is so therapeutic. It’s great seeing the joy it brings, everyone is so enthusiastic. The whole experience of getting people back to the land, whether it’s finding potatoes or pulling up an enormous turnip, just puts a big smile on everyone’s faces. It’s a simple pleasure many people have forgotten about or have never experienced.”

Port of Menteith smallholders Kat Goldin and Kevin Harrison also used the festival to road test their new ‘Meet the Goats’ experience, which was a sell-out success. As well as milking the goats, visitors to Gartur Stitch Farm also had a go at hand-feeding the sheep and geese and collecting eggs from the roost. Thanks to equipment loaned from Transition Stirling’s Tool Shed, there was also the opportunity to press apple’s from the farm’s orchard.

Kevin said: "It has been a joy to help families explore life on our smallholding and make the connections between food and place. From milking goats to foraging, to trying sourdough bread and apple-pressing, we have been delighted to share the range of skills we have here on Gartur Stitch Farm with a younger audience and to talk about how to eat and make food locally. Seeing the delight on children's faces as they cuddle a lamb or feed a turkey has been a real highlight and we love the energy and enthusiasm the Forth Valley Food Fest has brought to our farm."

The festival, which was supported by Stirling Council and Forth Valley and Lomond  LEADER, also highlighted over 20 of the regions local food producers and providers through a special Stirling Farmers’ Market and Stirling NeighbourFood collection. To mark the occasion some producers laid on special produce, such as Theo Laffargue from Riverside Bakery CIC who created harvest inspired spiced apple buns using locally sourced apples, butter and eggs.

Stirling University Students’ Union’s Green and Blue Space also got in on the action by holding a film screening and garden tours, showing students and the wider community how they can support, and get involved in local, sustainable food.

One of the project’s volunteers, Rosi Koll said: “Every day I make small choices, like where to get my food, and I think each of these choices are important. Organising to get our food from local sources as much as we can is one of the main topics of daily life in my household. Of course we're also students and supporting local food also often means spending more money on it but there's other ways too, like growing your own food, or swapping volunteering time with producers for some of their produce.”

She added: “I saw how the garden project started and how this bit of land developed into this wonderfully productive garden. Other than allowing me to do something useful with my hands every now and then, the garden also showed me what was possible! I really see the garden as a learning project, because it allows people to see how food grows and what kind of food can grow in the area they live in, and to learn how to grow it at a small scale.”

Local Food and Drink Co-ordinator, Ashley Robinson said: “The festival has been a great success, but it’s just the beginning. We’re looking forward to more food events, food trails and farm tours throughout the coming year to encourage local people to explore our flourishing local food landscape. If you’re interested in taking part as a producer or participant please get in touch with us at Forth Valley and Lomond LEADER.”

A special Hallowe’en Tasting Night will be held at Stirling NeighbourFood on Thursday 1 November, which promises to a treat-filled, fun packed taste of Autumn. The event, which offers the chance to meet local producers and sample a magical array of local food, will take place 4.30-6.30pm at Stirling High School.