It's billed as the biggest farmer's market yet, with more than 500 vendors setting up stalls to show their wares. The best of British foods, by local producers and growers, has arrived and the show is awe-inspiring in the breadth of products and the commitment of the participants. There are gourmet cottage industries, boutique food producers, workshops, cooking classes and, of course, tastings galore. Real food, slow food: it is a movement dedicated to reconnecting with the land, farms and natural cycles, sustainable production rather than the mass consumerism of the supermarkets. Not everyone fitted that description exactly but here we go with the best of the show. As always, it is the people you meet and the conversations and stories that make an event memorable.
Our first (and only) celebrity spotting was Craig Sams, former owner of Green & Black Chocolate, and now proud proprietor of Judges Bakery in Hastings. Looking very relaxed, he was hanging around his stall, urging people to taste the spelt bread, which is delicious. Sams doesn't ship his goods to London, it is too far and too complicated; he does a much more local business.
Tea was a big trend this year, with many small tea companies trying their luck at this ancient drink. Jing tea gets their tea from China and intends to make all of their packaging biodegradable by 2009. Theirs was a sleek and sophisticated looking stand; their green tea was smooth and fragrant. Teapigs "no airs. no graces. just fine tea." puts large size loose leaf tea (not powder) in a mesh tea bag, so it is more convenient to brew. A new small company from south London, leaf, was set up just two years ago. Their tea is sourced from China and Africa and they give great attention to detail: "we don't do dust". Today was Fun was at the forefront of the organic tea revolution; they were the first to make it big, and the proprietor, Sharyn Wartman was holding court, looking very pregnant (pictured) and offering her full range of delightful tasting, and looking teas.
Even though it was early morning, we couldn't resist a bit of ice cream, especially the rich, organic ginger vanilla flavour (pictured) of Cream o'Galloway. It is all made from the dairy cows' milk at the family organic farm in Galloway Scotland which has an ongoing environmental improvement programme including wind turbines, tree planting (40,000 at last count) and measuring their carbon footprint.
And then there was chocolate....where to start, and when to stop eating it. Afficionados of seriously dark chocolate will love The Cacao Tree (pictured). Started by a single mother when her driving school failed, she began to make it herself and now has a shop at a local market near Bristol. Divine Chocolate was there, as was NewTree and the addictive Organic Seed & Bean Company.
Liberation is the first fairtrade nut company (pictured), with 22,000 farmers from co-operatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America supplying the nuts and owning 42% of the company. If there was any need for a sit-down lunch after all this food sampling, the Duke of Cambridge pub was serving rhubarb fool, Konstam was doing rhubarb with rose custard cream pudding and Daylesford was doing posh. We haven't covered cheeses, olive oils, salamis, wine and oysters, but suffice to say, no one would go home hungry or empty-handed from this show. :: Real Food Festival