4 October 2012
Cumberland sausage and Kendal mint cake might still be the most strongly recognised Cumbrian food products but delegates at a recent food tourism conference heard that there’s much more going on in the county.
In fact, the Lake District now tops the list of foodie destinations, ahead of London and Yorkshire.
About 100 people, including food producers, hospitality business owners and representatives of public and private sector bodies, attended the Taste Cumbria food tourism conference, held at Dovenby Hall last Friday.
Speaking at the event, the Chair of Natural England, Poul Christensen, highlighted the vital role that Cumbria’s food producers play in linking the area’s stunning scenery, distinctive food products and tourism industry together.
Mr Christensen, one of four panellists answering questions at the event, said: “I firmly believe that we can’t separate food and environment and I’d like to think that the days when people thought ‘production first, environmental protection, second’ are behind us. We need both. Many farmers in Cumbria have been doing it for years – bringing a top quality product to market; looking after some of the most beautiful countryside; protecting the environment.”
The other panellists were writer, journalist and broadcaster, Jay Rayner, Keith Jones MBE, area director for the Forestry Commission and Eric Robson, chairman of Cumbria Tourism.
Poul underlined the importance to businesses of the services that nature provides. The environment is the key link in many food supply chains, is vital to the tourism and hospitality industry and provides the soil and water that feed helps feed the nation.
Research commissioned by Taste Cumbria showed that tourism is more important to the Cumbrian economy, environment and community than most other parts of the UK, worth £2.2bn each year and supporting over 56,000 jobs. Helen Tate, of Red Research, told the conference that 40.1 million visitors came to the county in 2011, spending £429m on food and drink. Food is the third most important factor for people when choosing a short break destination, the research showed.
Eden Valley hill farmer James Rebanks, who compered the event, said Cumbria should be “a great version of itself, not a mediocre version of everywhere else”.
Food tourism has the potential to reinforce brand/identity; sustain local farmers and producers; preserve agricultural and cultural heritage, tradition and skills; reduce food miles; improve the visitor experience; and provide competitive advantage for the destination.
Food Tourism Manager, Mary Houston, said: “The research confirms that food, drink and agriculture in Cumbria are vital to our visitor economy, and the demands of our visitors need to be better understood and supported.”
Poul cited Natural England’s work with farmers and landowners through agri-environment schemes:
“It’s important to remember that it’s the farming systems that shape the land. So whatever happens in the future, we need to make sure that hill farming gets the recognition it deserves for all the goods and services it provides. Over the last 20 years we have invested well over £100m in farms in the Lake District National Park, to help safeguard the landscape we see today.”
Poul acknowledged that Common Agricultural Policy reforms were creating uncertainty, and said that land managers should continue to be rewarded for the environmental goods and services they provide.
“The productive farming sector needs to be supported so that it can continue to deliver a whole range of benefits – food and fuel, wildlife, water, and woodlands, landscape and beautiful countryside.“
Poul praised the work of Taste Cumbria, which is a food tourism initiative, designed to boost the local economy and attract visitors to Cumbria in the pursuit of its world class food offering and encouraged other areas to follow Cumbria’s example
“The Taste Cumbria model shows that far from being a burden on business, there are real opportunities for food and hospitality businesses that market and brand themselves on their environmental credentials.”
The conference was the inaugural event of this year’s Taste Cumbria Festival. The first Taste Cumbria Food Festival was in 2010 and saw Cockermouth’s shops, restaurants, hotels and pubs join forces in the weekend-long Cumbrian culinary celebrations. Taste Cumbria is supported by Defra’s Rural Development Programme for England, which has transformed the prospects of thousands of businesses across rural England.