Running food events in your community

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Sports day! At Hogacre Common and OxGrow's Harvest Festival

This was first posted over at Dan’s blog on the Low Carbon Hub web site. 

Public meetings, committee meetings, sub-group meetings, AGMs – the number of hours that Oxfordshire’s communities spend working on local low carbon responses never fails to impress me. This work needs to be celebrated … which leads me to the subject of my sustainable food blog – events.

As well as giving your core group a chance to throw away the agenda and enjoy time in each others’ company to celebrate their group’s success, events are great publicity – a relaxed and fun way for new people to approach you for the first time, and a great photo opportunity for the Oxford Mail! And if you’re part of your group’s food team, then this is your opportunity to shine – nothing brings people together more than some good grub.

You’ll know what will really whet the appetite of your friends and neighbours, but I’ve picked out a few of my favourite ideas for you here, before finishing with a few lines of practicalities from experience.

some ideas for food events

• seed & plant swaps

This is a simple but surprisingly effective way of bringing budding gardeners together in the spring, at the beginning of the gardening year. People can (but don’t have to) bring any spare seeds or seedlings to a community centre or church hall, and can pick up anything that takes their fancy. You just need to provide a few little envelopes and a box for donations. Barrack’s Lane Community Garden runs a couple of really successful swaps every year in the spring if you’d like some inspiration. Their next one is on the Saturday 3rd March.

• apple day

Next October might seem a long way off but get this one in the diary now. CAG Oxfordshire has a couple of presses and pasteurisers available for groups to hire (along with instructions and risk assessments). Nothing tastes sweeter than the first glass of low carbon juice that you squeeze together. My colleagues from my community group in North Oxford, LCON, helped organise a day in Summertown last year – we had a great response from our neighbours who brought bagfuls of apples from their gardens and went away with over 100 bottles of juice. As well as booking the apple press (look out for news of when booking is open in the Low Carbon Hub’s bi-montly newsletter The Key – join the Hub to get on the mailing list), make sure you give people plenty of warning, and start saving screw-top wine bottles now! We’re hoping to expand to include apple identification and cider making in 2012.

• community gardening

You could lead a work party to volunteer a few hours labour on a community allotment or garden. People could learn some new skills, show their children what vegetable growing looks like, and take some ideas home with them. And it can build a really nice team spirit in your group. OxGrow run sessions for groups every Sunday – their edible garden is well worth a visit.

In no particular order, why not also consider:

• local food picnics

Local food picnics, walks or map-building events where you might plot all the fruit trees or green spaces in your area.

• festival celebrations

Hogacre Common’s Harvest festival was a huge success last year – include old favourites like egg and spoon races, and how about snail races or the largest slug competitions?

• tree planting

Forest of Oxford will give help and specialist advice to communities that want to plant trees and run events in their neighbourhood.

• dinnertime!

This local project run by the CAG Project is a new exciting scheme that involves foraging, cooking and eating together – the team would be happy to help you run one in your community.

the practicalities of running a food event

There’s a useful Events Checklist in my resource library that will give you pointers to all the key things you need to think about.

Funding – you can hopefully cover costs by asking for donations on the day, but the Co-op Community Fund, or your local store manager might be worth approaching for a small grant or discounted produce.

Publicity – as well as your own mailing list, and local poster campaigns, send your event details in advance to the Hub’s community newsletter, The Key, and your event will get wider publicity. I have been contacted by a few local journalists about events as they keep an eye on this every fortnight. It’s worth looking at the guide on How to Write a Press Release in my resource library so try and catch the eye of the local press for your event.

Measuring – try to keep a tally of how many people come (and their contact details), what your event achieves (number of seeds swapped, apples pressed, carrot seeds planted etc.) and then you can show off afterwards. We’ve put together an Events Feedback Form for you to use in my resource library.

Experts – do you have a neighbour who knows everything about vegetable growing? Or is an expert apple identifier. Ask them to come along and either give a quick talk or chat to people at the event.

Risk assessment – run through a quick checklist with a colleague and make sure things are as safe as possible. There’s a sample form in my resource library.

Have a great food event (we expect an invite)!

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