All human life is here
Jim Kitchen - 23 May 2012
Jim Kitchen and Doug Stevens, Senior Inspector, Soil Association Certification
We've been exhibiting at the Balmoral Show in Belfast over the last three days. The Show is Northern Ireland's annual festival of food and farming; it's when Country comes to Town and Town gets a look at Country. And anybody who is anybody will be here.
Outside, in the vast arena, the champion animals are being prepared and paraded, farmers salivate at the latest agricultural technology and the public is entertained by show-jumpers and stunt bikes. The handsome longhorn cattle and Jacob sheep draw admiring comments, piglets and day-old chicks are a hit with the parties of schoolchildren and the heavy horses compete for attention with the antique tractors.
Meanwhile, we've been installed within the marvellous Food NI marquee, surrounded by purveyors of some of the best of this region's produce. The crowds are sampling the apple juice of Armagh, the marbled beef of County Antrim and the Lissara duck look magnificent, Dundrum seafood sits alongside elaborate cupcakes in an excess of excellence - the smells and tastes of Ulster are everywhere being celebrated.
We're neighbours to some of our licensees. The innovative Heavenly Tasty organic baby-food company is attracting the attention of the pram-pushing couples, White's porridge oats and Linwoods flax seed snacks are proving popular and McCann's cider is drawing an appreciative crowd. Meanwhile, the celebrity chefs are singing our tune - extolling the virtues of fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.
We've been taxed with some tough questions. Senior Inspector Doug Stevens has had to dispel the predictable doubts about how to tackle weeds in organic systems and counter the less common query about how to license wild venison. Meanwhile our senior producer adviser, Astrid, has dealt with technical enquiries on pig production and how to develop hemp-based soaps.
Astrid Toner, Peter Robinson, First Minister, Jim Kitchen and Edwin Poots, Health Minister
Astrid has other highly useful skills. One of our visitors, a former Government Minister well-known for her advocacy of the Irish language, was delighted with Astrid's Irish response. And Stormont's Deputy Speaker got some useful information on how to deal with a comfrey problem. This is no ordinary advice centre.
We've had a steady stream of visitors to the stand, some who know us already, many who have never heard of the Soil Association. The stream has included almost half of the Executive – we enjoyed a bit of banter with the First Minister, the Health Minister talked about school food, the Enterprise Minister stopped for a chat – they're all here because they know the importance of food and farming in Northern Ireland's economy.
This may be the last time that the Balmoral Show uses its current venue. After more than a hundred years here, it may be moving to a new site in 2013 but, wherever it's staged, it will continue to be farming's great annual showcase, drawing tens of thousands through its portals. And we'll look forward to being there next year too.
Jim works with the Soil Association, managing a new project to develop sustainable food communities in Northern Ireland.