“Are you going to ‘the ploughing’?” It’s a question that’s come to be repeated up and down the country from the end of August until late September for years now.‘The ploughing’, for the uninitiated, is The National Ploughing Championships, that exuberant celebration of Irish farming where deals are done, friends are made, the competition is sussed out and, at the very least, everyone gets to have a grand day out.
The attraction of ‘the ploughing’ is hard to explain to those who haven’t been. According to the organisers, 281,000 people attended last year – that’s three and a half times the crowd you’ll see in Croke Park on an All-Ireland Sunday. Some are there to do business – whether it’s investing in the latest in farm machinery, checking out a new motor, or trying to win new customers, a proportion of the huge attendance is there for some serious buying and selling.
Many go to learn something new and/or be entertained; expect lots of interviews, demos and lectures from all kinds of experts, as well as singing, dancing and other performances. And then there’re the competitions; the event is, after all, built around the ploughing competitions, and there are numerous contests showcasing traditional and contemporary skills.
But there’s something else that draws people to take a day or two off and travel maybe a couple of hundred miles round trip to pour into a (very) large field in the middle of the country. And it’s probably the same thing that’s attracting people to the increasing number of food fairs, festivals and events springing up in every county – the chance to meet and share experiences with other people in the same business as yourself.
For those starting off or operating on a small scale, the work of food production can at times be isolating. You may be working mostly on your own or with a family member or just one or two other people. There may be no one around for you to bounce ideas off, or check whether you’re ‘doing it right’ or tell you you’re not crazy. Friends are fine, but sometimes what you need is someone who knows a bit about the business or is at least dealing with the same challenges as you.
Of course these days you can go on-line or pick up the phone for advice and information – but it’s hard to beat the buzz of going to a show, fair, or food event where everyone shares your interest in growing, producing or using good food.
We all tend to think of the cost – in terms of time and money – when weighing up whether it’s worth our while participating or attending something. Will the business you do justify the outlay? But sometimes the greatest return comes in forms that are harder to put a price on – a new idea, a word of encouragement, a solution for a problem or a whole new support network.
So when you’re feeling a bit stuck or uncertain or your enthusiasm is flagging, why not check what food-related event might be coming up? You may do some business or learn something new – or at least have a grand day out.