Food Heritage Festival
Running an inclusive rural food festival
What is a Food Heritage Festival?
Festivals that coincide with food and farming seasons can be wonderful ways to celebrate, valorize, and preserve agricultural traditions and heritage.
Bringing together multiple stakeholders – farmers, producers, entrepreneurs, civil society, customers, and governments – to co-create such festivals can help develop events that are reflective of multiple perspectives and needs, relevant to local contexts, and led with multiple resources and contributions.
A Step-by-step Guide
1. Scoping and dialogue
Identify potential topics and participants through farm and field site visits and networking. Hold conversations and dialogue, listening to their interests, needs, and ways they would like to be involved in a festival. Ask about any previous festivals they were involved in, and what they appreciated and didn't appreciate.
2. Steering committee
Bring together a steering committee that can come up with ideas for design of the festival. Try to incorporate as many diverse experiences and knowledge as possible – farmers, rural producers, chefs, academics, entrepreneurs. Prior to starting discussions, make sure there are clear roles decision-making structures in place, in case the team gets stuck and can't come to an agreement.
3. Shared values
After determining all participants, propose a set of values that can define the event. These may include local sourcing and production, valorization of tradition and heritage, clean or organic farming principles, and fair trade practices. Share these values with all participants, to solicit feedback and advice. This may best be done through a collective dialogue forum (a transportation stipend may be necessary to ensure rural participants can join the forum). A trained facilitator can help to negotiate through disagreements and find consensus on the core values.
4. Background research
Solicit as many ideas from as many stakeholders as possible to help in the design. Ideas could include timing, farming cycles, activities, foods, crafts, and locations. Do further background research on heritage food, products, and seasons to determine the most appropriate timing, location, and context for the festival. Research existing events in the region to avoid any replication of efforts or large competition that could draw away customers.
4. Co-designing the festival
Launch the design process by bringing together the steering committee to discuss and narrow down the ideas to a proposal. Ensure there are creative people on the team who can come up with exciting and interesting activities. Bring the proposal back to participants through phone calls and messages, openly sharing the proposal and soliciting feedback. Try to incorporate as much feedback as possible to ensure the event is inclusive and matches local contexts and needs.
Cost out the final proposal to determine feasibility. Estimate needed revenues to ensure the festival can reach a profit. Confirm prices match customer willingness and capacity. Ask vendors what they are willing and capable of paying for participation (e.g. table fee, percentage of sales). Explore ways that members of local communities could also be invited, such as sliding-scale pricing. Attempt to be as transparent as possible with costs and revenues, in regularly sharing budgetary data and customer numbers through online communication tools. This can not only emphasize values of fairness and inclusivity, but also increase motivation for participation and collaborative marketing.
6. Targeted marketing
Explore various customer segments. Determine their potential interest in the event, such as in fair trade, clean agriculture, celebration of heritage, family activities, etc. Develop and launch a marketing campaign that attempts to reach out to these customer interests – including through social media, traditional media, and one-to-one connections. Try to make this marketing campaign match agreed-upon values and rural stories, illustrating the spirit of the event. Work collaboratively with all participating vendors to collectively market (it may be beneficial to require all vendors to invest in a certain level of marketing in order to participate in the event, ensuring equal accountability). Pre-book any media and photographers for the event.
7. Telling stories
Hold several sessions with rural participants to uncover and highlight stories of rural heritage. Explain the customers who are coming and their varying perspectives (e.g. interest in clean food, knowledgeable about healthy habits, but little knowledge of rural heritage and traditions). Give farmers the opportunity to tell stories in the sessions, and coach them on ways they can adapt their stories to varying customer perspectives.
8. Coordination and running the event
Book the space and create a map of the event. Ensure all equipment is purchased or rented for activities, such as food stands, tables, chairs, and materials for activities. Book reservations for specific activities. Clarify all logistical considerations such as parking, ticketing, payments, and invoicing. Make sure all personnel are prepared for the needed activities, and appoint personnel to help answer questions and solve challenges. Run the event.
9. Debriefing and improving
Following the event, hold a debriefing session with all participants. Take time to celebrate successes – what went well – and for participants to praise one another for the good work. Ask for feedback on ways the event could be improved in the future. Ensure all feedback is intricately documented and openly shared with participants after the session.
Sample Tools & Resources
Document for planning a festival A to Z