By Siobhán Cronin
THE TASTE of West Cork food festival celebrated another successful year with the grand finale event of the Sunday Street Market in Skibbereen.
The event, which saw hundreds of visitors sampling a range of street food under warm blue skies, rounded off 10 days of workshops, talks, walks, dinners, displays, demos and tastings.
The festival, run by a committee headed up by Helen Collins and Fiona Field, featured over 230 separate events, in 26 towns and villages and eight islands.
Top chefs, celebrity authors and wine experts mingled with food fans and enthusiasts over the course of the event which is proving to be one of most popular on the West Cork social calendar.
Among the festival highlights was last Thursday’s annual West Fork Business Breakfast in the West Cork Hotel with guest speaker Duncan Stewart. The breakfast, now in its fifth year, is organised by The Southern Star and has featured many high profile speakers in recent years.
Managing director Sean Mahon gave a brief summary of the recent West Fork Food Survey which saw over 600 readers of The Southern Star giving their comments on food production and service in West Cork.
He then introduced Duncan Stewart, who addressed the packed room.
The Eco-Eye TV series presenter said that if every school was like St Patrick’s Boys National School in Skibbereen there would be a great future for us all.
He was referring to the fact that the school won a major award last year for its eco dome and garden. Duncan had been one of the judges in the ‘Get Involved’ competition for projects based on sustainability and the environment.
Duncan also encouraged local people to get together and form a group with a view to making their local environment more sustainable. The world is moving towards a ‘precipice’ and unless we change our methods drastically, we will fall over that precipice sooner than we think, he said.
When we fill up our cars with fuel, we are actually funding corrupt regimes and extremism in other countries, so we are complicit in that, he reminded the audience.
The average motorist spends about €1,400 every year on fuel and yet, in our regions, less than 1% of the energy we use is produced locally.
Duncan, who travelled to West Cork by train and then bus, said we must find more direct routes to market and produce high-quality goods at reasonable prices in our own localities. He said there is huge potential for small local co-ops to form in order to produce and market local farm produce. Referring to climate change, Duncan said that we have altered the atmosphere irreversibly and if we don’t change from fossil fuels to renewables very quickly, the situation will be catastrophic.
‘We will probably see hundreds of millions of climate-stressed migrants moving into other areas of the globe to survive and into places which are already overstretched in terms of resources,’ he said. That will lead to chaos and disruption, he said.
Our world’s population has doubled since 1950, he said, and yet we have lost 60% of the world’s wildlife since 1970. By 2020, we will be down to just one third of the wildlife population. Most of our farm birds are being threatened with extinction from pesticides and intensive farming, he added. ‘We are living in the greatest time of affluence, but we are doing incredible damage to our environment,’ he warned.
He also paid tribute to the Ludgate initiative in Skibbereen, describing it as an ‘incredible’ project and a very important one, which many other towns could emulate.
Farming, fishing and tourism are the backbone of this region and we need to bring them all together, he said. ‘Forget political leadership, it’s not going to happen,’ he told the audience, repeating that only people power could bring about change.
He suggested organising co-ops to run energy resources like wind farms, similar to Germany, where farmers take control of the output, providing them with an alternative to traditional agriculture.
Referring to State bodies like the ESB and Bord na Mona, Duncan said we cannot allow the old status quo to continue – ‘the big players are all part of the problem’.
‘If everybody in this room were to meet again and discuss these issues there could be a very bright future in it,’ he suggested, and promised to make himself available if the group needed mentoring or direction. A list of names was taken at the end of the talk for those interested in setting up a discussion group in West Cork. To find out more, email [email protected]