You might be surprised to find that Hampshire is home to a cornucopia of award-winning food and drink producers, making everything from delicious cheeses and wines to freshly-squeezed apple juice and tasty pies.
Local producers are often small to mid-sized entrepreneurs offering unique produce with an emphasis on taste and personal service.
But despite their achievements, many of them are still relatively hidden gems within their own county just waiting to be discovered.
The annual Hampshire Food Festival is looking to change all that. Organised by Hampshire Fare, the food festival is a series of different food-based events taking part throughout July which gives the public opportunities to meet their local producers and learn about how food is made locally.
Tracy Nash is the commercial manager for Hampshire Fare, helping to organise the vast array of events on offer and representing the county’s local producers.
‘Hampshire Fare brings everyone together under one umbrella, which creates a much stronger voice to champion local produce,’ says Tracy.
‘We represent 130-odd producers in all kinds of produce including farmers, cheesemakers, vineyards, breweries and jam-makers. Some of our producers work at home, some are in commercial premises and some are big producers in their fields.
‘The Hampshire Food Festival is a celebration of local food and farming. It’s predominantly to provide awareness to the general public, to get them engaged in eating, tasting and experiencing where the produce is grown and how it’s being produced.
‘It’s designed to get people thinking about how much good food and drink they’ve got in their own county.’
Tracy adds: ‘The festival is now in its 14th year. It started off as a weekend event that went to a week-long event that became a two-week event and now we just do it for the whole month!
‘There are more than 60 different events happening this July. We have jam-making courses, farm courses and even the chance to learn how to make cheese.’
Making the most of local producers has benefits for the whole county.
Tracy explains: ‘Promoting local producers helps the economy. If people are supporting local producers then ultimately they’re helping the economy of Hampshire and creating more jobs in the process.
‘The food festival last year was worth £3.25m. So during that month that’s how much additional revenue was created for Hampshire.’
Buying from local producers also makes the weekly grocery shop more enjoyable.
‘It’s much more fun popping down to the local farmers’ market or farm shop and speaking to the producer themselves, who is passionate about their produce, rather than trawling the aisles of the supermarket not knowing what to buy. The interaction creates a totally different shopping experience.
‘People have a more personal experience when they shop locally and I think they are returning to smaller stores rather than big stores because it’s a much more comfortable experience.’
‘I get to shop locally myself. Wherever I go in the county there’s always somewhere I can stop and pick up something I need.
‘We will always have to use supermarkets from time to time – you can’t get everything locally, I appreciate that.
‘But you taste a strawberry that’s grown here in Hampshire compared to an imported one and there’s a massive difference.
‘Without a doubt people can taste the difference between the care that goes in at a local level and mass-produced products.’
Among the local producers represented by Hampshire Fare is Hill Farm Orchards, Droxford. The 57-hectare fruit farm sells fruit to supermarkets and also makes juice under the Hill Farm Juice label.
Will Dobson runs Hill Farm Juice and thinks the food festival is vital for local producers.
‘Events like the Hampshire Food Festival are important in terms of promoting local producers,’ says Will.
‘It’s a month-long celebration of Hampshire food and producers and there are plenty of opportunities for the public to get involved and have a look at what is produced in the county. There are all kinds of unusual things that they may not have come across and plenty of events to come and try.
‘During the festival we’ll be involved with the event at Sparsholt College on July 19 and we’re also hosting our own Open Farm Sunday on July 13, which is an opportunity for everyone to see how we produce our juice.’
Will thinks the key to the success of local producers is the relationships they develop with their customers.
‘Our relationships with our customers are very important. For any business the best advertising by far is word of mouth and if I can talk to my consumers they can understand how we do things.
‘From a customer’s point of view shopping with a local producer means they know where their product’s coming from.
‘You get more of a connection between the producer and the consumer and I think that’s something that’s becoming more and more important to the consumer.
‘As a local producer you’re accountable but equally it’s nice that you get direct feedback from people.
‘I’ve got a few juice flavours that I’m working on that came about because I’ve been talking to some of our customers who said “have you thought about doing X,Y or Z?” and it’s like “no, we’ll give it a go!” So we’ll try a blend and if we reckon it works we’ll put it out there.’
n To see video of last year’s Southsea Food Festival, visit portsmouth.co.uk/video.