Tomorrow I’m off to The School of Artisan Food. Once a year, they hold a weekend of lectures about food (funnily enough). The School is within the grounds of the beautiful Welbeck Estate, where small food producers make a living. One of the School’s charms is its intimacy: last year I was lucky enough to meet (and be a very, very sad fan girl in front of) Bee Wilson and chat with James Whetlor of Cabrito Goat . I queued for coffee with Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis. Total gent.
I went alone last year, tempted by the line up and cheapish ticket price. Ever the spod, I sat towards the front of the small lecture room. Going to the theatre or a talk alone is something I book without a thought. Then I arrive and remember that not having a pal to share the experience with can be a bit flat, a little less thrilling. I dug out notebook and pen (see: spod) and made myself okay, fiddled with my phone. Arriving mid-animated-conversation, a pair of friends grabbed empty seats on my row. Kim & Polly.
They were, and are, affable, kind and expansive. We got on. Kim founded Gluten Free Gatherings, and is now pushing all her vitality and oopmh towards food education. Polly is Food Safari, working to share stories from small producers. Over okay coffee and amazing food (cooked onsite by diploma students) we shared passion for change and some (foodie) star spotting.
The two days featured talks by restauranteurs (Honey & Co, Jeremy Lee, the Grazer), campaigners (Jeanette Orrey/James Wheelan, in a way), journalists (Bee Wilson, Joanna Blythman) and historians (Ivan Day). The diverse range of interests, starting points & sectors meant we weren’t in an echo chamber of organic wind dried organic water. James shed light on how hard it is to get into supermarkets and why that was the right move for Cabrito. Jeanette talked about obesity and holiday hunger, Honey & Co about home and food.
Kim & I happened to be booked on the same train back to town. We eyeballed Olia Hercules at Retford station and shared ideas from our excited brains. One of my favourite talks was from Jeanette Orrey. We shared, and share, a sense that food people can get too precious about bronze dyed pasta and single variety everything. My work and the receipts in my wallet are proof that I value excellent quality food but that, sadly, is a huge privilege.
In the year since, Kim and I have exchanged ideas about food systems, food poverty and what we’re doing in our own communities to make a practical difference. She is a total powerhouse of energy and ideas and I’m so lucky to call her a friend. We’ve been to Borough Market talks, drunk amazing chemex in Small White Elephants and shared conversations bursting with ideas and positivity about the people we’ve met.
In breaks between lectures at the School you can browse the enviable library (books I hoped to read and have failed, above). As you listen to each lecture, the sun breaks through the sash windows, veg canes wobble and, blossom waves. I will do my best to not buy more books than I need and try to remember a little about genetic epidemiology this year (which is going to be a stretch. I’ve called in the big guns).
So we’re off again, this year, on the early train to Retford, Leon brekkie in hand. With the allotment underway, Trussell Trust training booked and lots of school visits in the diary for Riverford, I’m excited for another weekend of ideas, and spending time with Kim, too.