Communities to reap the harvest

Eat a free autumn feast, jar up your own honey, learn how to press apples or create your own piece of clayware — just some of the events taking place as part of Cork Food Harvest Festival, which runs from October 19 to 21. KATE RYAN finds out more.
Communities to reap the harvest

WHAT A BOUNTY: A display by Knocknaheeny/Hollyhill Community Garden at the Cork Food Harvest Festival last year.

A HARVEST festival in late October couldn’t be more perfectly timed. It’s a natural and innate thing within us to come together at the seasonal autumn/winter gateway to share food and be grateful for the bounty of the harvest.

The weekend of October 19-21 sees the return of the Cork Food Policy Council’s Food Harvest Festival. Working with community groups, growers, gardens and a plethora of partners from across Cork city and county, this year’s festival looks set to be a great weekend to celebrate the culmination of the growing year.

Keelin Tobin is the co-ordinator at Cork Food Policy Council (CFPC), a non-statutory group founded in 2013 that works for an inclusive, fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system.

Keelin and a huge army of supporters and volunteers are the driving force behind organising the Cork Food Harvest Festival programme — a delicious mix of fun and enjoyment in the food we eat alongside topical food issues facing consumers and growers today.

“I think we even surprised ourselves with how it well it went last year! CFPC was shown such goodwill and generosity from so many different quarters,” says Keelin.

“The support for the Sunday market was incredible, people just came out of the woodwork to help. We did it on a total shoestring, really relying on other people to help make it a success. It was chaotic but it was a lot of fun, people just mucked in and we made it happen!

“Knocknaheeny Holyhill Community Garden did a great job last year in turning Fitzgerald’s Park into the perfect harvest festival scene with pumpkin carving, seed saving and corn stalks decorating the whole area.

“Arthur Leahy from Quay Co-Op was wonderful loaning us his production kitchen, which is usually shut on a Sunday, and also transportation for getting the food from the kitchen to the park.

“When we’re surrounded by people who are so obliging and sound it just makes a great difference.”

Yet again, Cork demonstrates with ease how collaboration lays the foundation for creativity. CFPC may be behind the wheel, but it’s the people involved that really get the party started!


“Cork Food Policy Council (CFPC) sees itself as a network to bring people who grow food together, groups and community-based initiatives, to talk and learn from each other but also to have a greater presence collectively.

“Our programme of Saturday events are taking place disparately across the county, as far north as Duhalllow and Slí Eile, as far south to Myrtleville and right across the city, but everything is connected through CFPC.”

Based in Cork city and with an emphasis on urban growing and sustainable food, this year CFPC are looking to use the Food Harvest Festival as a vehicle to push their presence out to the wider County Cork area.

“We applied and received a Local Agenda 21 grant to extend our reach and to get the city and county to interact via food. CFPC isn’t purely an urban-focused initiative; it emerged out of an urban origin but it’s important to create these county-wide links, especially as our city and county are changing,” says Keelin.

For 2018, CFPC are building on the template laid down in last years’ successful festival with lots of new ideas too.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but we will have Cork’s newest floating garden created by Triona Murphy of IRD Duhallow. I love that people have the space to come with zany ideas; even with the events on Saturday, we just wanted people to get creative and see what came out of that!

“Some organisations involved now have the Food Harvest Festival fixed in their calendars and thinking about doing something special to coincide with the weekend; or sowing plants to harvest in time for the meal on Sunday.

“We fed over 700 people during Sunday’s World Food Day Feast in 2017, something that we hope to better this year! We had food donated, some of it came from Food Cloud (food that would have otherwise been wasted), and many growing initiatives supported us by giving whatever they had surplus of.

“This year Food Cloud will be supporting us again, along with other producers including Colum O’Regan from Horizon Farms who is donating some greens for the meal. We support small producers but it’s also important to work with bigger companies and have everyone come along with us.”

All events over the three days of the festival are free to attend, including the World Food Day Feast in Fitzgerald’s Park on Sunday October 21.

The only paid event is a three course lunch at CIT on Friday October 19. “A Taste of Cork” menu will feature the best of in season Cork produce, created and cooked by students of CIT Tourism and Hospitality Department under the watchful eye of Ciaran Scully, tutor and head chef of the Bayview Hotel in Ballycotton. At €20 per person for a three-course meal, this will surely be a hot ticket event of the festival programme.


“Food Harvest Festival is for everyone,” says Keelin. “It’s different to a food festival because it gives recognition to the people who work so hard all the year round to grow and produce food, but also to engage people on the question of where food comes from.

“For some, it’ll be about getting into the big discussions and debates on where food comes from while others will prefer a nice family day out.

“Come along and have a vegetarian meal made from surplus food for free on Sunday and know that it tastes really good — it can be as easy as that.

“Or participate in talks that challenge, are political or technical. Different people are at different levels of interest and Food Harvest Festival can appeal to people whatever their interest.

“Everyone is welcome,” says Keelin, “whatever the weather! Embrace the outdoors, get in touch and get involved — we’d love you too!”

Saturday’s programme is a garden-fest of growing, sowing, talks and demonstrations. You’ll be amazed just how much is growing in Cork, from horticulture in the workplace at Voxpro to jarring your own honey in Myrtleville.

Community gardens are spaces for all to enjoy, and may even plant the seed of inspiration for one in your own community.

Sunday’s free celebration in Fitzgerald’s Park will combine the World Food Day Feast with talks from Dubliner Fiann O’Nuallain and Belfast based Philip Allen.

Take part in apple pressing, beehive frame making and even crafting your own piece of clayware with ceramicist Martha Cashman. Stands and stalls abound where visitors can mine the brains of experts for their knowledge of sustainable food.

And with music all day long from the 80-strong Ukidukes of St John’s Girls’ National School in Carrigaline and the Army Military Band to name a few, there will no shortage of tuneful accompaniments to the delicious food on offer.

For a full programme see and keep up to date with festival news via the CFPC’s Facebook and Twitter.

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