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£500,000 action plan to deliver and build on Food Heartland successes

A decision is to be taken this evening on whether or not to invest over £500,000 to continue and expand the ‘Food Heartland’ activities across the borough over the next three years.

An action plan has been drawn up and was presented at the recent Food Heartland Forum at the start of last month.

Over 50 local producers and chefs attended and they are keen to build on the success of 2016, the inaugural year.

They have endorsed the action plan, which envisages spending almost £518,000 on a range of events and initiatives.

It will go before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s economic committee tonight (Thursday) for a decision, which well then go back to council at the end of the month.

An independent review and evaluation of the Food Heartland Initiative and the Year of Food & Drink 2016 was carried out in the autumn and feedback from a range stakeholders involved with the Food Heartland, including producers, restaurateurs, hospitality providers, councillors, council officers, Food NI and Southern Regional College.

The aim was to develop a three-year action plan to support the local agri-food sector and tourism offering in the borough from 2017 until 2020.

The overall view was that the Food Heartland initiative was a success and should continue.

Among the ideas would be to co-ordinate a series of events to showcase producers and chefs, and attending both Balmoral Show and the BBC Good Food Show.

An export programme to help small businesses export to new markets would also run.

And a support programme to develop the Armagh Bramley Apple supply chain to include co-ordinated promotion of this world renowned product and integration into the local tourism offering would take place in the next financial year.

The PGI status approved Lough Neagh Eels also features through a ‘Rivers to Lough’ event in the borough to raise awareness of this unique product. This event is developed in partnership with four other councils which straddle the shores of Lough Neagh.

The Food Heartland Awards will again be held, in both 2018 and 2020.

Work will be ongoing to promote the Food Heartland through the website and social media, while an online directory of producers and places to eat is being developed, together with PR literature and lamp-post banners.

The multi-element plan, if approved this evening and ratified at the monthly meeting, would see expenditure of £216,760, £163,000 and £138,000 respectively over the next three years.

The Food Heartland initiative will also be represented over that period at events including Mullahead Ploughing Championships, St Patrick’s Festival in Armagh, Country Fair in Scarva, both Armagh and Lurgan Agricultural Shows, Country Comes To Town in Portadown, the Sham Fight in Scarva, 7 Hills Blues Fest in Armagh, Food and Cider Festivals in Armagh and, possibly, Banbridge, which has to be confirmed, as well as the Richhill Harvest Apple Fayre and Georgian Day in Armagh.

It must be stressed that regardless of what decision is taken this evening at committee, full agreement at the statutory meeting will be required before it is rubberstamped.

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