Lady Caroline Cranbrook introduces the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival

The environmental campaigner and festival founder on the importance of supporting local producers

Lady Caroline Cranbrook receives her OBE at Buckingham Palace. Image: Getty 

“The doughtiest fighter for good sense in agriculture”: such is the accolade that Prince Charles himself once gave to Caroline, Countess of Cranbrook. Not without cause: Lady Cranbrook has been a tireless campaigner for local environmental causes, most memorably in 1997, when she successfully blocked the introduction of a Tesco in Saxmundham, her nearest Suffolk town, having conclusively demonstrated the threat it would pose to farmers. She subsequently campaigned against the closure of a number of small abattoirs, for which she received an OBE for services to the red meat industry.

The inspiration for the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival arose through the regular conversations Cranbrook was having with a host of independent retailers across the region. “I was aware that Suffolk is very rich in local producers – one of the largest outside London – but not enough people knew about it,” she explains. Now in its 13th year, the not-for-profit event is held in the beautiful setting of Snape Maltings, an arts complex on the bank of the River Alde, and offers an opportunity for everyone from farmers and growers to food and drink entrepreneurs to showcase their wares. “It has been an incredible outlet for producers to thrive – it’s a virtuous circle because once they become better known, local pubs and restaurants think about using them, which in turn encourages more people to come to the region,” she says.

Image courtesy of Lady Caroline Cranbrook

This year’s event will see the introduction of 16 new producers, as well as the launch of the Wild Suffolk area, where visitors can learn about foraging, preparing game, fishing, oyster growing and much more. Preceding the festival, a conference themed around ‘An Appetite for Change: Eating Wisely and Well’ will bring together high-profile speakers with local people for a conversation about the impact of diet on our health.

Image courtesy of Aldeburgh Festival/Bokeh Photographic

To extend the festival’s reach, a fortnight of fringe events will enable people unable to attend on the day to meet producers, go on farm walks and sample some of the food and drink in nearby restaurants, generating as much as £1.5 million for the region. “I was keen to make sure that people actually go and visit Suffolk’s town and villages,” explains Cranbrook. “So many brands have been helped enormously in this way.”

The Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival is on 29 and 30 September.

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