The season of agricultural and country shows is well and truly underway.
The Royal Bath and West Show kicks off a four day celebration of farming and rural life in Somerset.
From early May to late August the British public is offered the chance to access and find out about the working countryside, that’s if they can find the agricultural kernel around which the shows are built.
Nowadays the farming exhibits are enveloped by a necessary commercialism.
The cost of staging a big event in the rural community where agriculture takes place is enormous and has to be paid for through ticket sales, sponsorship and stalls.
It’s a pitiless round of attracting large crowds of largely urban folk to come and spend their money at an event, which whilst it has cows, sheep and cheese, must entertain the general visitor. The mainstay of large rural shows these days is no longer the livestock or produce, but non-agricultural spectacles, fairgrounds and music.
The smaller shows fare better, being run by enthusiastic volunteers with the support of the immediate rural community, but even these events are succumbing to commercial necessity by increasing the non-agricultural content.
So what are these shows for?
I remember when I covered the Bath and West Show for local BBC radio in the 90s; debate amongst members of the Society about change to its agricultural character was fierce.
When the Royal Show based in Warwickshire folded in 2009, it sent a shiver down the spine of those involved in the rural economy.
This was one of the oldest agricultural shows in the UK, run by the Royal Agricultural Society of England since 1839. If the Royal Show, that only a few years earlier had attracted over 100,000 visitors over four days, couldn’t hack it in the noughties, then what was the future for similar events?
It was clear then as it now, that what was once an annual meeting of the local farming community to show off their livestock and produce has become an event celebrating a much bigger rural theme, with attractions far beyond an agricultural remit.
And yet the founding principles still beat deep in the heart of shows like the Bath and West.
As a Society, the Royal Bath and West exists to educate the public about farming and to support scientific developments in agriculture. Founded in 1777 it aims ‘to encourage agriculture, arts, manufacture and commerce’.
The Bath and West Show is a manifestation of these aims in the modern age, and therein lies an opportunity to tap into the interest, anxieties and love of food by food obsessed public.
An agricultural show, with its long heritage, has to be the place to tell the story of ingredients from field to plate; a ready-made hub where producers and buyers meet to celebrate how food is made.