Castlecomer, Callan, Piltown, Kilmacow and Thomastown are all contenders in a landmark competition to select a Town of Food in Kilkenny.
The aim is to showcase the best of the county’s food culture and to work together to deliver food- related education and training programmes.
But the unique concept, developed by Kilkenny Leader Partnership (KLP), is being watched with keen interest by other bodies countrywide.
That’s because they are keen to see if it could become a template to put their own areas at the forefront of the quality food culture movement.
Rural towns and villages with a population of at least 500 people were eligible for the Kilkenny project.
KLP chief executive Declan Rice said how a county or region values the role of food in its society is important.
One of the critical elements of KLP’s long-term food strategy is the development of local food culture in the towns and villages of Kilkenny.
“The Town of Food competition represents an opportunity for business, agriculture, community and voluntary sectors to work together and reap the benefits of an integrated food development plan,” he said.
Kilkenny Food Strategy coordinator Kilian Duignan said an extended deadline for the towns to submit their business plans is Mar 25. These plans will be presented to a panel of expert judges on Apr 4 and the winner will be announced on Apr 9.
“We are very encouraged by the number of competing towns and with their enthusiasm and level of expertise,” Mr Duignan said.
“We are now working with these communities. Competition is really intense; you’d know they were keen hurling hubs well used to doing battle with one another.”
The applicants must outline a vision for creating their Town of Food and explain their plans for any buildings and food-related training programmes. They must show how they can lead the integration of local food culture into the tourism strategy of the county and develop a commercially viable business plan for the whole project.
Contenders must also be able to demonstrate how the business, community and voluntary sectors can work together to develop a food culture.
One of the judges, Bobby Kerr, said Kilkenny food producers, manufacturers and consumers are very passionate about their food.
“The food culture here continues to grow and we have been setting the standard nationwide,” he said.
Mr Kerr, a former Dragon’s Den judge on RTÉ and a renowned entrepreneur, said the chosen Town of Food will receive unrivalled financial supports. Equally important will be the continued support of a dedicated food strategy coordinator to ensure the success of the project and make it sustainable in future.
“Competition will be intense but we’re no strangers to intense competition in Kilkenny,” he said.