Champion of local food industry

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Through creating Food NI, Michele Shirlow has clearly demonstrated her suitability for the Farming Champion Award.

She has been instrumental in championing Northern Ireland’s farming and food industry locally and internationally through PR, events and marketing.

Michele’s passion and dedication to farming and food is clear. She has been a driving force behind Food NI and has always looked for new and innovative ways to promote agri-food. The authentic NI food festivals she has spear-headed, NI’s contribution to the UK’s wide breakfast campaign, and most notably driving forward the 2016 NI Year of Food.

Michele and Food NI was also one of the first supporters of NI’s Open Farm Weekend (OFW) successfully securing funding from the Princes Country Side Fund (the first ever successful NI application).

For a number of years, Food NI was engaged to help deliver the event and was successful in establishing a solid foundation. The aim of OFW is to bring the general public on to farms and educate people as to where their food comes from.

Michele has also capitalised on the concept of ‘food tourism’ and has been key in promoting Northern Ireland’s world class farming and food industry as a top destination for foodie travellers.

Michele has also led the development of the Food NI food pavilion at Balmoral Show. The food tent has become a ‘must see’ highlight of the show.

Each year the tent has gone from strength to strength, promoting local food and farming from butter to goat burgers and everything in between. The tent provides a showcase for local food producers and tells the story from farm to fork. The pavilion started with eight local food exhibitors and now has 120 local producers and 40 chefs present.

Through her work at Food NI, Michele has helped to grow Open Farm Weekend attracting an audience of 5,000 in the first year to nearly 20,000 in 2016. Food NI played a significant role in the early days of OFW and helped to lay the ground work for this important event.

The Year of Food has also been hugely successful and Michele played a key role in it. The Year of Food will have a lasting impact on how people at home and abroad view Northern Ireland and our farming and food.

The 2016 Year of Food, Balmoral Show, Open Farm Weekend, and Food NI’s marketing activities have all played a vital role in raising awareness of Northern Ireland’s top class farming and food industry amongst the non-farming audience. Michele has found unique opportunities to promote farming and food at non-food related events, such as the NI Open Golf Tournament, Orangefest, Dalriada Festival, and the Irish Open when it was held in Holywood.

Michele has also been key in ensuring more Northern Ireland food products are recognised by the prestigious UK Great Taste Awards. These awards are considered to be the ‘Food Oscars’ and recognised in the UK and further afield for signifying excellence. It is an award easily recognised by consumers and in 2016 a record number of entries were put forward from NI and 212 products received awards. Much of Northern Ireland’s success at these awards can be attributed to Michele’s support and encouragement of local producers/companies.

With the drive to capitalise on ‘food tourism’ and the celebrations around the Year of Food, there is certainly an international element to Michele’s work to champion NI’s farming and food. Working with industry and Tourism NI, Michele has visited countries aboard, such as China, to promote Northern Ireland farming and food and make in-roads for exports opportunities.

More information about Michele’s work at Food NI and the 2016 Year of Food can be found at http://www.nigoodfood.com/