Former Olympian Sally Gunnell speaks at the opening of the South of England Show

Sally Gunnell at the South of England Show
Sally Gunnell at the South of England Show

A HOST of high profile speakers including former Olympian Sally Gunnell OBE and Government minister Richard Benyon delivered powerful messages at this morning’s South of England Show Media Breakfast at Ardingly, near Haywards Heath.

The two visitors were among speakers addressing an audience of South of England Agricultural Society guests and media representatives in the President’s Pavilion at the start of the flagship three-day summer Show.

The occasion was also the platform for the launch of the Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2012/13 when the 75 final entries were revealed.

Former executive editor of The Grocer magazine, Clive Beddall, OBE, Chairman of this year’s judging panel, emphasised the success and the importance of the food awards which are now in their seventh year.

As well as praise for Sussex’s numerous local food producers, Clive also gave special praise to the 2011/12 Sussex Food Awards Young Chef of the Year Paul Peach, of the Horse Guards Inn at Tillington, for his breakfast creation of “Eggs Jubilee”.

Sally Gunnell, a farmer’s daughter who lives near Steyning, focused on the importance of good food in her preparation for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

“I couldn’t believe the difference it made to my performance,” she said, “I could finish my training sessions, and then stand on the line in Barcelona having only eaten healthily for three years was a great boost to my confidence.”

Sally also said one of the reasons why Kenyan athletes were such successful performers in long distance races was now thought to be at least partly due to their consumption of predominantly fresh, locally produced food. She also revealed that beetroot was the latest ‘in’ food for athletes for its health giving properties.

Previous speakers, the farmer and former NFU vice-president Gwyn Jones and Nick Hempleman, the current holder of the Best Sussex Food/Farm Shop title, also emphasised the need for maximum support for local food producers from the Government.

This was especially relevant as farmers endeavoured to increase production to meet the nation’s needs, to be sustainable and to care for the environment at the same time, while independent producers and retailers battled to compete against the supermarket giants.

Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, congratulated the Agricultural Society on its choice of Food for Sport as the topic for the Show.

Mr Benyon said the Government was providing support for environmental stewardship, for altruism in the countryside for the benefit of all, and was doing all it could to reduce over-bearing regulations.

Following the breakfast, Sally Gunnell conducted the Show’s official opening in the English Wine and Regional Food Pavilion with the help of a collection of talented young sports girls and boys.

A spokesman for the South of England Agricultural Society thanked all the speakers and guests for attending the Media Breakfast and commented: “The speakers were a cross-section of influential people who gave their valued opinions on important issues of the day that affect all our farmers, food producers and retailers.

“We are grateful for their support at the South of England Show and, despite the weather, the first day has been a great success.”