Some Thoughts on Supplying Food at ConFest

L Spencer 27 January 2005

It is common knowledge that 'ConFest market' is a theme consuming a lot of people's energy. The following paper is an attempt to summarise some of the views that I have heard being expressed as an aid to exploring possible futures. This is by no means exhaustive.

I am told that early ConFests had a NO COMMERCE ethic with voluntary food processes catering for tens of 1000's of meals. For early ConFests in the Seventies, having commerce at ConFest would have been UNTHINKABLE!

Having commercial food venders has meant we have reverted to mainstream service delivery. Early ConFestors wanted to explore ways outside of mainstream and using processes of self-help and mutual help rather than service delivery.

Early ConFests had the aim of exploring 'community' in all its aspects - including using food preparation and sharing food as a major aspect of re-constituting community. Some ConFestors want to revert to that early ConFest ethic.

Question - should we have a few people who make money out of ConFest selling food when everything else is commerce free and voluntary?

Some say the colour and atmosphere of the ConFest market in the Australian bush is one of the best things at ConFest.

Others say that there is major scope for people to create 'atmosphere' and colour, as well as day and night gathering spots in many places at ConFest outside of a market. How do we energise this?

ConFest is ultimate about who does what on the day. If we have people who create energy centres, they happen. If they do not turn up, it doesn't happen.

Some say the market is like a black hole that soaks up ConFest energy in a circle of commerce and then outside of the market is a cultural dessert, and just a large spiritless car park. We used to have many energy spots of a nighttime. In some recent ConFests the market has been the only night energy spot of substance. Some say this dynamic of the market swallowing up the energy is turning energy-creators away from ConFest.

Some say the (put in your own adjectives) core group are turning people a way from ConFest.

Others say, that it is the poorly founded continual putdown of the core group by people with varying agendas who do virtually nothing, or nothing themselves to put on ConFest that is turning energy away from ConFest, and limiting people coming forward to be the next generation of core people to carry on the ConFest tradition.

Market people say they are the trendsetters in creating atmosphere and others may seek to emulate them in areas outside the market.

Some say that the market as a festive energy spot in a small village goes back to antiquity as a core human experience.
People connected to the market (with a vested interest in continuing to make money out of ConFest) have been gathering signatures for a 'keep the ConFest commercial market' proposal. Having lots of people saying yes to that proposal means what? That market vendors are good at selling?

Have non-market vendor petition-signers heard a case for why there should not be commerce at ConFest? Have they heard of other possible ways of providing food, atmosphere and colour at ConFest? Have they heard of the potential of exploring community thru community-based food preparation and joint feasts - using food as a process of community building?

Some say that the fire-circles are a process for:

Replacing the food market by some form of community food processes
Energising ConFest energy/event centres

Both of these have started.

The argument against this at pre ConFest was:

It can't be done.
We'll all get food poisoning (see current Turkish restaurant food poisoning - even the big commercial boys can get it wrong)

Some point out that it was done at Cotter River - the very first ConFest - tens of thousands of meals were supplied by a voluntary food process - so it can be done. With all respect, we now have in the core group massive more experience compared to that first ConFest - where they had no prior experience of how to put on ConFest.

Some want an end to people selling cheap overseas craft and clothes stuff at ConFest.

A smaller market at 2004/05 New Year had smaller attendances and was third place compared to the beach and the fire circle as the exciting place to be at New Years Eve. New Years eve in the market had little verve - more of a fizzer.

Some Options re Supply of food at ConFest:

Have a food market with regular vendors along with a commercial craft market

Have a commercial food market with regular vendors and no craft market

Have a commercial food market with:

Regular vendors to tender for a place in the market

Preference given to vendor collectives made up of those who put in lots of volunteer hours - DTE to provide support to these groups similar to Sydney ConFestors group including support in how to cook and cater (preference for steamed vegetables). This proposal would mean that those who put in large numbers of voluntary hours are the ones who get an opportunity to profit from ConFest. Some core people who devote many voluntary hours each ConFest say they are interested in participating in this process. There are some that believe that the forgoing proposal will distort the voluntary nature at ConFest and put pressure to move away from voluntary process and hence change the very nature of ConFest..

Have a non-commercial (not for profit) food market/food process centralized, or decentralized to fire places - if so what form would this take?

Some Views Regarding Commercialism at ConFest

Commercial food/craft market:

adds special atmosphere
caters for those who need/want food supplied (single mums who want a break) - some say mutual help process may support people in need

Every aspect of ConFest is non-commercial and voluntary except the market.

Typically, market vendors do nothing re voluntary site set up and pull down.

Unpaid Volunteers put in 350 voluntary hours to ensure market and get no financial return from market

The market seems to be a major cause of difficulty and collectively is a major source of stress for volunteers:

Breach of fire regulations:

Examples at the last two ConFest

Non compliance with DTE process:

Gate crashing
o Lying re documentation
o No insurance
o People selling well-being services (eg tarot)

There is a sustained denigration of directors and the core group which brings DTE and ConFest into disrepute

Some say that ConFest should be like Woodford Festival

Run as a business
Run by experienced managers and administrators
Everything pre-planned including paid entertainers and paid workshop facilitators

Some say that the above would:

Distort the nature of ConFest fundamentally
Be a 'mainstream takeover' of Confest.

Some say that ConFest, as an Australian phenomenon, is unique in that it has maintained an 'alternative' process. Some features of this process are:

Uses diffuse community based processes rather than administrative hierarchy
Is based on playful, creative freeform spontaneity rather than administrative control
The wisdom and experience is in the group
The process is voluntary
All people donate their time freely
Enough people who 'know' ConFest arrive to make it happen
A few people have the knowing about site selection, getting permits and site layout and do this work to ensure ConFest happens
Diffuse Community processes energise the process
An open agenda spontaneous self organising process energises workshops and other events

Some say that people influenced by mainstream will say that it is not organised properly. What they are saying is that it is 'not mainstream'.

Some people say that such a phenomenon as ConFest will always seem messy and divisive. Some say that that is the very process that reconstitutes the magic each ConFest.

Perhaps the above themes may be input if a wider discourse on Food at ConFest takes place at a DTE meeting.