The Maltese Islands are not short of food festivals. The Department of Agriculture has even set up a dedicated Rural Festivities Unit to increase the knowledge of local people about agriculture, animals and fishery.
However, no one can deny that Festa Frawli stands out from all the rest and has become one of the most sought-after festivals in the Maltese culinary calendar. It is an event featuring the delicious Strawberry fruit, and one where leisure has been amalgamated to an authentic rural activity. Locals flock in their thousands, and tourists consider themselves lucky if they happen to visit while the festival is going on.
Beyond the magnetic effect that such festivals have with both locals and visitors alike, with Festa Frawli I’ve been noting a couple of interesting and important things:
People coming together
Food is a huge part of a community’s identity. It is what defines us culturally, that’s why we give local products so much importance, sometimes even without knowing. What comes to mind when we think of what to get along when representing Malta abroad? Yes… Food! Ok, we need to move a bit away from the usual Twistees, Cisk, Ġbejniet and Galletti routine, but the gist of it all is that almost inevitably we revert to food whenever we look at who we are.
This is exactly what Festa Frawli indirectly promotes. Strawberries are the focus of the festival, but it’s far from the only item benefitting. The festival has managed to create a sense of community and pride – something that we greatly need when it comes to rural communities. Apart from empowering this small, but resilient community, the festival is also a platform for other local agri stakeholders.
The community around Festa Frawli has also successfully managed to boost the fruit, and market it properly. It adds value to a product that, up until a few years ago, was taken completely for granted. Today, Mġarr is even more known for the production of the berry. And while this is sometimes a bit of a sore point for other strawberry growers around the islands, the festival has set standards and has also created a positive ripple effect throughout the whole country for everyone concerned.
One other aspect that piques my interest is the element of innovation. This doesn’t always have to do with any futuristic technology – sometimes the most basic of ideas is enough to trigger new trends. And that is what the community around Festa Frawli has achieved.
The festival is not just about the selling of the fruit in its traditional sense. There’s a good amount of processing done, which is also great for our environment since lower grade fruit is not thrown away as it sometimes used to be.
I’m always one of the first to visit the festival, to learn more about this product and meet some of the farmers and organisers who have put so much dedication into this event. It is my belief that this festival’s model needs to be emulated by others, so that we bring out more the element of genuinely-produced local products – with all its social, environmental and economic benefits!