by Sophie Hansen, Lidster
As featured in the 2017 Country Web Annual.
There’s a wood-fired oven at our local community hall. Most of the year it sits quiet and cold but every now and then we get together to hold loud, chaotic pizza nights. And that’s what happened last Friday.
Because the oven hadn’t been used for a while, we warmed it slowly, fearful of the roof cracking. So two days before the event itself a fire was set, then a handful of us took turns to drop in over the next two days, stoking it up as we drove past. The wood was donated by a local firewood supplier.
The evening’s organisation wasn’t what you’d call military precision but it came together driven not by a million phone calls or spreadsheets, but by goodwill and the kind of community common sense that just gets things done.
We had over 100 takers on the night; strangers rolling out dough together (which was provided by the local mill), newcomers meeting their neighbours for the first time, kids helping on the topping production line and the voluntary bar committee enjoying a brisk trade too.
Our little gathering raised some much needed funds, but more importantly, it brought us together on a cold winter’s night to cook, eat, drink and talk.
Food is the connective tissue for any country community. Whenever there’s a bushfire, sausage sizzle, funeral, working bee or celebration—at some point you’ll generally find people gathered around a table of provisions. And it’s not just the eating that is the important part; it’s the contributing. It’s the feeling of usefulness and satisfaction we get from bringing along a plate of tasty food. It’s the thought that our contribution might please someone, might help somehow, might offer a moment of pleasure on a sad day or delight a child on an already happy one.
These kinds of community events are precious, and I think more wanted than ever. With social media’s prevalence in our lives there’s the temptation to think that we’ve caught up with friends because we’ve seen their latest post on Facebook, but that’s just scratching the surface. When life is so busy, the news so scary, budgets are tight and pressures on our businesses are so heavy, encouraging everyone to go to that pizza night, to get involved and make something and then clean up afterwards is important; because these are the moments that make our communities tick and remind us that it’s more fun to get out of the house and see your mates than to stay at home on the couch.
I spend much of my time working with social media platforms. Instagram in particular has had a huge impact on my work and social life; delivering unexpected opportunities and friends around the world which I am grateful for. But more and more I am noticing that these online friendships can only go so far. And whether we realise it or not, if they have any future, they are on an inevitable trajectory towards the real deal—actually meeting in person.
I regularly organise, attend, follow and dream of one day attending all sorts of creative workshops around the world. The past few years I have noticed that these sorts of events are on the rise and book out within hours. They are popular because people just want to get together. While on the one hand we are inundated with connectivity thanks to social media, the more we connect online, the more we crave actual connection—we just want to be in the same room and share ideas and we want to know that there are people ‘out there’ who get us and get what we do.
Country towns like yours and mine, we already have infrastructure in place for these sorts of connections and gatherings. We probably have access to a community hall with a great kitchen in which great things can happen. More than likely our town has a sports team or 10 to support, regular working bees to maintain the park or sports fields, and fundraising bar nights for the school.
So my message is simple, ‘use it or lose it’. Hold that pizza night or pot luck dinner just because, and see the good things that come of it. And while I really do appreciate the effort any kind of community gathering requires, after watching ‘my community’ cooking, eating, drinking and catching up over pizzas, I’m more convinced than ever of the enormous benefits these events provide. Bringing your community together over or because of food, is an important and good thing.
If you would like the recipe for the pizza dough and pizza sauce you’ll find it on Sophie’s Blog: http://local-lovely.com
Ed: Sophie runs a podcast and e-course called My Open Kitchen. The 7 week course is delivered in ‘modules’, designed to teach and inspire farmers, growers and creative foodies to use social media to build new networks, grow their businesses, take better photos, write better captions and connect with people. For more information or to register visit: http://www.my-open-kitchen.com.