Monday, November 06, 2006

Terra Madre

Our journey to Torino, Italy began a year ago (October 2005) when I was obsessed with cookbooks and Italian food, having just had an amazing meal at L'Amante here in Burlington. I had recently discovered the library's incredible cookbook holdings, and had checked out several Italian cookbooks, amongst them one called The pleasures of slow food : celebrating authentic traditions, flavors, and recipes. It was here that I learned about Carlo Petrini's Slow Food movement in Italy - a movement to try and preserve Italy's food traditions, with the impending opening of the first McDonald's in Rome. What he found was that many other Italians agreed with him, and he quickly had an organization that quickly gained momentum in Italy and all over Europe. There are now 80,000 members of Slow Food worldwide, and more each day. I was so inspired by his movement, I started researching it, and discovered the Terra Madre conference that he organized - the first one was in 2004, and had such visionaries as Prince Charles, Vandana Shiva and Alice Waters. I learned that there was going to be another conference in 2006, and I immediately signed up. In order to be invited to the Terra Madre, you need to be a part of a food community. I was delighted that we had the Intervale community to draw upon, and once the application came, I made a case for The Community of Intervale farmers to be included in this meeting of world food communities. An invitation to the Terra Madre entails room and board and transportation in Italy to be covered - you just have to be a farmer or a chef and find a way to get there. So, Spencer, Abbey Duke (Sugarsnap farm) and I made plans, and before we knew it, October was here and we were suddenly transported to this amazing world forum. In short: 6800 delegates from 150 nations, representing 1600 food communities from around the world. It was overwhelming in the best sense of the word to be in the same space with so many people doing the same things we were doing. It was humbling to be surrounded by all of our world's food revolutionaries decked out in their national costumes, finding common language so that they could speak with other farmers from other nations. We attended workshops where we all had translation headsets, so that we could understand the workshop no matter who was speaking - a truly amazing feat of organization. We felt like we were on a high the entire time we were at Terra Madre - I actually had a very hard time sleeping since I had so much energy, I just wrote pages and pages of my impressions of this food revolution that we are at the center of, and in the end felt very hopeful for the future of farming. I have a very real sense that we are at an important crossroads here in the world of food, farming, and general health. This is a very real topic that everyone can sink their teeth into and understand - it's not esoteric, and it's not elitist. Food does not discriminate and everyone needs it - and everyone is sick of the unreal food culture that we have cultivated in this nation, and we're ready to stop being lied to by corporations and finally get the good, clean and fairly traded food that we all deserve, and that is essentially a central human right. Vandana Shiva was particularly inspiring to me with her work to maintain seed integrity, viability and availability to all (click on her picture to hear her speech). This idea that seeds are a commons and should be accessible to anyone and everyone that would like to grow, and more importantly, propogate seeds. I had recently gotten complacent in my following of the GMO seed issue and the fact that one company (Monsanto) controls 90% of the GMO seeds in the world. I'm so glad she mentioned it, because she has reminded me that I can help to bring back native seed diversity by simply reducing the amount of hybrids we plant and start using more open pollinated seeds and heirlooms - in fact, we can start rehabilitating our local native seeds. We've already started making lists of new/old seeds that we're going to grow next year with the help of the Native Seeds SEARCH and the Seed Savers Exchange. We're excited, motivated, and ready to start the food revolution here in Burlington. We are looking to start a Slow Food chapter here, and are starting with a meeting this Saturday, November 11th from 2-5 pm in the Pickering Room at the Fletcher Free Library on 235 College Street. If you are available, please come and help us to share our experience and our vision for the future of food. We're calling it Bringing Terra Madre Home: a Forum of VT Food Communities. You know, there was a total of 31 VT delegates at the Terra Madre conference - we were very well represented as a state and were definitely seen as a leader in the sustainable agriculture world community - something to feel VERY good about!

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