Self-Reliance on a Global Scale
By John Bunker
Turin, Italy, October 28, 2006 – We in Maine are a part of a growing, worldwide movement to reclaim, defend and invigorate local communities, local economies and local agricultural systems. Nowhere is that more evident than here in this massive makeshift cafeteria. I’m sitting at a long picnic table, having just finished eating a delicious lunch of local Italian food with a few thousand farmers from around the world. I’m in Turin, Italy, and this is the third day of the Slow Food conference called Terra Madre. I am joined by 10 other Mainers, including MOFGA’s executive director Russell Libby and several MOFGA members. I am also joined by 5,000 farmers, 1,000 chefs, 500 agricultural educators and 800 volunteers.
Everywhere I look, I see people of different races and nationalities, many wearing traditional regional clothing. As I sit and write, I hear chatter in several languages that I cannot understand. Together we hail from 150 countries. This is a “United Nations of local food.” The atmosphere is excited, friendly and optimistic. I ate lunch a few minutes ago with a young fellow who taught himself English by playing video games and watching television. His English is nearly perfect. He works for a Portuguese nonprofit called Fair Trade and is assisting a group of Brazilian farmers at the conference. All 8,000 of us have been fed, housed and transported back and forth at no charge. The whole experience borders on miraculous.
Numerous workshops each day cover Market Access to Local Food for Education, Mobile Livestock Rearing, Tea Culture, GMOs, Cacao Production and so on. All talks are translated simultaneously into our headphones. It is amazing. In the center of the hall, attendees display their local crafts and foods. Everyone hands out samples. (I’ve eaten some really interesting stuff.) The convention center is humming with conversation. My head is packed with new insights, new handy tips and much inspiration. While the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ are everywhere, the word ‘local’ is the key.
When we planted our first garden in Palermo 35 summers ago, we had an assumption of what it meant to be organic. We made our first compost pile; we used our neighbor’s cow manure; we employed no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. We used local inputs, local labor and local land. We were, after all, “back to the land.” We even called our farm “the land.” Our friends and family called it “the land.” Although we did buy organic rice and preordered organic citrus for winter treats, ‘organic’ was really something we did ourselves on our land. It was local.
Now we live in what Wendell Berry has called “a total economy.” A few people make decisions that affect billions of people worldwide. “A total economy is one in which everything – ‘life forms,’ for instance, or the ‘right to pollute’ – is ‘private property’ and has a price and is for sale. In a total economy significant and sometimes central choices that once belonged to individuals or communities become property of corporations.” Now, even organic products are often grown far away, owned by huge corporations and travel thousands of miles to Maine. Is that kind of system sustainable? Can such food be fresh or healthy?
Terra Madre represents the flip side of the total economy coin, offering an emerging vision of a different kind of globalization and a different future for the earth. In this model people gather from all over the world to think together and to share information and stories in a collaborative effort of reclaim control over their own lives. This is self-reliance on a global scale. This is a cooperative support system of billions. This is not about going backwards. This is about creating a 21st century of local communities, local economies and local agriculture where fairness and justice and sustainability are key. This is truly about thinking globally and acting locally.