Producing Locally Connecting Globally

Summer 2007
Jim Amaral
Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads was among the Maine contingent that savored the 2006 Terra Madre, a global gathering that promotes strong, local communities and quality foods. Photo by Jo Anne Bander.

by Jo Anne Bander

Sometimes you have to travel far to understand what you have at home – not that it is a hard sell to get chefs and farmers to consider travel to Turin, in Italy’s Piedmont region and gastronomical capital, in October, the season of the truffle and the harvest.  When Slow Food International announced its second Terra Madre – Mother Earth – for October 2006, Aroostook County Convivium leaders Angie Wooten and Jim Gerritsen, who helped found the Convivium after being delegates to Terra Madre 2004, started considering possible delegates. Meanwhile, John Bunker, MOFGA’s immediate past president and Maine apple tree specialist, worked with David Buchanan, Portland’s Convivium leader, to organize a MOFGA “Food Community” delegation.

Word came from Slow Food in June 2006: Maine would be represented by the Communities of Maine Organic Potato Farmers; Aroostook County Wheat Growers and Millers; and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Farmers, as well as two chefs and an academician – under the general New England category of Clam Bake Nation.

For them and nine other Mainers who attended as delegates, observers and speakers, the reason was clear: Those who care about local food and sustainable agriculture should be among the more than 5,000 small farmers and artisan producers, chefs and academics from 150 countries gathering in Turin, the spontaneous heartland of the worldwide sustainable agriculture movement.

A United Nations of Producers, Chefs and Academics

Terra Madre began on October 26 with a parade of delegates in national attire – colorful saris, straw hats, hand woven jackets and African batiks – carrying their nations’ flags – an Olympic-like gathering of grassroots champions of sustainable agriculture. “Nations” included Lebanon, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Israel, Iran, Native Americans of North America, and more. Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano greeted the assembly.

Dakar Representatives
These representatives from Dakar, Senegal, were among the “United Nations” of food producers, chefs and academics who learned from each other at Terra Madre. Photo by Jo Anne Bander.

John Bunker went to Terra Madre for an immersion in Slow Food and to learn how it compared with movements that on paper sound the same. He got it firsthand and accurately: a “United Nations set of folks where the goal is not about stopping people from killing each other but to share with one another and attempt to establish and strengthen local economies and local agriculture,” a vision of a world community across land, politics and language built on the systems by which food is produced and consumed.

Slow Food, founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 following his protest against McDonald’s plans to put a restaurant near the Spanish Steps in Rome, organized Terra Madre. With a membership of 80,000 in 100 countries, this international force promotes the pleasures of locally grown, seasonal food prepared using traditional techniques; celebrates the value of small farmers and artisan producers; and catalogs and preserves food and techniques on the verge of extinction through its Ark of Taste and Presidia projects.

Terra Madre takes place with Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto, which it started in 1996 to showcase small producers who couldn’t compete in larger, more commercial food shows. This sixth incarnation burst at its seams as some 180,000 people passed through halls showcasing artisan foods from all over the world as well as some of Slow Food’s 300 Presidium projects. Products included argan oil from Morocco, the ganxet bean from Spain, darfiyeh cheese from Lebanon and Robinson Crusoe Island seafood from Chile. North America counts to date only six Presidium products, represented in Turin by the Anishinaabeg Manoomin (a wild rice grown by native Americans in Minnesota), the Sonoma County Gravenstein Apple, Canadian red fife wheat and American raw milk cheeses.

Terra Madre connects Slow Food’s 5,000 small-scale and sustainable food producers around a common goal of global food sustainability. The 2006 event gathered almost 9,000 people in Turin: 4,803 farmers, breeders, fishermen and artisan food producers from 1,583 food communities and 148 countries. There were 953 cooks, 411 professors and representatives from 225 universities, 2,320 observers and guides, 8 official languages, 6,800 headphones for translation, 776 volunteers; and 1,100 families hosting delegates. Included were 860 American and North American Indigenous delegates.

Learning by Sharing

The intellectual soul of Terra Madre was the Earth Workshops, addressing issues of water, networks, market access, agroecology and seeds. Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads and Jim Gerritsen used the workshops to share what they had learned in Maine.

Amaral was on a panel on bread that included producers from Sweden, England, Portugal, Austria, France and Italy, all concerned with a worldwide decline in the quality of bread as it becomes an industrialized rather than artisan product. Amaral managed to get some of his still fresh bread from Maine through customs for sampling. “People come to you with their questions when you are a speaker,” he noted, giving him much more contact with bakers this time.

He told how he helped develop and support Maine organic wheat producers in his quest to develop quality bread.  Conversations with the Portuguese and English bakers on the panel made him think about the connection of bread to family history. Drawing from his own and the Portuguese baker’s roots, he experimented with and now offers a Portuguese cornbread from Borealis and is considering additional traditional breads, such as New England brown bread – made with local wheat, rye, corn.

Gerritsen participated in the Earth Workshop titled Roots and Tubers, which highlighted Andean potatoes, manioc, yacon and yams, focusing on their extraordinary biodiversity and importance as foods.

Learning from Leaders: Good, Clean, Fair Food

Slow Food founder Carlos Petrini continues to inspire and shape the movement. Bunker found him eloquent and one of very few who understands and articulates the current worldwide food system on a deep level, including class issues.

This year Petrini moved from his 2004 construct of people as co-producers, with informed and engaged consumers as part of the production process, to a focus on the newly articulated Slow Food Manifesto – Good, Clean, Fair. Reducing the complex issues through which food production and consumption systems harm the earth and its ecosystems to these three words is an effort to focus a broad public on defining food quality around three basic concepts.  The food we eat should taste good; its production should not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and food producers everywhere should be fairly compensated.  MOFGA’s executive director Russell Libby likes the new message: “Petrini’s frame of Good, Clean, Fair is a way to let everyone around food enter the conversation.”

Vandana Shiva, economist and physicist; founder of Navdanya, a movement to protect biodiversity and indigenous culture; creator of more than 20 community seed banks; and speaker at the 2001 Common Ground Country Fair, presented the Manifesto on the Future of Seeds.  In her words, “Terra Madre is the way we empower ourselves, go back with new ideas … The co-principles of the earth are the fact that Terra Madre does not discriminate between a desert and a wetland, a mountain and river valleys. Every place is a hospitable place. Every plant is a useful plant. Every producer is a creative producer. And it is that diversity we celebrate in the Manifesto and the future of food.”

She described how small, decentralized producers are being destroyed by absurd regulations, and concluded that with the new manifesto, “it will be breeding, not for uniformity and monocultures but breeding for diversity and most importantly, it is breeding for freedom because that is what we are sowing, the seeds of freedom.” Her message resonated so strongly with the Gerritsens, who, with over 100 companies, have signed The Safe Seed Pledge not to “knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants,” that they used her speech in their Wood Prairie Farm newsletter.

Learning in Line and on the Bus

Angela Wooten found that Terra Madre 2006 “was just as wonderful [as 2004] … and maybe more.  Because I felt more comfortable I put myself out to meet more people” – including Turks and Georgians on the bus from Chivassa, near where she was housed on a small farm. Her lunch companion at one of the many communal tables was Susan Carle, founder with her husband of The Botanical Ark, a private, self-financed, 30-acre ethnobotanical garden in Australia’s rainforest that protects unusual and threatened economic plants gathered on expeditions around the world. Carle and her husband “replant and teach native populations how they can use these plants, even helping develop village-based sustainable economies.”

Next Generation

Marada Cook, who was finishing her thesis for Hampshire College, and planning to farm, went as part of the Community of Aroostook County Wheat Growers and Millers. She was one of the next generation Maine farmers there, busy writing her thesis “on the role of conventional potato farmers who are not aware of or participating in the food renaissance movement that organic represents, more representative of the farmers in north Maine” than her family’s Skylandia Organic Farm and Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative in Grand Isle. In Turin she learned that “people across the world are realizing that commodity farming is no longer so economically viable.”

Cook returned with alternative visions: a farmer from northern Italy whose niche is growing and hand harvesting a traditional variety of buckwheat; French farmers whose niche crop is black turnips; and a man from Crete involved with agritourism. To her, “there is nothing different between tourism potential on the Isle of Crete and islands off the coast of Maine.”

At the young persons’ meeting hosted by Boston’s The Food Project, which finds ways for youth and adults to partner to create social change through sustainable agriculture, Cook learned “that young people are important, even if we are in less important positions. We need to make sure that the values we instill in young people include the importance of agriculture.  Even more important is keeping young people in rural areas and young people having a sense of place, [having] culinary appreciation, not just farming.”

Peter Gerritsen, an active part of the Wood Prairie Farm family and just short of the age 16, was probably the youngest delegate. He wanted to see the kind of people Terra Madre brought together and the different foods. His father had attended in 2004 and knew what a tremendous chance it was for Peter to experience “the community we are part of – the big world beyond the borders.” Peter got it, learning firsthand how “amazingly broad these other cultures are.”

Networks of Cooks, Chefs and Universities

New to Terra Madre 2006 were networks of over 900 chefs, highlighting the critical relationship between food communities and quality restaurants, with cooks the fundamental link between production and consumption of excellent local products. Those present, including Portland’s Sam Hayward of Fore Street and Lee Skawinski of Cinque Terre, adhere to the Slow Food philosophy of paying attention to the provenance and quality of ingredients, using good local ingredients and acting as spokespersons for small-scale food producers.

Skawinski came back so dedicated to Slow Food’s work that he signed on early to March of the Chefs, a March 2007 celebration at restaurants across the nation whereby chefs who attended Terra Madre hosted a special evening at their restaurants to fete artisan products and bring Slow Food’s vision of conviviality and joy in food to a new audience.  His March 25th dinner featured such local foods as veal from Harris Farm in Dayton, Maine, and root vegetable antipasti with local goat cheese.

John Jemison listened as Petrini explained the addition of academic institutions to Slow Food to a colloquium representing the 250 universities that have signed Slow Food’s agreement of intention and collaboration. It is a response to the “need to safeguard and protect the traditional knowledge of our field, an alliance with official science.” The academic network of researchers and scholars is Slow Food’s effort to connect institutions that defend biodiversity and sustainable food production.

Jemison, a water and soil quality expert, had encouraged the Dean and Director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to sign the Slow Food memorandum of understanding and then represented the University in Turin. He and most of the other academics were housed and met at the University of Torino. Jemison was impressed with Petrini’s inspiring “the academics on the importance of making changes in our culture.”

Observations From Terra Madre

Hayward was invigorated to learn firsthand that food communities are being supported around the world. The concept of culinary terroir – going beyond place and skill to encompass tradition, heritage and innovation – made him realize that “the taste of an exquisite prosciutto at a taste workshop was not just the soil or species of pig but the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of people living in the same place for 1,000 years.” He is still processing what “terroir” might mean to his ongoing work, thinking about “the importance of cheese makers knowing the traditions while working for self-expression.”

For Bunker, the “think globally, act locally” message was deepened by Terra Madre. “With the world forums and Internet, we can think globally and communicate instantly and be inspired, get ideas from one another, learn each others’ methods and go back and do the work at home, and home is really the only place you can do the work.” He realized that “most of what needs to happen is not being done by federal or state government or the large business community; it is up to MOFGA and individuals to do the work.”

Buchanan never imagined that he would experience such “a broad celebration of small-scale farming and its ecology, recognizing the biodiversity of traditional farming.”

Skawinski was intrigued by what his peers were doing outside the kitchen, connecting their young chefs more closely to the source of their food, and clarifying from Terra Madre how much the job of chef has changed with its new focus on resourcing from small, nearby farms.  A chef from Ireland who “puts new chefs in the garden first to learn how food is grown” impressed him. With his own 5-acre garden in Green, he plans on “taking our externs up there to harvest, garden – going through the whole process” more now.

Libby realized that MOFGA and Maine are “doing all the right things, maybe not on the same scale, but the correct mixture: concern with trade, clean food, connecting with chefs, turning heirloom crops into identifiable, marketable items.”

Preserving Maine’s Heritage

Buchanan first connected with Slow Food through its heritage food angle, giving him a way to emphasize preserving local varieties and rediscovering traditional New England foods. The Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Project, the country’s first eco-gastronomic conservation project (based in Arizona; see, develops and promotes conservation of traditional foods and production methods. Buchanan brought back seeds of two Presidium products – ‘Roveja’ field peas and ‘Fava di Carpino’ fava beans. He is encouraging growing of RAFT varieties and their use at Slow Food Portland events.

Over dinner in Turin, Libby, Hayward, Bunker, Buchanan and Jemison started listing foods to nominate for the Ark – foods at risk and needing protection. These included alewives (especially smoked), winkles (pickled periwinkles), Maine variety apples, buckwheat (ployes), potatoes (especially ‘Katahdin’ and ‘Kennebec’), Milking Devon cows, fiddleheads and Island sheep.  Libby is circulating an expanded list that “is a first attempt to identify some Maine foods that might be considered typical or representative of our cuisine and culture. They coincide, in some ways, with the Slow Food idea of a Presidia (something that should be preserved) but we have started thinking of them more as representative parts of a whole that is much more inclusive. Some are widely available; others are barely known or relatively inaccessible.”

Slow Food Nation

Hayward, with Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, spoke about building a local food community at the U.S. Regional Meeting in Turin. He addressed the roles of Maine’s overlapping organizations in promoting local food and discussed fisheries, describing terrestrial Maine as a single system with the Gulf of Maine, with everything that happens on land impacting the Gulf. Alice Waters, Slow Food board member and founder-chef of Chez Panisse, and other Slow Food leaders talked about Slow Food Nation, a U.S. version of Terra Madre planned for May 1 to 4, 2008, in San Francisco.

Slow Food Nation is expected to become regular U.S. regional gatherings that will embody Slow Food values and illustrate how food and agriculture form a complex global tapestry of cultural, political and environmental issues. Because New England and Midwest farmers cannot travel during the May planting season, Buchanan and others are considering a New England, or Maine, regional meeting “to build our regional identity and begin research for books like Salmon Nation,” commented Buchanan. “We’re hoping grant funding will allow us to develop forums this fall to bring food historians, horticulturists, chefs and others together. We’d like to identify traditional New England foods worth protecting and promoting for broader use.” Jemison imagines a Maine counterpart to Salone, with Maine’s “incredible cheese makers, scallops, lobster, blueberries – our unique foods and wonderful bakers.”

Maine already has a September Maine Fare celebration of Maine foods, chefs, farmers, food artisans and fishermen, as well as MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair. Why not a Slow Food Nation 2009 in Maine at the same time, when farmers and co-producers can share Maine’s bounty with their U.S. Terra Madre counterparts? After all, in Hayward’s judgment, “there is no question in my mind as to how far ahead of the curve Maine is in this field. Maine is more authentic.”

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