by Jo Anne Bander
Artisan cheeses, jarred artichokes, colored salts, smoked meats, chocolates: Artful displays of such foods at 600 stalls in the Turin, Italy, Lingotto Fiere exhibition center for the seventh Slow Food Salone del Gusto could have been viewed and tasted at any Italian-flavored food show that focused as Slow Food does on the products of small, sustainable producers. The adjoining former Olympic speed skating rink defined the depth of the difference: There, Terra Madre – Slow Food’s international congress of the sustainable food world – brought together 6,325 delegates from five continents, 1,652 food communities and 153 nations, including 11 from Maine:
cooks Benjamin Curtis Hasty, Hugo’s Restaurant in Portland, South Berwick; Bob Smith, The Coastal House, Wells; Scott Johnson, Blair Hill Inn, Turner; Leslie Ruth Oster, Aurora Provisions, Portland
educators Dana Morse, Darling Marine Center, Walpole; Jessica Rhys, Maine School Garden Network, S. Portland; Amanda Beal, MOFGA board member, Freeport
student Douglas Endrizzi, Yale University, Scarborough.
Youth Takes Center Stage
This third Terra Madre focused on connecting young farmers, cooks, artisans, activists and students who are changing the future of food and farming. The Oct. 23 opening at Turin’s Palasport Olympic Stadium, with its parade of nations and flags, starred Sam Levin, a 15-year-old student at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Mass., and founder of Project Sprout, a program to build a student-run organic garden and sustainable dining program.
One of the 900 delegates under age 35, Levin spoke alongside luminaries such as Prince Charles (by video), Slow Food founder Carlos Petrini, Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, and Vandana Shiva. Levin set the tone when he announced, “We will be the generation that will reconcile people and the land.”
Douglas Endrizzi, a 20-year-old Yale undergrad from Scarborough, found Sam one of those “really passionate people who has implemented successful city-based agriculture-education programs.” Endrizzi got involved in sustainable food issues as an intern at the Yale Farm, an intensive, organic market garden in New Haven. Part of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, he is reaching out to local schools and serving as a Public School Intern, connecting urban students and children to agriculture.
Housed with many youth delegates at the Olympic Village, Endrizzi had hours each day on the bus to Turin to connect with peers, practice Italian and converse about the similarities of the politics of food and government corruption in the United States and Italy. He was inspired by Carlo Petrini, who, raising a question Endrizzi had probed in a fall paper, asked, “Why do we value the knowledge of an astrophysicist so much more than that of a small farmer working on the land?”
Ben Hasty, a 2004 graduate of Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, N.H., and now a sous chef at Hugo’s in Portland, was housed alone above a trattoria in Vinovo. He immersed himself in Vinovo’s food culture, starting with his first dinner at the trattoria with local patrons eating simple spaghetti with house dried chilies, Parmesan and olive oil.
He learned at Terra Madre about typical Youth Network activities – a national clean-up day in Eastern Europe; an event in San Francisco when 300,000 people working with celebrities cleaned up illegal dumping sites; and Eat-Ins – protest meals where good, clean and fair food is prepared and shared in public spaces.
Scott Johnson, chef at Blair Hill Inn in Greenville, Maine, entered the opening session expecting just another gathering – until he saw “the people from all over the world gathering for the same reason – helping the farmers and peasants of the world grow stronger, trying to give people some bigger sense of the importance of food and farming.”
At the Youth Delegation Meeting, Johnson realized, “We were probably the most influential country there, but as a youth group we need to view food as a way of life rather than a basic need or commodity and make it a personal responsibility to share this vision of food.”
Jessica Rhyms, who is re-establishing the Maine School Garden Network, focuses on food as a social justice issue and perceives food as a way to create social change. Housed at a small hotel in Sommariva Perno with such luminaries as Will Allen of Growing Power and Tory Miller, the chef from E’Toile in Madison, Maine, she spent her time at Terra Madre looking for ideas to strengthen her program and connecting with people ranging from Peruvian potato growers to an extension agent from Louisiana.
The Chef Track
Bob Smith is a chef moving from cooking at the Coastal House in Wells to starting his own cheese company. His goal at Turin was to learn everything he could about cheese and cheese production. Important as sessions on cheese and grass-fed beef were, his real education came from some of the delegates housed in small hotels in Fossano.
Dinner each night with farmers from Vermont and North Carolina, a goat cheese maker from Washington state, educators from Kentucky, chefs from New York City and the livestock manager from Stone Hill Farm in New York (who also served as butcher and chef liaison) “opened my mind to the issues producers face, such as the demand from the American public for only a few expensive cuts, while tastier, cheaper cuts are widely available; and a lack of local butchers willing to slaughter just a few animals.”
Leslie Oster, a self-taught chef and caterer who manages Aurora Provisions in Portland, Maine, saw “the opportunity of Terra Madre to be surrounded by food producers, chefs, educators and food writers from around the world as perhaps the best dream I hope to never wake up from!” Her best conversations were with strangers at lunch, including a discussion with a grower from Jamaica about combating poverty from a food perspective.
Food Producers and Educators Share Experiences
Mary and John Belding of Little Falls Farm in Harrison, Maine, are farmstead cheese makers. They were housed near Chiavasso with 14 Americans, including an Arizona couple that runs Native Food Search and an Alabama couple with a CSA. They enjoyed being in an atmosphere that validated that “what we are doing on our own farm – trying to produce our products from ingredients that are 100% from our own farm – is honored in other parts of the world, particularly in Italy, with its focus on small-scale agriculture.”
Amanda Beal, the daughter of a Maine organic dairy farmer and relative of generations of lobstermen, grew up with a love of good, fresh food. As she prepared to step down as MOFGA president in January, and in her professional life as manager of a community health program spanning nine towns in Southern Maine, she saw Terra Madre as a chance to learn more about the world in the context of food – and doing this with other Maine delegates she respects and enjoys.
Dana Morse is a member of the University of Maine Marine Extension Team (MET), a collaboration of Maine Sea Grant and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension whose members live and work along the coast, providing educational and applied research programs to Maine citizens in the areas of coastal community development, ecosystem health, fisheries and aquaculture.
While only Morse worked with the marine environment, dinners with other academics where he was housed fostered conversations clarifying that “there was still a significant overlap among people from different disciplines in how they perceived food and how food worked into their research.”
Craig Lapine is the current MOFGA president and founding director of Cultivating Community, which makes local, sustainably grown produce available to people in southern Maine regardless of income; uses community food work to impact youth; and has community development programs to reconnect people to natural and social systems. He came to Terra Madre “to find successful models about how to make on-the-ground food systems change – the place where food access bumps against fair pricing for farmers and farm viability.” He hoped to find the “silver bullet” to make that happen.
It’s All About the Food
Carlo Petrini launched the Slow Food movement in 1986 to protest a McDonalds opening at Rome’s Spanish Steps. In 1989, delegates from 15 countries signed a manifesto founding Slow Food. While it has evolved into a movement in which gastronomy meets ethical and social awareness, savoring quality food is still its essence.
For the 2008 Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre, that meant pioneering Earth Markets, a new Slow Food project to establish exemplary farmers’ markets and Street Food Stalls, exemplifying ethnic specialties, and to focus more on its Presidia Project – an organized group of small producers of special foods, such as a traditional cheese from a particular village or a rare and disappearing chicken breed – in order to preserve biodiversity and food traditions.
Smith’s group experienced the real taste of Italy at a dinner organized by the Fossano, Italy, Slow Food Convivium for some American delegates and their French Sister City. Slow Food producers contributed all food and wine for the fest for 250, who sat at plank tables in a school gym. They ate; sang in French, Italian and English; and danced, parting with gifts of wine, home-ground grits, truffles and Panettone, a bread of Milan.
Endrizzi had his ultimate food experience in nearby Alba, where, with two Yale friends, he shared a plate of fried eggs and shaved truffles. It was for him the essence of Slow Food, because “it was three good friends helping each other to experience the truffle, such a different taste sensation.”
Hasty was amazed by the quality of products and the pride behind them at Salone Gusto. He also visited a local market with the chef from his trattoria; spent time with a farmer he met there; and hung out in the farmer’s butcher shop with the farmer’s nephew, who was making sausage.
Johnson, who focuses on sourcing as much as preparing ingredients, spent time at Salone tasting and discussing proscuitto and other cured meats, including Valchiavenna Goat Violino, a Presidium product made from cured leg of goat.
In the Sessions
While Maine delegates often found Earth Workshop sessions disorganized and lacking in opportunities for discussion, knowledge and ideas still flowed.
Johnson, concerned about how a Maine friend who fished for lobster and shrimp was struggling to create a more profitable distribution chain, learned from a Norwegian presenter who worked with salt cod how to build a Web business for direct marketing.
A session on Cheese: tradition and regulation immersed the Beldings in the challenges of using raw milk, traditional methods and proper aging – often considered key elements for producing quality cheese – with the hygiene and safety regulations of an increasingly globalized market.
The Beldings were fascinated by a session called Custodian herders. Pastoral farming, they heard, has a negative image, even though pastoral systems have less environmental impact and generate quality, artisan products. One suggestion was to create a “pastoral” label comparable to the organic label.
Rhys learned that Italy’s national school garden curriculum, developed over four years, is completely integrated into schools. Lapine also attended a session on school gardens, a high point, because he heard practical examples of how people are engaging youth around food.
A session on curriculum sharing for U.S. educators enabled Beal to meet others doing that work. She looks forward to ongoing communication through a Slow Food Web site. A high point was meeting Fred Njenga from Kenya, who had just built a school, was developing a curriculum around food and a garden, and wanted to trade curricula.
Toward Agricultural Policy Change
Petrini commented at the opening ceremony that “in the near future politics and economics will become conscious of the vital relationship between food, agriculture, climate change and the protection of health, the landscape and the beauty of ecosystems – all interconnected,” giving context to Slow Food’s increased policy work. Likewise, a session covered the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture’s Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security, with Petrini and Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya and vice-president of Slow Food International. Shiva presented the Manifesto, which strongly links the industrialized food system with climate change and discusses the importance of an ecological, organic system in the solution. Petrini said that the knowledge to transition to a better food system exists: “Virtuous practices already exist in the cultural biodiversity of the farmers of the world.”
A workshop on the same topic, with a panel of three women led by Shiva, gave Lapine “100% of the content I need in my work. I have been doing this work for eight years, and for the first five years, trying to talk to funders about food as environmental protection wasn’t understood.” At that same Earth Workshop, Beal found Shiva “riveting and brilliant and with a real understanding of what is going on.”
At Terra Madre’s closing ceremony, Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini announced that Terra Madre representatives would be invited to address the G8 gathering in Italy in July 2009. “This could be a sign that a more just and sustainable world is coming,” Rhys believes.
Taking Terra Madre Home
Maine delegates traveled to Turin “to shake hands, to share words and hopes with farmers, educators and food producers from throughout the world,” said Mary Belding. Ideas from those meetings are percolating through our state. Morse is intrigued with the concept of Maine as a state that produces food from both land and sea. He envisions a Maine-wide equivalent of Salone, with the Maine imprimatur “from mussels to corn,” and he is intrigued with the possibility of making Maine lobster a Presidium food (a traditional food from a particular place).
Oster was intrigued with the idea of Last Minute Market – finding ways to transfer edible, unsold food products – otherwise destroyed – from markets to charities, an effort modeled in Bologna and tested elsewhere in Italy.
Johnson “always looked at the ingredients, always looked at the person who grew it, but now I am looking at how in the kitchen we connect with the process – how much energy it actually takes to cook the meal. How we can use natural resources in cooking, composting?” He is also pondering the concept of stewardship: “We all have to be responsible all the time with what we sell, what we purchase, how we care for the earth.”
Inspired by how Terra Madre and Salone engaged school children, Beal came back energized to work with MOFGA’s education and Fair steering committees to look at ways to redesign how MOFGA and its Common Ground Country Fair work with students who come to the Fair on Fridays – how to “make it their day, not just a visit to the Fair; make them feel like agents of change, part of the solution.” Possibilities include having a youth keynoter, and having school groups create a project that they leave for other youth who visit MOFGA.
The Message of the Dance
Lapine left Italy without his “silver bullet” but feeling that Maine is on the right track and is ahead in many areas; recognizing the strength of Slow Food as a mass movement of consumers; and noting the importance of staying connected to regional and national networks. At the core, because “policy is so local, what matters is what happens in Maine. The great strength of Terra Madre is that what we are doing on the ground is part of a worldwide movement.”
For the closing ceremonies of Terra Madre, the Palasport Olimpico stage exploded with some of the best sounds of Terra Madre – the Turineses band Mau Mau, Ethiopian group Ala Kamba, and musicians and dancers from Senegal, Brazil and elsewhere. The audience of 7 to 8,000 danced and celebrated. Maine might be at the physical end of the mainstream U.S. food pipeline, and focused on its own sustainable food movement, but it is clearly on the worldwide dance floor.
About the author: Jo Anne Bander is a writer and consultant who lives in Coral Gables, Florida, and Spruce Head, Maine, and is involved in the sustainable agriculture movement.