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Terra Madre, part 1

Notes from the Field “ Terra Madre 2010

–Kelly Sanderbeck, Communications & Development Director

What happens when you bring together 6000 delegates from 1600 “food communities” and 160 countries? You see colorful native costumes, hear simultaneous chatter in different languages, feel the heat in long lines, taste the amazing local food, and smell coffee in your sleep! In other words, you experience the incredible and sometimes overwhelming stimulation that is Terra Madre.

Held last week in Turin, Italy, it was in turns cacophonous, thrilling, inspiring, maddening and joyful, but ultimately a life-changing experience that took us out of our individual bubbles to feel a communion with others from around the world who are dedicated to creating “Good, Clean and Fair” food. Often called the “United Nations of Food”, Terra Madre’s opening ceremony featured a flag-led parade of participating nations, world music and, of course, Carlo Petrini. He founded Slow Food 25 years ago, after protesting a MacDonald’s opening at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, and still espouses the passion and drive that helped to build this movement to its current place in time.

The conference brings together farmers, producers, chefs, activists and educators and, even though language was a barrier for in-depth conversation, we managed to communicate through smiles and hands. For four days we attended a variety of talks (such as “Organic, Sustainable and Fair Farming”, “Family Agriculture Refuses GMOs”, or “Who Owns Seeds?”) that were simultaneously translated into French, German, Japanese, Arabic, etc. We sampled and purchased local products at the Salone del Gusto (a public event that showcases local foods from all the various regions of Italy). And we started conversations with people in the lunch line or on the bus. One great interaction I had was with Bici, a Nigerian beekeeper who lives in London, but spends months volunteering in her country every year to assist the local beekeepers.

Since I was housed with all Americans who shared dinner together each night, I did get to know some folks on a deeper level:

  • Stan, a 5th generation farmer from Alabama who is the first to go organic, and is seen as crazy by his 82-year-old (still farming) father. He says a prayer of thanks before slaughtering each of his animals, grows Asian vegetables to satisfy his customers, and can’t sell a white egg to anyone (we don’t want those “chemical” ones!)
  • Adrianne from Georgia, a 24-year-old self-taught farmer with the wisdom of a 60-year-old, who “grows” animals on 5 acres while feeding her rotating WOOFers (Working On Organic Farms) three times a day
  • Jim, the activist from Kentucky, who has been at the forefront of every movement since Civil Rights and is still a dynamic force to be reckoned with
  • Or the family from Hawaii who grow Kona coffee, the maple-sugar tappers from Vermont, the cashmere sheep lady from Illinois, and the farmer activists from South Carolina. All were incredible, passionate people who are working to change the food system, with a focus on local and sustainable, each in their own powerful way.

I’d have to say my biggest take away from Terra Madre was the boiling energy from the Youth Food Movement. These 20-somethings were on fire and gave me hope that Terra Madre will keep moving forward, long past the time when I am even around. They are actively working to change the future of food and farming, incorporating principles of social justice and sustainability. Even though I didn’t technically “belong,” I couldn’t help but sneak into some of their sessions, just to feel the blasts of energy and inspiration! More to come, and at terramadre.org