Terra Madre at Home

Saturday was the day for regional meetings at Terra Madre, bringing together delegates in national or regional groups to discuss their progress and clarify their vision for the future and providing an important occasion for exchange between farmers and producers from the food communities, cooks, academics, youth and Slow Food members who often don’t have many opportunities to meet in their homelands.

With more than 700 delegates crowding the room, the lively USA meeting, entitled ‘From the Frontlines of the Food System, a Movement is Born’ was a call to arms for the US to serve as a model to transform the way they grow food. Slow Food USA is the fastest growing national Slow Food association, and the need to combat the crisis in the US food system is spreading like wild fire. However, the association’s president Josh Viertel stressed the necessity to bring the spirit of Terra Madre to the US: a network promoting the values of inclusion, conviviality, and celebrating diversity at the table, in everyday life and also in world events. To further the growth of their national network, he announced that the first Terra Madre US regional meeting would be held in 2012.

The meeting highlighted how farmers, activists, educators and students are taking it upon themselves to lead Terra Madre and Slow Food across America, making it their mission to reverse sixty years of bad food culture and politics. In particular, there has been a rapid growth in interest and involvement from youth, with the leader of Slow Food Oberlin noting that their student mailing list has tripled this year and a farmer from Denver, explaining how the Slow Food spirit is spreading in his community through youth projects, farmers’ markets and school gardens. Sam Levin – the youngest Terra Madre delegate in 2008 and creator of Project Sprout – shared the progress of this school food education project, expressing some frustration with the time it was taking to bring change.

The Asia meeting brought together representatives from Afghanistan to Indonesia, and was a rich encounter of diverse cultures, languages, and traditions that highlighted the problems being faced to retain the great biodiversity of foods and agriculture found across the region. Slow Food Coordinator in Asia and Oceania Elena Aniere commented that: “Agriculture in Asia was changing due to the fact that populations are moving to the cities, farmers and now old and young people don’t want to work on farms anymore… the future of agriculture in Asia is at a dramatic point and Slow Food is working at the local level, and giving people doing these community projects an international voice.”

One such project presented during the meeting was the Wing Bean children’s education course, started by Adi Kharisma on the island of Bali, which has had great success in reviving the very nutritious traditional product of wing bean milk. The project teaches school children to grow and harvest the beans, and to extract milk from them and encourages them to cultivate the plant in their homes. Created following Terra Madre in 2006, the project now needs minimal funding to continue, and the newly created Ubud Slow Food Convivium hope to extend it to three or more schools in their region.

Another inspiring project was presented by Terra Madre cook Fuchsia Dunlop, about the work being done by the Chinese restaurant Longjing Manor. The owner Dai Jianjun believes that the quality of a dish relies not only on a cook’s work, but also on the skill of the shopper. Thus, he has a team of five buyers who are exploring the region in search of traditional crops and products, and who source the restaurant’s produce from more than 5,000 small rural houses. They encourage producers to farm according to Chinese traditions, and commission them for instance to grow pigs in the traditional way. This massive sourcing work brings a better price for the farmers, and therefore is helping to preserve Chinese agriculture and know-how, bringing pride to the producers and allowing a brighter future for the young: a future where Chinese food and culture will still be part of the landscape.

Abdul Ahmad Loqmani, one of the eighth delegates from Afghanistan, concluded the meeting. He stressed the importance of the Terra Madre network, especially for a country as deeply impacted by war as his. Terra Madre is our world family, he said.

Arabic-speaking countries also met, with as many as 160 delegates attending their very first Terra Madre regional meeting. Ten countries were represented, coming together with the hope to start creating networks throughout the Arabic speaking world, as stated by delegate, food writer and photographer Barbara Massaad from Lebanon. “We would like to pick the similarities in our food cultures as well as to look at the common historical reference points”, she added.

One of the goals of this first meeting was to provide some examples of successful projects in the region, and encourage delegates to learn from these and to use the resources Slow Food can offer to establish similar projects in their own countries. Let’s bet that these goals will be fulfilled and that next edition of Terra Madre will witness a second Arabic-speaking countries meeting full of new projects to share.

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