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Stories and photos by Minnesota delegates to Terra Madre 2008

Joyce Schaffer
Converting to Organic

Terra Madre was a life changing experience for me. I met many people and learned much about sustainable farming. We raise our five children mostly from food we grow (garden preservation, goats for milk, egg/meat chickens, etc.).

We currently rent the majority of our land to a conventional farmer. I have expressed my interest in converting to organic and was told by many that I would go bankrupt in the process and that there is “no money in organic farming.” I still don’t know how, but I was so inspired by all the delegates that we plan on not renting our land for 2009 and transitioning it to organic.

I want to thank Martin Diffley, who was one of the inspirations, and who took the time to talk with me about the process. I also want to thank Slow Food for the great opportunity they gave me to be part of this great cause; it has changed my understanding of the soil and incorporated another 135 acres to being sustainable.

Photos by Joyce Schaffer

Italian Truffles.

Laura Frerichs.

Vandana Shiva and Carlo Petrini.

Elizabeth Mulvihill, the photographer's sister.

Elizabeth Mulvihill
Terra Madre, the Impact

What a fabulous experience to be able to attend Terra Madre in Turin, Italy in 2008! It was inspiring to be with people from all over the world, united by a common destiny . . . to produce good, clean and fair food. It was a reminder of how we are more alike than different. The most common thread to humanity is food, and we all need to eat. But how conscientious are we in regards to food? Terra Madre raises that consciousness by educating attendees about the fertility of the soil; the importance of biodiversity; the power of local food economies; the environmental impact of producing food; the human right to slow, tasteful food; the justice and dignity of farm workers; the preservation of traditional, artisan food; and by ensuring that our youth are a part of this movement. The Terra Madre gathering felt like the United Nations of food.

Attending sessions on the link between the climate crisis and our food and the “Manifesto on Climate Change and the Future of Food Security” had the biggest impacts on me. I enjoyed Vandana Shiva, an inspirational and powerful speaker from India, “cutting to the chase” on how industrial farming is responsible for 30 to 35 percent of greenhouse gases and how we are letting multinational corporations destroy our food systems. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, stated that the knowledge and techniques of peasant farming is the new modernity, and this heritage needs to be documented, preserved, and practiced as a solution to our global food crisis. Indeed, he said peasant farming is the third industrial revolution. That was a provocative and profound statement that is still resonating with me. The experience at Terra Madre renewed my spirit, intellect and resolve to stay on the path of organic, sustainable farming and to not be afraid to speak out. Audre Lorde said, “Your silence will not protect you.” Being at a global event with world food producers gave me clarity to reflect on my local community. Upon returning home, I realized that we in Minnesota are standing on some of the most fertile land in the world, and what we do here impacts the world. It is no accident that Cargill had its beginnings in Minnesota and that there are Monsanto and Syngenta research stations outside Northfield. Because of this, we Minnesotans have a particular responsibility to challenge these multinational corporations.

Farmers, whether they realize it or not, are a part of the solution to our healthcare crisis, our climate crisis, and our economic crisis. Farmers are the doctors, the scientists, and the bankers. Our true, authentic wealth is in the soil. Vandana Shiva said, “We need to rely on our soil, through photosynthesis, not oil.”

The connections I made at Terra Madre gave me the freedom to move from fear to hope: hope that we can change our course to mediate climate chaos, hope that we can bring biodiversity back to our soils, hope that we can bring back our traditional foods and local food economies, hope that our children will have more nutritious food and hope that our children and their children will have a cleaner tomorrow. The connections, the knowledge, and the spirit I gained in Italy are invaluable to my future work. Terra Madre needs me as much as I need Terra Madre.

Photos by Laura Frerichs

Laura Frerichs, left, and other young farmers.

Laura Frerichs
Young Farmers

Terra Madre was a sort of Olympics and U.N. of food and sustainable agriculture. The opening and closing ceremonies were especially powerful; uniting with a global sea of people who are in solidarity about remolding our food system left me with indescribable feelings of inspiration, validation, and hopefulness. During the actual conference activities, I was struck by great conversations and friendships found in long lunch lines, long bus rides, and happenstance encounters. Over 1,300 of the 6,000 delegates were under the age of 30, including myself, and everywhere I turned, there were young faces. I felt like we brought incredible energy to renew and revitalize sustainable and traditional agriculture.

Many of the young people I got to know at Terra Madre were actively working on social justice issues within the food system. Whether it was improving pay and labor conditions for Immokalee, Florida tomato workers (they have been getting paid the same wage since 1978, just 45 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick), getting CSA shares to food shelves and poor neighborhoods in New York City, setting up farmers markets in urban food deserts or saving nearly extinct indigenous seed varieties, I felt inspired to move forward on similar social justice issues in our local communities, and to find a way for our farm to provide organic and local food to all. How to do that and keep our farm financially sustainable is the balancing act, but many creative farmers and non-profits have found a way, and I talked to many of them to get ideas and impetus to move forward.

On one of the last days I participated in a youth breakout session on finding access to farmland — one of the biggest hurdles for beginning farmers regardless of where they live. There were around 20 of us, perhaps with five who already had land and were successfully farming. The energy in the group was palpable as “youth” farmers and farmers-to-be shared their stories and provided feedback and ideas to other young people from all over the world trying to figure out how to make their farming dreams a reality. Severine Fleming, a newbie farmer and filmmaker working on a documentary on young farmers called The Greenhorns, not only shared her story with us, but was able to film what I hope was the next crop of farmers about to take the leap.

Laura Frerichs of Loon Organics, Hutchinson, MN, was a delegate from the Hiawatha Valley/Cannon River Sustainable Farming Association.

Photos by Jim and LeeAnn VanDerPol

Organic bread from Germany.

Crunchy smoked caterpillars.

Salted lardo.

Lori Callister smells Polish mead flavored with oranges.

Carlo Petrini.

Vandana Shiva.

LeeAnn VanDerPol
“To have good food is not a privilege. It’s a universal right,” Carlo Petrini

Upon arriving home from Terra Madre, I heard that fast food restaurant sales, compared to regular restaurants, were up due to the higher cost of food. Sadly, my observations at the grocery store are that people often choose frozen pizza and pop. The beacon in all this is the Slow Food movement. Seven thousand farmers, chefs, community organizers and educators came together in Turin, Italy in October for a four days biennial conference (the third) called Terra Madre. As we “rubbed elbows” with people from around the world, we talked about creating gardens, raising organic and sustainable crops and livestock, advocating for fair prices and better wages for farmers and farm workers, that everyone should have the right to good food, educational possibilities between farmers and universities, tapping into native practices and preserving seeds, for the enjoyment of preparing and presenting good food.

We can change the paradigm. We’ve had only 70 years of our present food system. Slow Food’s new focus is getting youth involved, social justice and farmers getting a fair price. “Its initial aim was to support and defend good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life. It then broadened its sights to embrace the quality of life, as a logical consequence, the very survival of the imperiled planet that we live on,” said John Irving in the Slow Food booklet “Welcome to our World.”

Terra Madre, in conjunction with the food show, Salone del Gusto, was a feast for the senses with its diverse cultures (attendees in their native dress and every corner filled with different languages) and the farmers’ market and musicians. There was an explosion of smells and tastes of sausages, hams, cheeses, mushrooms, garlic, chocolate and wines as well as unfamiliar samplings of lung/spleen sandwich, smoked caterpillar and some foods we couldn’t quite identify. The lung/spleen sandwich was surprisingly tasty, but thank goodness for Polish mead to wash down the smoked caterpillar.

This conference was so much more than a smorgasbord of sensual sensations. It was an experience that touched the soul. A gathering of this many people from so many countries is inspiring. It instills a belief that together we can change the paradigm to “good food as a universal right.” We left with a renewed energy to work for a better food system in our own communities.

Jim and I were grateful for this opportunity to go to Terra Madre. It was an amazing experience. A thank you to Slow Food and the Terra Madre Foundation for accepting us as delegates. A special thank you to friends and groups that helped with the cost of the trip and to Slow Food Minnesota for promoting the idea of attending, helping us with the details of the trip, and sponsoring most of the air fare. A thank you to Ron Huff, Slow Food Minnesota’s leader, and others for being our guides in Torino, Italy.

Photos by Atina and Martin Diffley

Chairs made of reused newspaper and tubes.

The water dance.

Atina Diffley
The Slow Food Vision of a Healthy, Abundant Future

Martin and I were thrilled to be two of 6,300 delegates who attended the third international Terra Madre meeting hosted by Slow Food in Turin, Italy last October. Terra Madre is a network of food communities, each committed to producing quality food in a responsible, sustainable way.

The diversity of people, foods and food processing systems gathered together in one place was staggering: 4,000 small-scale farmers, breeders, fishers and artisan producers, 800 cooks, 300 academics, 1000 young people and 200 musicians representing 1,652 food communities and 150 countries as well as hundreds of volunteers and observers.

Close your eyes and picture an international farmers’ market with diversity beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Tall, elegant women from Mali, hair braided and twirled, are dressed in brightly colored robes. Spread out on hand-dyed cloths in front of them are dried gourds filled with kama (dried sorrel leaves, pourkama (leaves ground from a local tree), and oroupounna (the powder of dried okra).

Next to them are men from Kirghizstan, Bosnia and Serbia with an interpreter in the middle, discussing the characteristics of varieties of wheat. Just behind them are Kenyans who produce nettles and tamarinds, Mauritanians with camel’s milk cheese, Moroccans with argon oil, Ugandan producers of sorghum beer and banana wine, Rajasthani mustard oil producers, Iranian cashmere goat breeders and Kazakhstani men proudly displaying bumpy squash and mammoth turnips.

A Senegalese woman in flowing red and orange batik robes gestures with hennaed hands to a Bolivian shepherd dressed in a hand-woven, llama-wool poncho and black fedora. In every direction are bright colors and motion, laughter and language. Food is passed from hand to hand to mouth. Eyes meet. Expressions of pleasure are the common language. Everyone understands the sound mhh and ahh.

We spent four short, intense days together sharing ideas and experiences, tasting each other’s foods and hearing each other’s stories. Many of us do not share a common language but we all have the same passion: the love of land, of food and community. These people nurture and preserve their food plants. In food communities based on sustainable, biologically diverse systems, to eat means to protect.

And the collection tables! Seemingly endless varieties of almonds, dates and grains, each uniquely evolved to thrive in different climate conditions and ecosystems. I visit the honey bar over and over: Hundreds of jars of different colored honey and bee pollen to taste, each with unique flavors and properties, each marked as to its country and flowers of origin. This diversity is the result of a multitude of bio-regions and thousands of years of close relationships between plants and the people who planted, cared for, ate them and preserved them.

Garlic seems to be the most universal of foods; everyone, from every country, seems to love garlic. There are braids hanging and piled in every corner of the vast hall. Cheese is also everywhere. Hundreds of shapes, textures, ages, flavors and colors of cheeses made from the milk of goats, sheep, camel, buffalo, cows and horses.

All this truly gorgeous and delicious diversity brought home for me the staggering reality of what Slow Food is working to accomplish: a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet. In essence, food that is good, clean and fair. Understanding food, how it tastes and where it comes from, creates the library of knowledge for an agricultural system that can truly be sustainable for future generations.

It is absolutely crucial for food security that every food community develop their own bio-diverse, sustainable, nutritionally diverse local food systems. Biological diversity is not an abstract concept; it is life itself. It is composed of human beings, wild and cultivated plants, wild and domestic animals, natural climates and environments, languages and cultures. Shepherds, farmers and fishermen are the guardians of much of this diversity, but they are at risk of being destroyed by the rules of the global market, by industry and standardized large-scale agriculture. The hyper-productive system dictated by industrial agriculture and globalization has failed: it has not fed the planet; it has polluted it, destroyed the cultural identities of entire peoples and drastically reduced diversity.

Slow Food also promotes the concept of being a co-producer, going beyond the passive role of a consumer and taking interest in food producers and the problems they face. By actively supporting food producers, we join the production process.

We are entering the third industrial revolution: clean renewable energy. Farmers and eaters are vital partners in this exciting transition. The fastest way to create a sustainable food system based on clean, renewable energy is to provide a reliable and secure market for local organic producers. By eating local and organic food we create local and organic food systems. By eating with consciousness, we move from being consumers to being preservationists and guardians of biological diversity and the environmental health of our Terra Madre.

Words of guidance were provided in a closing address given by Carlo Petrini, founder and president of Slow Food International.

“The economic crisis is dark. In darkness there is fear. In darkness the basic instinct is to move to light. You are the candles. Light the new bridge between the market that has fallen and the new market economy based on trust.

“Go out in your community. Express yourself amongst your people. Be an active movement. Listen to those who don’t agree and then tell them what you think.”

Photos by Audrey Arner and Richard Handeen

Whole grain bread bowls and fancies.

Emiglia Romagna pasta making class at Salone del Gusto.

Boletus mushrooms and chestnuts from Liguria.

Opening plenary stage.

Jim VanDerPol
Finding Fellowship

When we walked into the airport in Turin, Italy and located the Terre Madre (Mother Earth) group being assembled for the first of many bus rides, I found myself next to a short man in a straw hat perched right on the very top of his head in the Peruvian style. He was carrying a guitar-looking instrument, white in color, with five pairs of strings. The instrument was covered with drawings and symbols and was pretty battered. Its owner was about my age, maybe five feet tall, and slender in build, his face a variation of my own wrinkled visage. He was obviously spending his life in the sun, too. I knew then that I had arrived in the middle of Monsanto’s nightmare, a group of farming people who knew who they were.

The next four days and nights bore out my first impression. The strange-looking guitar was joined by drums, an almost-bagpipe and a contraption that combined features of a banjo, drum and horn. I heard a ram’s horn, and at another time, a kind of wooden xylophone played by what looked to be a father, son, and grandson.

The organizers of the 2008 Terre Madre event had decreed that the music would be, in part, an ad hoc affair by farmer-musicians. Many farmers took up the invitation and we were never out of earshot of music. Terra Madre was held in the acoustically challenged 2006 Torino Olympics figure-skating arena. I often had trouble, with my tractor damaged ears, hearing the person right next to me. But this didn’t get in the way of what must be one of the most significant events I have ever been privileged to experience.

Terre Madre was a smorgasbord of people. It was a feast of eating pleasure, too, but it was the presence of all those people from different backgrounds, circumstances and traditions that was most uplifting and healing. It is likely that most farmers in the United States who are doing any farming that falls under the label “alternative” spend most of their time feeling a little lonely and certainly as closely watched as any specimen under a microscope by neighboring conventional farmers. Terre Madre was like going from minority status to being part of the majority.

There were Africans in pretty large numbers. They, together with visitors from South and Central America formed the bulk of the daily “street market,” set out on blankets on a considerable section of the floor. These vendors sold handmade items and jewelry as well as an astounding array of preserved foods.

We listened to a folk trio from Russia, visited displays from many of the former Soviet Bloc nations, and saw several African dancing groups. There were Scandinavians, Laplanders, folks from China, Japan and Tibet. Southeast Asia was well represented by people as well as water buffalo that were part of a milking and cheese making display at the food show. We talked to a Welshman living and working in Norway, and carried on a conversation in the lunch line with several people from Ethiopia using a combination of their limited English plus sign language. Women made up 60 to 65 percent of the crowd of more than 7,000. There was just one tractor on display.

(From the “Conversations with the Land” column in the December 2008 Graze magazine)

Photos by Alan and Lori Callister

“Eating is an agricultural act.”

Photos by Brad and Leanne Donnay

Brad Donnay and a fellow cheesemaker.

Photos by Ron Huff

Ron Huff at left with Slow Food Minnesota's delegates. Front row (l to r): Lori Callister, Leanne Donnay, LeeAnn VanDerPol, Audrey Arner. Back row: Richard Handeen, Alan Callister, Brad Donnay and Jim VanDerPol.

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