Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Local Food Movement Growing… But Not Yet Italian

I just returned from Terra Madre, a conference in Torino, Italy, where around 5000 people who care about the future of the world’s food system gathered. This conference is organized by Slow Food International and invites food producers, activists, artisans, educators and chefs from 150 countries who are united by a common goal of global sustainability in food. The "food communities" come together to share innovative solutions and time-honored traditions for keeping small-scale agriculture and sustainable food production alive and well.
As you might guess, Slow Food was formed as an antidote to “fast food”, when the first McDonald’s invaded Rome back in 1985. Some Italians didn’t want trans-national corporations to take over their food culture. So they held peaceful gatherings in people’s homes, offering homemade ziti and long conversations as a more attractive option to “fast food”. Twenty-five years later, “fast food” and industrial scale agriculture definitely have an influence on the Italian diet and culture. But the Slow Food culture is still alive and well.
Traditional food enthusiasm was rampant at Salone del Gusto, Slow Food’s food festival, which was held adjacent to Terra Madre. There were 910 small to mid-scale food exhibitors from around the world, with 90% of them calling Italy home. Over 200,000 people visited the festival. Many producers offered samples of their high quality products, such as cheese, wine, beer, chocolate, baked goods, meat and pastas. As I strolled past endless yummies, I dreamed of living closer and taking home lots of this wonderful tasting food. Apparently, many Italians are willing to pay a little more to the small to mid-scale food producers for the quality they desire. By doing so, they are supporting their culture, the local economy, and know the story behind their food.
A leather shop-keeper, attempting to sale a jacket to me said, “Americans know fast food, Italians know fashion.” While I found this comment insulting, I suppose it’s the way some of the world views our food culture. Certainly there is room for convenience in our lives, and being able to drive past a window and pick up dinner can be a savior for families on the go.
But Americans are craving more than just calories. We are seeing a renaissance of food culture happening across our country. Slow Food USA has more than 200 chapters in the U.S. who invite members and the community to taste, celebrate and champion the foods and food traditions important to their regions. Regional food traditions nourish our bodies and our souls.
Our High Country communities are supporting farmers’ markets more than ever. Existing markets have swollen and additional markets have sprung up.
While the average age of growers has dramatically increased in the U.S., we are seeing an interest among young people in growing and producing food. ASU recently established a B. S. degree in Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture. They are teaching students how to sustain themselves and communities through hands-on experience at the ASU sustainable development farm.
Community members want to have fresh, locally grown produce throughout the winter. Several local growers have received grants to establish greenhouses. High Country Community Supported Agriculture is a model that brings multiple farmers and local eaters together once each month from November through April. For more information, e-mail highcountrycsa@gmail.com. Other individual growers make arrangements to sell to community members during cold months, such as Zydeco Moon Farm in Ashe County.

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture promotes our local resources by organizing the High Country Farm Tour. In August, over 200 community members had the opportunity to visit 17 farms. The visits connected them with local food sources, encouraged a celebration of agricultural heritage and rural landscape. They continue to offer monthly educational programs to the community. http://www.brwia.org

Our local Slow Food chapter recently offered a heirloom apple tasting, and growers Bill Moretz and Ron Joyner shared their knowledge and harvest of old apple varieties. http://slowfoodboone.wordpress.com/

The list of happenings supporting the unique food culture of the High Country is large and growing. I would like to keep you updated on local and cultural food issues and our progress as a community. Please contact me about anything that you would like to share.

by Margie Mansure