Slow Food has many programs in many areas, so it’s not surprising that some of them are better known elsewhere in the world than they are in the U.S. One of the least well known of Slow Food’s programs is one that we hope to draw a lot more attention to in the coming year: a network of food communities that comes together every two years in a worldwide conference. Both the network and the conference go by the name Terra Madre.
The core of Terra Madre’s food communities are the small-scale, sustainable farmers and producers from a given region and the chefs and food artisans who draw inspiration from their work. And despite the fact that you almost certainly know people who fit that description, if you live in central Ohio you may not know any who are a part of the Terra Madre network. The ones you know might not even know that such a network exists.
That’s partly because the Terra Madre conference last happened in fall of 2008, when we were barely six months old as a chapter. No one from central Ohio, to our knowledge, has ever attended Terra Madre [edit: see comments!], and no one belongs to the network. Some people from northern Ohio have: producers like Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Farm and Adam Gidlow of On the Rise Artisan Bread in Cleveland Heights, and chefs like Beard-award-nominated Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern (whose amazing chicken wing appetizer I tried to reproduce, with little success, for our Terra Madre potluck) and Iron Chef Michael Symon of Lola and Lolita.
So what happens at Terra Madre, the biennial conference? These people meet with their counterparts from around the world and listen to their stories. They discuss issues of common concern: traditional farming methods, farmers’ markets, genetically modified organisms, issues surrounding sustainability in the restaurant (see a list of seminar topics from 2008 with links to online discussions here). They listen to speeches, translated in real time, from prominent people in the sustainable food movement. They congregate between seminars with their counterparts from around this country, and from over 100 other countries, to trade information, make contacts, and cooperate.
In short, it’s more than a sustainability geek’s dream come true (though it is certainly that): Terra Madre dramatically changes your perspective on food. In the words of Abbe Turner, who attended in 2008, the conference “makes you realize how much local food is a global issue.” By enriching our producers and chefs, we enrich our area and ourselves.
That’s why other Slow Food chapters have been willing to work to help make it possible for their chefs and producers to attend Terra Madre. You might just hear more about this in the coming months….