Thursday, January 1, 2009

Terra Madre Journal Entry - Italy

In the evening of November 22nd Tim and I hopped on a train to Torino for Terra Madre. Our first week had been filled with reconnecting, talking about seeds in front of the coliseum, eating an insane amount of good food, bottling flax oil, turning compost, riding tiny bikes through the Italian countryside, drinking beer at the local pub and learning from Alfredo (an organic heritage grain farmer). Terra Madre was the main reason I cam to Italy. I had heard many amazing things about the last one two years ago and Tim encouraged me to apply. After getting accepted as a delegate I decided I must go and boy am I glad I did. In the most basic sense, Terra Madre is an international Slow Food conference put on every two years in Torino. However, there is no way to explain in words the size and power of this epic event.

For four days Slow Food brings over 7,500 delegates from atleast 153 countries together Thew delegates are farmers, chefs, students, organizers, and food activists from around the world. The motto of the event is "Good, Clean, Fair food" and it is biled as a "worldwide gathering of food communities" All these words prove to be superfluos and fall short in explaining the energy, passion, and inspiration that is Terra Madre.

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine an olympic stadium filled with thousands of "peasant" farmers dressed in their traditional garb. Imagin farmers from senegal mingling with students from Brazil and the USA as a slew of inspirational speakers rally us all together. There are translations into 7 languages and the largest diversity I have ever seen. The opening ceremony brought me to tears numerous times as I soaked in the energy of this olympic stadium filled with people passiomate about the same thing as me. I cried as I watched farmers carry in flags from over 150 countries and nbecame joyous when powerful speakers ranging from Prince Charles to an American Middle School student spoke about the agricultural system and how we can get good, clean, fair food. I could write a book just about that opening ceremony

The next four days were filled with workshops, meetings, absurd amounts of food, dances, and parties at night. However, the real power for me was found in the many informal conversation held with the diversity of people. At the same time as Terra MAdre is Salone Del Gusto - a nhumongous fair of good, fair food. There was a whole selection dedicated to Slow Food Convivia there for terra Madre. These stands with farmers and producers were form around the world and all had a special product of food variety that slow food is working to preserve/ All these food products have their roots in traditional agirculture and are deeply rooted in culture and history. There was quinoa from Peru, unique beans from sicily, red fife wheat from Canada, Pear wine from norway, whit honey from ethiopia, true wild rice from USA, and hundreds more. The Italy section had an incredbile diversity of cured pork products, cheeses, pasta, cardoon, celery, and much more that represented the diversity of italy's food heritage. I tried to break the world record for how many free samples you can eat of various cured meats! I think at one point I had atleast 50 toothpicks in my pocket ( a dangerous endeavor).
I only got to experience a small portion of salone del gusto as I spent too long eating and talking with anyone with seeds I could find. Over 100,000 people came to Salone over the 4 days. There were tastings, cheese classes, beer rooms, lessons on traditional cooking, talks on biodiversity , and much more. This must have been a shocking display for all the rural farmers who had never left their country before.

Once again, I will say that the real inspiration came from conversations I had throughout the days and nights with cheese makers from italy, seed savers from Japan, peasant farmers from mali and senegal, farmer friends from India, seed savers from Togo, and so much more. Once again the international languag of agriculture, seeds, and a friendly smile proved to break down all barriers.
To be honest, I was most excited by all the young people I met. There were over 1200 young people from around the world that inspired me immensely with their passion, music, and creative ideas (my favorite part was when a seed saving activist from Bolivia I believe led us in a song about seeds! plus she was young and beautiful!)
In an era in which the average age of farmers in the states is 60 or above this rowdy group of youngsters who are dedicating thei lives to sustainable agriculture cannot be ignored!!
I also found myself feeling much more hopeful about the US as well. There were over 700 people from the states in participation as delegates. I met urband farmers from philly, chefs from NY, students from princeton, farmers from WA, CA, NY, WI, etc. The US crew had a cetain wackiness, energy, and passion that makes me so happy to be a part of this movement. Meeting other like minded people from the east coast also pleasantly suprised me as I had almost lost hopein the region. Buring one great grain workshop I met heritage grain growers from NY and PA - they helped me to form my vision more clearly of what I want my farm to be (a sustainable cumminbty focused on seed saving and small scale grains and beans!!). My favorite American was a wacky farmer and seed saver from PA. To lives in Amish country and saves seed from over 791 vegetable varietiesd, many of which he is the only one to grow. He knows the history and amish cotext of many of the crops and saves the seeds so he can grow them with no irrigationa nd few inputs. He was totally nuts (rocked an iphone and was so proud of how much he could make from the rare crops, loved to drink) and provided a nice contrast to all the subsistence farmers I met who save seeds for survival and to preserve their culture.
The closing ceremony was just as powerful and had an even more united energy by now. Their were talks from carlo petrini, Italys foreign minister, brazilz environmental director, and many more. It was an awesome last rallying cry and many speakers reffered to the need for seed ownership and diversity. At the end there was a giant dance!! Terra Madre asked all farmers to bring their traditional instruments. there were farmers from ovr 12 different countries all performing together - brazilian samba bands, accordion players from italy, horn players from ehtiopia, drummers from Senegal and much more. It was so wonderful to dance with thousands of farmers, chefs, and heroes of mine from all shapes, colors, and sizes.
In the end, I was blown away by the power of this movement, its international appeal, and the universal apprciation for sustainable ag. and good, clean, fair food. Also the energy and diversity of young people restored my hope for our generation. I also realized how much I had learned in India and how excited I am to be a part of the growing USA movement. Also, I officially love seed and especially heritage grains! Not only do they solve so many problems I see in the world, but they provide me joy and help me connect with beautiful farmers from the whole world.

The day after Terra Madre while on a hike in the alps we decided to go to hot springs. After talking to an italian friend we had made we figured out where to go and immediately booked overnight trains. Settling back into Italian life and seeing sunrise in Tuscany was truly magical. When we reached Saturnia there were no hotels, but we foundan old man (who we asked in spanish). he led us to a house of old italian ladies and they gave us a cozy room upstairs. The next few days nwe hung out in hot springs, slept during the rain, had an incredible dinner,etc.
After we went back to Rome for a few days. I had a whole day of itnerviews at The UN Fao offices with the global crop diversity trust. It was very overwhelmin and exhausting, but good. I felt out of place with my sandals (I did have kakies and a button down Shirt). I got to interview the entire staff of 16 of the crop trust and sit in on their meetings during the day. I had lost my ATM card and had to somehow get through the whole day with 2.5 Euros. An African scientist bought me lunch and while hanging out with various scientists, breeders, and policy people I spen the last of my money on a coffee (I was trying to fit in, but this meant I had no way to pay for a train home). The inerviews were challengig, but provided me a great contrast to the rest of my year. The crop trust is the one who is responsible for Svalbard Global Seed Vault. They are a branch of the UN and are very different form all the other seed saving efforts I have studied. In a way their work confuses me, but I also think it is extremely valuable. They mainly work prviding resources for seed banks and backing up all varieties held in smaller seed banks. There work is important to securing our geentic diversity for the future. However, I think its most important to get the seeds in farmers hands. I prssed the staff on this and some agreed. Overall, I disagreed with some of the staff, but they were very rational and educated. Their cohesive arguments led me to question my beliefs on the green revolution. I dont know how I got so lucky to have all these interviews and some of the staff devoted their entire day to educating me. I have 32 pages of notes and no time to type it. You can check out their website at

After some more italian trains we met up with other American farmers and chefs to being our organic farm tour in Umbria. Last year a groupd of Umbrian organic farmers cam to California and toured organic farms there. I met some of them at the ecological farming conference and Alfredo invited us to come along on the tour. This tour the italians were paying us back for what we did for them in california (even though i did nothing, we got to tag along and be treated like royalty). It is a farmer exchange that I believe we need more of! Check out my flickr photos to see some shots of it. Some random memories I have of the tour are the great goup of American farmers and ches, the kindeness and extreme hospitality of italian, our visit to an insanely passionate woman grow ancient varietes of fruit (all of which are over 500 years old, she has studied the history of, and many varieties she is the only one in the world left growing. I remember tje pride in farms and local food cultrure, Alfredo Dooe and his green building center and farm for school groups, sheep farms, amazing agritourismos, beautiful lunch with german homesteaders, talks on value of heritage grains, farmers markets, church tours. We also had a powerful meeting with one of the mayors. They honored us for coming and we cried together and connected through the power of agriculture and a connection to the land. Many of the small italian towns really promote their farms and the special variety of wheat or olives that grows in their local region. My main memory of the tour though is our excessive meals which seemed to fill most of every day. We were treated to an unbelievale amount of food ranging from freshly killed lamb t prosciutto from wild boar,truffle pasta, handmade tortelli, dozens of cheeses, pasta from all local ingredients, fresh olive oil and so much more. We got to go to a local olive oil harvest festival and the trip ended with an inspring visit to a truly enlightened bu\iodynamic farmer (I have never seen anyway with such a deep connection to the land). We also went to a great co-op and social action farm outside rome with honey, lambs, compost, veggie boxes, cheese, milk, and so much more!
After the tour we stayed for a few days with an old Italian friend, Francesca. Her family also treated us like kings and we had a wonderful time cooking with her mom, drinking grappa and laughing over 4 hour long meals, visiting an ancient vinegar center, and more. I loved the social atmosphere there and how much of her family was around. Everyone was very kind to us and even if we couold speak minimal italian it seemed we connected on a deep level. My time in Italy ended with more trains and a long session sorting seeds at night with Tim. I was sad leaving Rome, Tim, and Italian Culture, but it was a frantic transition to the plane and to Thailand.
I arrived at Pun Pun farm in Thailand exhausted, confused, and feeling awkward about coming to the internship late. Over time these feeligns faded and my life again became filled with gardening, doing interviews, working in the seed bank, dancing, giving talks about the importance of seed saving, and much more! Life at Pun Pun became simply and comfortable, yet I had enough seedy experience to keep me inspired about crop diversity and our environmental and cultural relations to heirloom varieties. I have accepted the fact that everyone here knows me as the crazy seed man and I know it is hard for me to talk about anything else these days (except maybe compost). Read More......