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Terra Madre
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Guest writer, Eric Ezechieli, works for the Natural Step in Italy, and reports for us today on the 2006 Terra Madre convention.

Last October the Northern Italian city of Turin hosted Terra Madre (Italian for 'Mother Earth'), a five days meeting bringing together traditional food communities from the entire planet: 1600 communities from 150 countries and five continents, 5000 farmers, breeders, fishermen, and traditional food producers, 1000 cooks and 400 teachers and university representatives from 200 institutions joined together in five days of deep, worldchanging conversations.

Terra Madre's goal is to foster a global network of 'good, just and clean food' communities, to sustain agro-ecology, and to develop effective channels of market access for small scale, non industrial producers.

In the organizer's words, the people at Terra Madre are:

…a network that self-generates, grows, develops, giving life to a close knit web of solidarity, exchange, information and, in some case, protest. The nodes of the network are neither political not trade unions, but food communities gathered together into a single community with planning skills and a great practical sense. Let no one underestimate the small tangible things these outstanding human beings are capable of achieving. At a moment in time in which distorted development is proving itself unsustainable, the food community are a dam capable of checking the menace of an environmental disaster already foretold…May [this network] give birth to a new alliance between food producers and food buyers, a relationship founded on complicity and brotherhood, that turns the consumers of yesterday into the co-producers of today, ready to support with their choices anyone determined to practice agriculture that is good, clean and socially sustainable.

Sustainable food is the cornerstone of a sustainable livelihood, and Terra Madre is a powerful example of an emerging new global culture around food.

A few meters away from Terra Madre, during the same five days, another remarkable and related event was taking place: the International Salone Del Gusto (Taste Exhibition). In the same five days it attracted over 170,000 visitors. The core values of good, just and clean food were common to the twin events, but whilst the Salone was open to the public and dedicated to exhibiting high quality foods, Terra Madre was by invitation only, and dedicated to reinforcing the sustainable food communities' network.

The creator of Terra Madre, Carlo Petrini, is also the founder of the Slow Movement and in 2004 was named Time Magazine European Hero. Slow Food was founded in 1986, when Petrini and a group of friends jokingly decided to challenge the rapidly advancing 'fast food/fast life' wave, which clashed with the strongly rooted Italian tradition of food quality and food justice. Their answer was 'Slow Food,' and their Manifesto, valuing a human-scale lifestyle, clearly expresses the core principles and goals. The joke went a long way, and as of 2006 the movement counts over 80,000 members in 120 countries.

Slow Food has created a foundation for the protection of Biodiversity, founded in 2002, and an entire University of Gastronomic Sciences, founded in 2003. The organization is well known for its activity in promoting experiential learning workshops on high quality food, events and culture, and also through a renowned publishing company. We are also witnessing, especially in Italy, the steady growth of the 'Slow Cities' network: entire municipalities adhering and working to implement the principles outlined in the Slow Cities Charter, and promote sustainable livelihoods.

Some readers, especially in North America, may already have heard of Slow Food. The image overseas is often associated with highly priced, chic food for rich people; however, this is not the intent of the founders; there is much more to it. Slow Food and Terra Madre are working, and achieving a good deal of success, to raise awareness, sustain practical initiatives – like the Presidia and the University, and create a global network of people who understand that Good food is something upon which hinges a peaceful, prosperous, and happy collective future. Therefore, Good does not just stand for 'tasty,' it also mean inherently rich and regenerating along the entire chain -- fresh and local, organic, and sustainable, valuing and empowering traditional cultures all over the world, and providing dignity and fair treatment to the producers.

The first edition of Terra Madre was held in Turin in 2004. It was a bold experiment that attracted great attention from the media for a very simple reason: it was a tightly closed meeting with no interference from mainstream institutions, political or otherwise. The closing speech was delivered by HRH Prince Charles of Wales. The video, well worth watching, is available at Big Picture TV.

When immersed in the plenary sessions at Terra Madre 2006 as an observer, or participating in the relentless conversations amongst people coming from different communities and continents, I was blown away by the emotional power and creative potential emerging from the convergence of such an amazing and diverse cultural and social capital. In Carlo Petrini's words during the closing speech:

The power of Terra Madre lies in its freedom, in its anarchy, in the prevalence of the emotional intelligence over rationality…wonderful things have happened: Azerbaijan dialogued with Armenia, Iraq and Lebanon with Israel and Palestine. The world, in this venue, the great mother country of farmers, fishermen, nomads, was not in conflict…

Most of the participants, for the first time in their lives, had the chance to realize the full potential of how they can contribute to creating better futures for both themselves and the rest of the world. This recognition in itself is incredibly empowering, especially for the youngsters in both rich and poor countries, as they receive a strong incentive to preserve the Earth as a source of life and livelihood, and strive for long term value creation in their original regions. Terra Madre is a sort of open-source creative laboratory, harnessing the collective intelligence of humankind's capability to produce the good food it needs, whilst respecting the present and future balances of the Planet on which our survival depends.

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Food and agriculture are essential. A local food infrastructure has economic and social ramifications that builds community and human scale from the get go.

In the mid-1970s, there were less than 20 farmers markets in MA. It was a practice that was dying out. Now there are over one hundred farmers markets all over the state and we have built an economic infrastructure that is both local and global.

The most significant change to come out of the Sixties is the appreciation of food and organics. Crunchy granola and tofu have indeed done quite a lot to save our bacon.

Posted by: gmoke on 14 Nov 06



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