Terra Madre 2010

In In Solidarity, Meetings, Our Network on 19/11/2010 at 5:47 am

I approached Slow Food’s Terra Madre with ambivalence.  My fellow young farmers in New York called the organization an “eating club.”  I was frustrated because my Thai friends from the Alternative Agriculture Network were not attending the event due to problems with paperwork.  I didn’t know what to expect from the event – would the people I meet really care about food being “good, clean and fair”?  Or, would the “good” take up most of their effort?  Yet I also admired Slow Food for it’s explicit belief that “good food” (or “sustainable” or “fair”) should actually taste good.  This same value is one that I see within the AAN and other farmer-based organizations working for a better food system.

For many at the Terra Madre event, taste may have been their guiding principle, but I met so many genuinely passionate people that I left the event feeling inspired and better prepared to start my own small farm.  I was also able to introduce the AAN to many new friends and allies.  The networking outside of workshops and meetings was interesting and it seemed like many people were able to connect.  This might be the greatest benefit created by these large, diverse events.

I attended the Terra Madre policy document workshop, called “Law, Rights and Policies”, which focused on genetics and property rights, resource access and international trade (subsidies and small-scale production).  Terra Madre is pushing for the development of sustainable policy based in Human Rights criteria.  In conjunction with the FAO, Terra Madre is developing policy recommendations to realize the Right to Food: regular access to food, quantity/quality of food, cultural traditions, dignified lives  and food security (sovereignty).  In contrast to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) regimes, Terra Madre is pushing for a world-wide sharing of intellectual property like seeds and plant varieties that is compatible with the Right to Food.

The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention on plant variety protection was also discussed, in that it will exclude small farmers from access to seed circulation and monetize genetic material.  Fortunately, UPOV membership is not required, and nations like India, Namibia and Ethiopia are pursuing alternatives.  The FAO treaty for Food and Agriculture (the International Seed Treaty) is endorsed by Terra Madre, though it is difficult for the UN to recommend policy changes.  Terra Madre also supports biodiversity in situ and managed by farmers themselves.  Seeds that are adapted to the local ecology and climate are useful and accessible, not just seeds locked up in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

Accordingly, some interesting questions were raised about the capacity for Slow Food or Terra Madre to link together small initiatives like community seed banks.  And a number of obstacles lay in the way – legislators are unaware of alternatives to conventional policy-making.  One workshop participant made the point that incentives aren’t required for genetic development or improvement – there is no evidence that exclusive rights are needed, and history proves that seeds have been developed by communities.  Yet today, policy is created with pressure from industry lobbies.  These “free trade” oriented policies also assume a moral superiority in accusing small farmers’ advocates like Slow Food of not supporting the economic development of rural communities, and that large-scale, “efficient” mono-cultures are the only way to feed the world.  Yet this approach has proven only that high-yielding, export-oriented agriculture has generated surplus in the wrong places, with profits going to a few and 1 billion people still living with hunger.

This is where Sharon Rempel, an organic plant breeder and heritage wheat activist, had to stand up,  “UPOV is a myth of stability” and used Red Fife Wheat, a land race she has long preserved and promoted in Canada.  It arrived in Canada from Glascow in 1840 and since 1989 has been accessible in the Canadian Gene Bank.  I got to speak with Sharon following the workshop and her passion for Red Fife and knowledge about plant breeding was incredible.  Her work can be found here.

Resource access was the second focus of the meeting.  Excessive land concentration has infringed on communal and indigenous rights to land and peoples’ access to the commons.  Participants offered a range of suggestions to address these problems, focusing on a kind of land reform and allocation of land both privately and publicly.  One young farmer from Colorado introduced the Land Link program, something that work for new farmers to access land and the transition of old farms.  Farmers in Colorado face lack of rainfall and the separation of water rights from land rights for the benefit of land developers.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leasing land in the Pacific Northwest at cheap prices, wasting valuable natural resources.

The President of the Indian Farmers Union  (BKU) offered the case of India – a new field of interaction between small farmers (83% of farmers use less than 2 acres and continue to use indigenous seeds) and Bt cotton has shown the use of GMOs has not meant increased productivity, but increased toxicity and animal death.  Farmer death, both from chemicals and suicide, was a problem also presented by the Farmers Union in other workshops.  India’s sui generis system (supported by the International Seed Treaty) of plant protection make patent implementation difficult within the TRIPs regime.

This diverese, global political system has serious implications for food sovereignty.  How can we achieve food sovereignty while encouraging international trade?  Or belance local community protection and meeting domestic demand?  Perhaps what we need was the Panel’s final suggestion of an “adjusted free trade,” recognizing that “free trade” has created the opportunity for fair trade.  The “Law, Rights and Policies” workshop, though not as well-attended as other workshops on that first morning, produced an intense discussion between activists, researchers and researcher-activists.

Rice production has long been connected to these legal and political issues, with a focus on international trade agreements and GMOs.  Farmers’ rights discourse and arguments for climate justice-based adaptation are becoming an important part of the AAN’s political strategy. I had similar hopes for the Traditional Rice Producers meeting, but was disappointed with the lack of discussion about forming a network of rice producers on all rice producing continents (and not just Asia).  The direction for Slow Food’s involvement is not especially clear, though I still trust in their ability as a communicator and advocate for small producers’ communities.

Might Presidia distinctions for several rice producing communities be a starting point?  The workshop did present several useful, national-level producers’ initiatives.  Vandana Shiva spoke about the Green Revolutions’ long-term impacts in India, and Ino Mayu presented her rice-duck integrated agriculture systems work with Seed to Table in Vietnam, which has connected with farmers in 6 different provinces.  Ino was a volunteer with JVC, which has been a long time ally of the AAN.  Ino is friends with Kaoru and Daeng of Kao Daeng Farm in Mukdahan province, Thailand.   Vicky Garcia, the Executive Director of Revitalize Indigenous Cordilleran Entrepreneurs (RICE, Inc.) on Luzon, the Philippines, presented a powerful example of women’s empowerment through sustainable agriculture and successful business development.

Slow Food suggests having a role to safeguard local rice varieties, as they represent community languages and cultures.  These were all useful examples of locally-focused indigenous rice production projects, but how do we join them together outside of the Terra Madre conference?

While in the Asia Regional Meeting, I got to sit next to this (though I question the amount of “blue water” used by small-scale, rain-fed producers):

As a young farmer, the excitement around Youth Food Movement was contagious.  This was the most exciting part of the whole event.  During the Youth Food Movement’s “Eat In Your Territory” event, I got to meet Frank and Ana Corsten, brother and sister from Germany.  Frank is a student at UNISG and Ana is a film editor, who has worked closely with indigenous communities in the Amazon.  It seems that the organizations in the Netherlands and UK are particularly strong and I wonder what the potential might be for spreading into more continents and communities.  During both small and large-scale workshops, youth from all over the Global South offered their experiences and perspectives – youth from coffee growing communities in Colombia, urban communities in Brazil and young farmers and gardeners from South Africa.  Sitting with Justin Freiberg of Encendia Biochar, it was hard not to feel proud and inspired to be a round American involved in this movement.  Pavlos Georgiadis (whom I had met previously at a researchers’ conference in Chiang Mai) led the crowd through an exciting and emotional experience – his work has focused on the human ecological relationships with Karen communities in northern Thailand. I met the leaders of some interesting organizations – The Youth Agricultural Ambassadors (YAA) organized by Tshediso Johannes Phahlane of South Africa and the Bread Houses Network organized by Nadezhda Savova of Bulgaria, both were presented to the audience during the final youth session.

The Young Farmer Mentor session was also a great experience, where farmers from all different backgrounds were able to connect.  I met two other young, American vegetable growers, Noah Kellerman of Alprilla Farm in Essex, MA and Malaika Spencer from Journey’s End CSA in Sterling, PA who are working on a small-scale and offered to share their experiences throughout the next season.

During the session I also met some farmers with experience developing alternative marketing strategies.  Greg Boulos of Bleackberry Meadows Farm referred to his farm as a “business ecosystem” in which synergistic relationships develop between farming and farm-related businesses.  Sonja Hedlund, of Apple Pond Farm and Renewable Energy Education Center, gave us clear advice on energy (“don’t use it,” but for the energy you use, make it renewable) and market planning (“where are you gonna sell what you grow?”).  Joseph and Helen Fields of Joseph Fields Farm also gave great advice, stressing how essential presentation (and tomatoes!) can be for a successful market stand.

Here are some other folks I got to meet during the event:

Charlie Papazian of the American Brewers Association, Gail Hall an “enlightened epicurian” from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Emigdio Ballon of Tesuque Farms in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Arjun Bhattarai of the NGO Federation of Nepal (NFN).  I’m especially excited to have met Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project – Winona has built a special connection to the AAN over the years, as she hosted Esan coordinator Ubon Yoowah in her home community and worked with Kyra Busch, a former AAN coordinator and ENGAGE coordinator (and friend who I got to spend a lot of time with at Terra Madre!).

Terra Madre showed me the importance of being able to communicate clearly your ideas about food.  We often develop complex justifications for why we chose to consume this way or why we are focused on becoming sustainable farmers, but Slow Food has developed useful tools for expressing the beauty of food and farming.  Making these concepts accessible to a wider audience will become a challenge as this movement expands.  One person who embodied the effort to reach out to others and show the beauty in Slow Food was Johanna Katharina Mihevc, who was representing Slow Food Tirol.  I was lucky to have met Johanna and learn from her about how European food culture and activism is growing among students, young farmers and food activists.  Following the Terra Madre event, I traveled with Johanna to a small village near Cinque Terra called Bonassola (her incredibly generous parents welcomed myself and our friend Ana into their small, beautiful apartment).  Johanna and I then spent a few days learning, cooking and working at the Tenuta di Paganico in the Maremma region of Tuscany.  Here are some photos from the rest of the trip:

“an economist who’s not an ecologist is and idiot, and ecologist who is not a gastronomist is sad” Carlo Petrini

“the solution to the collapsing food system will come from those who have been excluded by it” Vandana Shiva


“energy should be consumed and distributed like food” Angelo Consoli


“we know a hell of a lot, but we understand very little” Manfred Max-Neef

The project at Tenuta di Paganico is directed by Maria Novella Uzielli and managed by a young farmer named Jacopo Goracci.  The farm has developed ecologically sustainable ways of raising a diversity of animals and plants and established an agro-tourism-based approach to marketing.  We were lucky enought o stay in the farm’s beautiful villa and help with butchering beef and harvesting olives.  We were there with Dominic Polumbo of Moon in the Pond Farm and Rich Ciotola, both are farmers in the Berkshires, Western MA and were such generous hosts.

During our stay, folks from the Delegazione Europea per l’Agricoltura Famigliare di Asia, Africa e America Latina (Deafal) came to visit and exchange with Jacopo about his farming techniques.  Their visit resembled the AAN’s field exchanges very much, with ideas being exchanged all day long.  Led by Susanna Debenedetti, Deafal representatives came from an organization in Latin America called COAS that focuses on soil chromatography and composting. For almost two days, we talked with Ing. Jairo Restrepo about a range of techniques for livestock management, soil improvement and other ideas about sustainable agriculture in general.  At the end of the second day, we stood in a moonlit stable talking about the right times in the lunar cycle to plant certain crops.   Thanks again to Johanna and Sebastian Hernandez for their help with translation.

In so many words, Terra Madre was about making new friends and relationships – all of which had to do with our shared passion for sustainable farming and food.  The conference didn’t aim to fix the problems in the food system that make me feel ambivalent about Slow Food, but it brought people together to talk and exchange about ideas that work and might do a lot for our efforts to build a more sustainable food system together.




  1. […] voi con Jairo, ha pubblicato un articolo sulla sua esperienza post Terra Madre che potete trovare qui Viene nominata DEAFAL con link al sito, Jairo, Susanna, etc… molto […]

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