“The world of Terra Madre reflected the real world of people -- with diversity so dazzling that the eyes and ears were having a feast, while communities communicated with pride, joy and dignity about their agricultural and food traditions.
This was not the world of W.T.O. [World Trade Organization] where only agribusiness exists, only 5 commodities (soya, corn, rice, wheat, canola) account for most agricultural trade, only one company (Monsanto) accounts for 94% of all GMO seeds planted anywhere in the world, and most food grown is not eaten by humans but by billions of captive animals in factory farms.
In Terra Madre's world, small farms produce more than industrial farms, using fewer resources, biodiversity protects the health of the soil and the health of people, quality, taste, nutrition are the criteria for production and processing, not toxic quantity and super profits of agribusiness.”
Vandana Shiva, Z Magazine
A bison rancher from Alberta. A yak milk cheese maker from Kirghizia. A focaccia baker from Italy. A producer of smoked reindeer from Sweden. A vanilla grower from Madagascar. These were just a few of the faces at Terra Madre, an international gathering of food producers held in Turin, Italy, from in mid-October, 2004.
The event, organized by Slow Food, brought together food producers from around the world. Not just any food producers though, but people who produce quality food in an environmentally sustainable way. The scope of the gathering was incredible with almost 5000 food producers from 128 nations.
The opening plenary gave a taste of what was yet to come. We filled a huge hall, rows upon rows of people facing the stage, which was flanked by four enormous video screens, showing close-ups of speakers interspersed with images of the crowd. The cultural diversity was obvious in the many colours of skin and the types of clothes. The clothes ranged from gorgeous African batiks, Peruvian traditional dress, Mongolian felt hats, brilliantly coloured Indian saris and the North American plaid shirts.
The ceremony opened with a local choir that looked like it was made up of farmers; most were in jeans and some wore baseball hats. As they sang, they passed around a bowl of red wine and took turns drinking (gulping, not sipping) from it. At the end of each song, the bowl was topped up with another bottle.
Then one delegate from each country came onto the stage. As the MC stated the name of each country, the video screen showed a map of the respective continent, with the country highlighted on it. There were people from countries that I was just barely aware of, such as Comodoro Islands, Kirghizia and Palau. There were also representatives from countries that I tend to associate with war or political unrest, such as Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Serbia and Somalia. Many people were wiping tears from their eyes by the time representatives from 128 nations were on stage. What was so meaningful was that not only the fact that there were people from across the globe, just like at the Olympics, but that these were food producers – peasants and farmers, fishermen, cheese makers and bakers.
Carol Petrini, the founder and president of Slow Food, began the plenary session by explaining that the idea of Terra Madre, which means Mother Earth, was conceived only a year and a half ago. He said that with Terra Madre, "We are constructing a new society, a society based on fraternity. The Terra Madre community is based on feelings of brotherhood and a rejection of selfishness. A group of people collectively defending and protecting their traditions, cultures and crops."
Petrini encouraged everyone to "Join our fight for foods that unite us in the universal fight against hunger, not for profit for the privileged and abuse of workers. Join our fight for protecting biodiversity of the planet Earth and protecting crops and livestock breeds." He suggested that we change the term for people who eat food, rather then simply being consumers, they must become co-producers and understand that production is being threatened.
Petrini stated the goals of Terra Madre:
to lead us to feel that we are not alone; to ensure that we are proud of
our work; and to increase our self-esteem. In these goals, Terra Madre
has certainly succeeded. At the end, I not only felt privileged to be involved
in the event, and in food production in general, but felt inspired to do
more. It’s not enough just to grow the food, though that is a wonderful
and essential act, but we also need to join the struggle to keep control
of our seeds, to maintain control over our food supply, and to maintain
the cultural traditions surrounding food. We can start by meeting the farmers
who grow our food and eating with others, talking with family and friends
over dinner. Then we can move into finding ways to ensure that everyone
in our local and global community has access to healthy food. We can’t
be complacent, as a speaker from Peru stated, "Hunger should be considered
similar to torture and slavery - a serious violation of fundamental human
Janet Wallace is the editor
of The Canadian Organic Grower and has a small organic farm outside
of Margaretsville, Nova Scotia. This article originally appeared in The
Canadian Organic Grower, formerly known as EcoFarm & Garden.
For more information about the magazine, contact Canadian Organic Growers
at www.cog.ca or 1-888-375-7383.