A community united for a better, different future

21 May 2020

Many of those reading know well that Turin is the city of Terra Madre. A large community, a network of farmers, food artisans, herders, activists and nomads from 160 countries around the world that constitutes a sort of United Nations of agriculture. Every two years this network meets in the capital of Piedmont for an event where the people of Turin are at one and the same time hosts, volunteers, supporters, spectators and co-protagonists.

In this historic moment which we’re living through it’s difficult to imagine the sounds, colors, smells and the physical intensity of this gathering which in October should return to the pavilions of Lingotto. Yet, as never before, this network is alive and active, strong and compact. The physical distancing which we’re now gotten used to at every latitude of the globe cannot put a stop to the solidarity, the determination and the militancy of those who fight every day to change a food system which destroys the environment and creates exclusion and poverty. The humble of the Earth (the word humble derives from humus, and thus indicates those who are close to the soil) are today even more so than yesterday on the front line to guarantee the subsistence of the communities they live in, and to narrow the social gap. But how is this done in a moment of crisis like this? There are two main paths.

WE ARE A COMMUNITY: SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIES OF PROXIMITY

On the one hand we need to ensure the continuity of sustainable economies of proximity, strengthening the relationship between food producers and the rest of the population, keeping markets alive through new technologies, creating new services to revitalize local, fair chains of production and distribution. In the Netherlands the young people of the Slow Food Youth Network coordinate the delivery of baskets of assorted fresh products made in the countryside around Amsterdam, while in Normandy, in the Basque Country and in Coquimbo, Chile, after the markets were closed our local activists have begun home delivery services themselves in order to support small-scale local food producers. The same kind of work is being done by local groups in Cluj and Turda, in Romania, in Izmir, Turkey, and in Toluca and Merida in Mexico. All across Italy this service is being performed by the network of Slow Food Presidia in collaboration with local Slow Food groups. In Peru the Terra Madre network is collaborating with the FAO to support agroecology and family farming. Slow Food communities in Ukraine have organized the distribution of local seeds to encourage and support urban agriculture. In the townships of Johannesburg young South Africans are delivering kits with soil, local seeds and manuals on urban crop cultivation. In Cuba the association is organizing online training courses on family vegetable gardening. In Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Australia our activists are publishing anti-waste recipes and teaching the younger generations about sustainable food shopping.Brazilians, Americans, Catalans and Uruguayans have launched online platforms to put people in direct contact with small-scale local producers. Across Africa thousands of Slow Food gardens continue to work, guaranteeing fruit and vegetables to the villages and school canteens where schools are still open. The list could go on and on, because the globality of Terra Madre is an inexhaustible cornucopia of local projects, small and large.

SOLIDARITY WITH THE VULNERABLE

In this historic moment, however, uniting people and producers is not enough. As in every period of crisis, in fact, it is the poorest who pay the heaviest price. And here we plant the second pillar of the Terra Madre network around the world: direct and generous assistance to those most in need. In Belgium as in Uganda, in France as in Kenya, our communities have immediately taken action to guarantee the delivery of fresh local food to those without the means to procure it for themselves. In Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, the Cook’s Alliance network has begun a volunteer service to cook quality meals for the hospital workers on the front line in the fight against Covid-19 as well as the social workers taking care of the elderly and most vulnerable members of the community. The same thing is happening in Glasgow and Milan, in Berlin and in Kampala. What holds these various projects together is a sense of belonging to a movement of change on a global scale. It’s a common project, though it takes different forms in each local context, being strictly locally-adapted just as much as it is proudly global in scope. It’s the determined and generous response of people who know that solidarity is the only way to come out of this tunnel a little less distraught. The resolute action of those that know that “the Earth is low” and that by taking care of it, cultivating it and respecting we can build a brighter tomorrow. All this is doubly evident in China, where all this began. For a few months now the Slow Food network has been working to restore economic strength to the countryside through a project to unify a thousand agricultural villages with the Slow Food philosophy. This project should have been officially presented at Terra Madre in Turin. The excessive urbanization of this country is becoming an explosive problem, not least from a healthcare perspective. In the coming years we will have to remedy the situation by returning to the countryside.

Photo: Marco del Comune and Oliver Migliore

ADAPTING TO DIFFICULTY

From the stormy waters of these times emerges resilience: that ability of farmers to adapt to difficult situations and react creatively in order to stay afloat. A strength which draws energy from the knowledge of belonging to a global network. Small-scale high-quality agriculture is working overtime to perform a role which is not only vital for our sustenance, but increasingly as a tool for social inclusion and cultural growth. What we can all do is support these virtuous systems, get to know them, and contribute to their spread. Above all, we can adopt these models as viable and healthy path forward for the future “return to normality”. There is a mural in Chile with a poetic level of synthesis. It says: “We won’t return to normal because normal was the problem.” When we consider agriculture and the food system, there is no doubt that the current system doesn’t work; it’s in need of profound change. We must go in the direction of proximity, seasonality, of building local distribution networks which don’t depend on giant tech companies; for them food delivery means a chance to make profit and accelerate a process of turbo-globalization which has no respect for communities or the environment. The current crisis is forcing farmers to sharpen their wits, and their ingenuity can form the basis of a better food system of the future. Such a system will have to be good, clean and fair;  the Terra Madre network will act as a small but significant vanguard. We are organizing so that we may meet again, this October, in our beloved Turin. Our global movement is solid, and our joyous and pacific revolution marches on.

by Carlo Petrini, published in La Stampa, May 18, 2020

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