Slow Food Minnesota farmers return from Italian adventure


Better than Thanksgiving: Slow Food Minnesota's tasty potluck plate.

Let's just say at first glance, Minnesota farmers are not the first people I'd think of for cultural ambassadors. Many are soft-spoken and just like to keep to themselves (maybe there's a reason they decided to live out there on the farm rather than closer to other people). But, hearing them upon returning from a world conference in Turin, Italy, you see just what softies they are. You better read this -- it may be awhile before they speak again.

Last week, Slow Food Minnesota held a panel discussion and potluck meal to give the 14 Terra Madre delegates a chance to share what they learned. Each farmer had a different memory about from the event. Below, a sampling of what stuck with them:

Poignant Facts: 30 - 35% of climate change is caused by industrial agriculture. 95% of food advertising is directed towards that small portion of the food pyramid that includes fats, oils, and sugars.

Inspirational People: 15-year-old Sam Levin, a young Massachusetts advocate who announced at the opening of the summit that, "We will be the generation that re-connects mankind with the earth," activists Carlo Petrini (Slow Food's founder) and Vandana Shiva, and the other farmers from around the world, many of whom came from countries where people don't have enough to eat -- which, as one Minnesotan pointed out, is humbling when we live in a country where people could "lose a few pounds."

Brad and Leanne Donnay who run an organic goat dairy farm in Kimball, MN were bewildered when they found a woman who had a similar dairy, but who ran things a little differently. Instead of using modern technology, she regularly milked 100 goats by hand. Takes her three hours. If you ask me if that's fast or slow, I'm not sure.

Jim Van Der Pol (Pastures a Plenty) talked about his impression of a fellow farmer who had flown in for the summit and was standing near him at the Italian airport. He was a 5-foot Peruvian man with a white guitar-like instrument. While Van Der Pol was tired and anxious from traveling, the man who was also clearly on an unfamiliar continent, remained unfazed and stood perfectly still while waiting to be picked up by Slow Food organizers. To Van Der Pol, the man was, "Monsanto's nightmare" because even in the middle of so much chaos and change, he knew exactly what he was and who he was. (Agri-philosophy from a Peruvian brother, gotta love it!)

Fabulous Foods: Polish mead - an alcoholic honey beverage (Laura Frerichs, of Loon Organics was one of the youngest delegates from Minnesota. She REALLY liked that one), single source honey, rose garlic, smoked caterpillars, all varieties of raw meat and raw cheese, and those "dead ripe persimmons" - (when these words were mentioned, there was what appeared to be a collective sigh from the delegates in remembrance of those delicious "dead ripe" persimmons). Delegates ate so much raw meat and raw cheese that forum organizers announced that as a precautionary measure, everyone should eat a lot of fiber before going to sleep.

The Minnesotans were amazed by the Italians' devotion to food -- even in the most common places. As one Minnesotan farmer pointed out, "[Italian] Truck stops knock out our high end restaurants." Yet, the overwhelming feeling from the delegates was one of responsibility. The Minnesotan farmers realized just how important what we do here is to the rest of the world. Again and again, the Minnesotan delegates said that it was clear from conversations with farmers from other countries that the world was looking to the U.S. As Alan Callister of Callister Farms put it, "They're aware of it, we're not."