“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

Terra Madre: 
a Global Gathering of Food Producers
By Janet Wallace

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 rights."
Throughout the four days of Terra Madre, I heard from and talked with many people. Some of them were well-known – Vandana Shiva, Alice Waters, Miguel Altieri, Eliot Coleman and Prince Charles, to name but a few. They were all powerful speakers but I think I was more affected by the people I sat next to at lunch or in the hallway. Such as Ndelekwa Nnyiti, a man from Tanzania who is a member of a women’s cooperative that doesn’t want to exclude men. Of the 600 members, there are 100 men. The cooperative makes herbal medicines; they grow the plants, raise bees to obtain beeswax, and process salves, tinctures and capsules. The medicine is sold to hospitals and local medical clinics. The cooperative is also involved in health education, focussing on HIV/AIDS prevention, planting trees to stop the encroaching desert, and raising crops and livestock to feed the community.  
I ate lunch with two American farmers who raise grass-fed dairy cows. The cows eat only hay and pasture, no grain or silage, and yet still produce enough milk to have an economically sustainable dairy. I hadn’t realized that viable amounts of milk could be produced without grain.
I talked to a man from Zambia who is part of a 6000-member cooperative. Members collect honey from wild bees in the forests and providing hives that also protect the bees from predatory insects. This helps the forest by supporting the pollinator population and by giving the forest an economic value while it is standing (rather than just having value after the trees are cut and sold). 
One day, I went for a walk with a woman from the Mohawk First Nation. Not only does she work on establishing community gardens on the Akwesasne Reservation, but she also teaches at a university about the agricultural and cultural heritage of First Nations, and the importance of saving traditional seeds. 
While I talked with these people, I was constantly thinking of what lessons I could bring home. Particularly, when talking with people from the inappropriately-named "developing nations," I was overcome by how much our society can learn from them, such as the success of multifaceted cooperatives. In the next several issues of Canadian Organic Grower, I will bring stories that were inspired by my time at Terra Madre. I have lined up an article on Suat Tuzlak who has an organic bakery in Whitehorse and sat next to me on a long bus ride. I am working on an article on grass-fed dairying and other stories. But I also feel drawn to work more in my own region. I have invited the other Maritime participants to come to my place for a day or two to share a couple of meals and discuss where to go from here. 
At the end of the event, Carlo Petrini reminded us that Italy is not only the birthplace of Slow Food, but is also the birthplace of opera. He told us that an opera always begins with an overture and our gathering at Terra Madre was just the overture. Let the opera begin!

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.