Grace Before Dinner

Terra Madre creates a farmers market of food and ideas

| March 31, 2005

The way author Deborah Madison describes it, Terra Madre resembles a big business networking event: business people get together, talk shop, and make connections. The difference here is that the entrepreneurs are small-scale, locally-committed farmers and food producers from around the world. Or, as Vandana Shiva, an Indian small-farm advocate, told those at the gathering, 'If this were an agribusiness meeting, the faces would be white and the clothes black. But you are full of beauty and color, the colors of the earth.'

At Terra Madre, some 5,000 farmers from 130 countries converged on the Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, Italy, to meet and exchange ideas on how to support a vital worldwide community of small farmers. These are the producers of foods 'that don't lend themselves easily to industrial processes and therefore are most distinctive for their quality,' Madison writes. If the cardboard tomatoes at the grocery store are any indication, they're also the people who can still keep food alive with flavor.

Madison returned to the United States inspired, and the feeling is contagious. Reading about the Hawaiian honey producer, Italian gourd growers, and Chinese organic tea maker all in one place isn't just mouth-watering, it's hope inducing. One can't help but feel that small farmers might have a fighting chance against agribusiness. But then Madison reminds readers about 'the homogenizing pressures of globalization; the power of the World Trade Organization to pursue corporate control and standardization; the lack of a holistic integrity in industrial food production; and the concomitant decline of human health, soil fertility, water quality, and water itself.' And it becomes clear that small farmers will need consumers' help to nurture the ideas germinated at Terra Madre.
-- Hannah Lobel

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