Slow Food began in Italy in 1986, with the foundation of its forerunner organization, Arcigola, to resist the opening of a McDonald?s in one of the most beautiful areas of Rome. The Slow Food Organization has expanded to include over 84,000 members all around the world interested in promoting the concepts of ?good, clean, and fair?. Good refers to the quality of food products and their taste; clean, to a production process that respects the natural environment; fair, to the dignity and appropriate economic return for the people who produce, but also respect for those who consume. In 2004 in Turin the first Terra Madre (?Mother Earth?) conference took place, which was attended by 5,000 delegates from over 150 countries as a further network for food communities and which was later joined by cooks and academic researchers. This October 23-27 in Turin among the 6,800 delegates who attended the third edition of the international Terra Madre meeting were more than 4,000 small-scale farmers, breeders, fishers and artisan producers, 800 cooks, 300 academics, 1000 young people and 200 musicians representing 1,652 food communities and 150 countries as well as hundreds of volunteers and observers. For the first time ever there were 75 producers of natural fibres, both of vegetable and animal origin as the organisers recognised the close link between breeding for fibre or/and for food and meat, when one is often the by-product of the other and wanted to start working on ideas and building on a network to further develop in 2009, the FAO International Year of Natural Fibres. The delegates came from 15 countries each representing a precious fibre, such as cashmere from Mongolia, superfine Merino from Oceania or silk from China. There were Peruvian producers of Pima cotton and South Africans breeding mohair goats, all gathered by the organiser, Elena Schneider and thanks to the many sponsors such as Schneider Group, Ermenegildo Zegna, Cotonificio Albini and Blulino.
I was very happy to be asked to participate as representative of the Italian alpaca breeders, looking forward to five days of talking fibre, confronting problems and solutions but not quite knowing what to expect. The first impression arriving at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday afternoon was of surprise: all around me were people dressed in their traditional clothes, talking all sort of languages and playing instruments, praying, smiling, meeting up. I had never been in such a huge and multicultural gathering before and immediately loved it. The opening ceremony of Terra Madre was a conference, concert and a celebration all at the same time. It was opened by the procession of flags which reminded us all of the Olympic Games and was followed by music and many speakers and video messages sent by those who could not come personally, amongst whom was the message from HRH the Prince of Wales. Carlo Lopes, UN assistant Secretary General and Director of United Nations System Staff College read a personal message from Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary of the United Nations, which was then followed by an inspiring speech by Vandana Shiva, the vice-President of Slow Food and founder of Navdanya. The speech by the President of Slow Food Carlo Petrini opened the 2008 edition of Terra Madre, encouraging all the participants to make the most of the seminars and take back home knowledge and enthusiasm. Friday and Saturday were dedicated to attending seminars, which were divided by region or by product and open to all the participants who could rely on an impeccable system of simultaneous translation in seven languages. We also spent a lot of time visiting (and tasting) the tenth edition of Slow Food?s Salone del Gusto, the largest food and wine fair in the world, visited by more than 180,000 visitors.
It was not by chance that our group was hosted in Biella, a city about an hour from Turin, famous for its textile industry. On Saturday night we met the Major of Biella and the President of the Provincia, who welcomed us and talked of the strong link that unites producers and manufactures. The meeting was followed by an amazing dinner at Palazzo Boglietti, cooked for us and the many guests, using local ingredients by chef Walter Eynard, holder of two Michelin stars.
Sunday was characterised by the seminar on Natural fibres: a place for discussion, sharing of information but also for the presentation of the ?manifesto of natural fibres?. The main topic was that of the growth of synthetic fibres, the decline of natural fibres and the need to educate the consumers on the impact man-made fibres have on health and environment, applying the same concepts successfully used by Slow Food over the years to fight ?fast food?, to fight ?fast fashion? as well.
Terra Madre, however, was as much about the official meetings as about the informal ones, those happening in front of a cappuccino or a pizza. We all got along very well and with many smiles but it was very frustrating for me not to be able to truly communicate with the representative from Rural Alianza alpaca breeders. With a small group of Aussies and Kiwis we went around shopping and I really enjoyed seeing bulky Australian farmers animatedly discussing on the quality of every garment and of differences in fashion between Australia and Italy!
On Monday the group was divided into producers of vegetable fibres, visiting the Cotonificio Albini and Blulino, and the producers of fibres coming from animals, visiting the Pettinatura di Varrone of the Schneider Group and the manufacturing firm of Ermenegildo Zegna in Trivero. The first stop at the Schneider Group truly amazed us: huge rooms were filled with bags of ?greasy?, waiting to be checked, washed and spun, to end up in tightly squashed tops. Apart from super-fine Merino wool, the bulk of the production, they also work with special fibres such as mohair, alpaca and vicuna.
In the afternoon we visited the Zegna industrial site up the mountain of Trivero, where the Zegna family started an enterprise now famous all around the world and renowned for its high quality garments: Merino and Mohair producers know only too well the Ermenegildo Zegna Vellus Aureum (Golden Fleece) Trophy, awarded every year to producers of fibre under 13.9 microns. The fabric coming out of the mills was amazing not only for the quality and attention to details, but also because of the continuous research for new and environmentally friendly solutions, such as natural dyes.
Terra Madre is a network and as such is continuously growing and incorporating new people and ideas: everyone is welcome and can contact local groups or create new ones, participate over the internet and find information on the website http://www.terramadre.info/welcome.lasso . For me Terra Madre is not any longer an event but a future hope and a network of friends: we have ideas and abilities to transform them in reality and now it?s the time to act.