Georgia Organics conference

So Carlo Petrini wishes collard greens were planted all over Italy.  That’s pretty cool.  Really, I don’t think he’d want collard greens planted all over Italy, considering his respect for terrior and sense of place, but it’s awesome how he showed his appreciation for our food, even down to the pork fat and pot likker.

I just returned from the Georgia Organics conference in Athens.  It was a gathering of farmers, gardeners, activists, and teachers from around the state.  Strangely, this event occurred on the first dry weekend in weeks and we all kept thinking about our tractors and the work to be done, but putting work aside, we farmers and foodies loved spending time strengthening our network and exchanging ideas.

My favorite part about these sorts of events is talking with others…reconnecting with farmers I hadn’t seen since the last conference and making new connections with folks I’d never met.  The farm tours and sessions are great too; it’s always great to learn some new ideas and to hear and see how other folks do things on their farms.

While the company rocks, the food ain’t so bad either.  At the farmers’ feast Saturday night, we had a meal made for kings, or farmers really.  And this is what I really want to tell you about.

Each year, Georgia Organics corrals a mighty crew of professional chefs to volunteer their time for the Saturday night farmers feast.  Each gargantuan banquet style table at the dinner received a different selection of dishes prepared with food donated from local farmers.  I can’t even begin to name all the chefs present at the event, but Linton Hopkins, Cathy Conway, Kevin Gillespie, Anne Quatrano, Hugh Acheson, Joe Truex were a few.  Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Monteluce Vineyards, and Woodford Reserve donated excellent libations to accompany the meal.  We enjoyed at least 7 courses family style…some favorite dishes at our table were the traditional collards, a beautiful salad of locally grown lettuces, carrots, eggs, radishes, and pickled baby hakurei turnips with boiled peanut hummus with a cracker and delicious dressing, a pork tenderloin topped with Benton’s bacon and pork belly (yum!), warm spinach salad, and pickled shrimp with beans, hominy, and a creamy cornichon sauce.  The desserts ranged from sorghum pie to hummingbird cake and were all sugary sweet and delicious.  The presentation of the dessert was pretty spectacular too…all the chefs paraded out to Outkast with pie or cake in hand.  The cakes kept coming…soon we had about 6 or 7 circling around our table.  I was so full but managed a sampling of each.

Enough about the edible portion of the evening.  Julie Schafer, the founder of  Slow Food Atlanta was awarded the Barbara Petit Pollinator Award for her work growing the Slow Food movement in the South, and Andy Byrd of Whippoorwhill Hollow Farm received the Land Stewardship award.  It was really touching to see Andy on stage and to hear Daniel Parson, last year’s winner, highlight the things Andy and Hilda have done for our organic farming community.  We all miss Hilda’s presence and are very thankful that Andy was recognized for the contributions they’ve made.

Then our keynote speaker, Carlo Petrini, began.  Carlo Petrini is a great and fiery speaker and speaks only in Italian…making his words ever so elegant.  Carlo started the international slow food movement and is the founder of the Slow Food international non-profit organization.

He in keeping with the international movement highlights good, clean, fair food. Good food that tastes fresh, vibrant, and reminiscent of the history of the place or region.  Clean food that isn’t tainted with chemicals or preservatives and grown in balanced, nutritive soils.  And fair food that is purchased at a fair price and grown by someone making a fair, living wage.

He coined the term co-producers to replace consumers…a reminder of not consumption but creation and a reminder to think about where the food you eat comes from.  He says “by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process”.

He also talks about the cost of food.  This is a frequent topic in the organic food industry.  I like the idea that you either pay for it now in the form of delicious fresh food or you pay for it later with medical bills.  Petrini mentions that the idea that the food has to be cheap is the same idea that’s ruined farmers in the forms of subsidies and is what continually makes the typical ‘consumer’ search for better deals or cheaper prices.  He says that this has absolutely nothing to do with value.  He mentions that once we start figuring out the value of food that we’ll start saving on all those other material items and really focus on our local farmers’ goods.

According to the USDA, in 1929, we spent on average approximately 23.4% of our income on food, in 2008, we only spent 9.6%.  How in 80 years have we gone from spending a quarter of our income to less than 10%?  It’s clear our priorities are shifting…and obviously not towards our health.  Another statistic from the Agriculture Council of America states “The efficiency of U.S. farmers benefits the United States consumer in the pocketbook. Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world. On average in 2004, Americans spent only 2% of their disposable income on meat and poultry, compared to 4.1 percent in 1970.”  Wow, some efficiency.  Too bad we’re spending more and more on health each year.

Petrini says that we have not just isolated food problems, economic problems, environmental problems, and health problems, but that it’s all one problem.  With an attitude of joy, he praises us for our commitment to the cause and lets us know that there’s a lots of hope…that we can solve this large collective problem.  I sure do like that Carlo Petrini.

I feel blessed to be part of this vibrant community of folks here in the state of Georgia.  Leaving such an energetic gathering I can’t wait till next year…it’ll be great to see how much we grow.

More photos here: http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=9157806781.

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One response to “Georgia Organics conference

  1. Paige – Excellent summation. Thank you for putting pen to paper . . . or fingertips to keyboards. It means the world to us that farmers showed up despite the pull of that dry weather. Cheers to you and all our of our community.

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