Peter Ferre’ tastes wine at the annual Slow Food conference in Torino, Italy. Through the earphones Ferre’ listens to an interpreter describe the wine.
Ahh, Italy — where everything is beautiful — from the people to the landscape, the architecture, the music, and of course its food and wine. It is also home to International Slow Food’s annual Terra Madre Conference in Torino.
Each year food lovers and producers congregate at Terra Madre to share ideas and obstacles involved in growing and marketing food, especially from small communities. This year, Peter Ferré of rural Wallowa spent five days sampling food and wine, taking a hand at cooking, attending workshops, and meeting people from around the world.
Terra Madre emphasizes growing and accessing food close to home, taking the time to put love into the cooking process, and most importantly, the experience of sharing food, and time, around the dinner table.
One workshop showed how processed grain has changed from highly structured plants to ones with flimsier structures that are easier to handle in a factory, but higher in gluten, said Ferré. The change in the flour used in bread and pasta could explain the recent rash of people diagnosed with intolerance to gluten.
A more light-hearted workshop had Ferre’ wearing earphones, listening to an interpreter, as he sampled wine. Another had him rolling up his sleeves making gnocchi out of polenta.
During Terra Madre a food fare is held next door, Salone Del Gusto, a huge market of international foods. There he tasted tequilas from Mexico, cheeses from Switzerland, and reindeer sausage from Scandinavia.
The trip to Italy confirmed his belief that more food should be grown locally, especially in a remote community such as Wallowa County. He does not dismiss the necessity of what he calls “Big Agriculture” in a world with more than 6 billion people — but said that developing more local agriculture provides better tasting and healthier food — and it’s good for the environment.
Terra Madre and Salone Del Gusto work in harmony, said Ferré, in part because Slow Food does not try to be political.
“It doesn’t take a stand on chemicals or big business, rather it tries to bring things back home,” said Ferré.
He said he was drawn to Terra Madre to learn how best to use food production to boost the county’s economy. He said he sees a need and a want by consumers to pay more for well-raised products.
“All over the world there are communities like ours — women making spices in Sri Lanka, fishing, agriculture-based communities that are trying to keep their feet on the ground with a local economy versus an export one,” said Ferré. “People are struggling to figure things out and a lot of places are making meaningful strides.”
Now he is allied with an urban farmer from Detroit, an eco-tourist developer from San Francisco, beef ranchers from Dallas, Ore., and a cookbook author from Minnesota.
“There are a lot of people trying to do the same things we are,” said Ferré.
Ferré said he was a member of a Slow Food chapter in Nashville before his more active involvement in Slow Food Wallowas.
“I believe in its mission to promote slowing down, eating at home, and making school lunches for the kids,” said Ferré.
Another benefit of Slow Food is its grassroots-level methodology.
“It’s a very organic organization, each chapter doing what they think they need to do,” said Ferré.
This fall, Slow Food Wallowas hosted a fundraiser at his ranch and all the proceeds went to the Magic Garden in Joseph. More than 90 people showed up, showing that there is an interest in great food and community goodwill.
Ferré and his family live with chickens, sheep, rabbits, horses, and a very large dog named Zeus. They planted a garden and an orchard, bake their own bread and press apple cider.
The family also got involved with a new community garden grown at The Riverhouse in Wallowa. He said a plan is in the works to expand the garden and plant a community orchard.
“What’s going on here is a groundswell of people willing to branch out,” said Ferré.