28 Oct 2008

The land, vegetable gardens, canteens and the future: These were the topics discussed on Saturday at the School Gardens Network conference – one of a series of discussions held jointly between Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. Valeria Cometti, in charge of Slow Food’s education projects, opened the event: “Today we want to go on a journey around places of the world where, riding the wave of Slow Food’s principles, new generations are being taught gastronomic culture. The project to establish vegetable gardens in schools, launched in the United States and evolved in Italy under the name Orto in condotta, is our most important.”

“Teaching children to take care over what they eat is a sign of love for humanity, not elitism as some people claim,” said Alice Waters, Slow Food vice-president. Representing Slow Food Kenya, Samuel Karanja Muhunyu provided an African point of view, saying that a mistaken educational system was contributing to the destruction of agriculture in his continent. “We are trying to involve young people, passing on traditional knowledge and so giving them a chance for the future, but government bureaucracy is obstructing us. They don’t care about education. It’s a real problem, but we’re not going to give up.”

A similar tenacity was shown by a young American, Melina Shannon. She works for Yale University’s Sustainable Food Project, where a vegetable garden run by the students has been created, as well as a cafeteria serving good, organic food. “If there had been projects like this at Yale when President Bush was studying there, and he had learned how to grow rucola like we have, maybe the world would be different now,” said Melina with an ironic smile.

Then it was back to Italy with Luisa Fazzini, a teacher at the Istituto Gabriella Murari in Valeggio sul Mincio. She described the smiles of children working in the kindergarten’s garden, and the middle-school pupils’ journey along the River Mincio, modeled on the University of Gastronomic Sciences’s journey along the River Po.

Next a culinary arts teacher from a Canadian high school, Paul Finklestein, gave his testimony about the gardens, greenhouses, cooking classes and student-run cafeteria he is helping to set up in accordance with Slow principles. “We want people, who up to now have perhaps only known frozen or fast foods, to appreciate and get passionate about fresh, healthy food.”

The need to bring young people back in touch with the land was repeated by Slow Food Austria’s Manfred Fleiser. “At the end of one of the cooking courses we organized for children, we took them for a day to a farm, and a farmer showed them how to milk cows. One of them was shocked and swore he would never drink milk again. He’d always thought it was made in the supermarket. Tell me, is this the future we want?”

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