Mustafa Alper Ülgen is the Slow Food Ida Convivium leader and with the other members of the community decided to organize online events to keep the community spirit strong during the Coronavirus emergency. Free panels were organized on sustainable access to good, clean and fair food, the relationship between crop production in agriculture and animal husbandry…and a lot of other interesting subjects.
The Slow Food Ida Convivium is based in the Northern Aegean area of Turkey, where the sea, mountains, plains, and plateaus all meet. This unique geography is home to extensive local biodiversity and traditional products. The region has also been a culinary cultural crossroads over the centuries. Moreover, the varied landscape makes it almost impossible for intensive agriculture to gain a foothold, ensuring the sustainability of traditional farmers. These factors have made the area attractive to young urban people, mainly from Istanbul, who are choosing to come here to settle down and take up farming.
The concentration of this “new generation of white-collar farmers” in Northern Aegean is higher than in any other part of the country. Very often, this new generation of farmers needs guidance, and that’s what we tried to do during the lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The suspended weather ahead was perfect for training.
I am a civil engineer by trade. I’ve worked doing restoration and natural stonework in many areas across Turkey, from Aydın to Van. Twelve years ago I became interested in permaculture and ecological architecture; that’s when I settled in the Kaz Mountains, in a hamlet called Yeniköy in Çanakkale province. As well as being a member of the Buğday Association, I was also one of the founders of the Bir Tohum Foundation and Slow Food Ida. So when I came here I would travel through the villages to find local wheat seeds and I organized some local seed exchange events.
I have a traditional stone mill where I make flour from local wheat varieties and I like to make bread from all the different kinds. Besides wheat, I also grow local vegetables and collect mushrooms in the mountains, especially porcini mushrooms. In the summer I cook with local products in our small family restaurant. At the same time, I am fighting against the expansion of mining projects in our region. In short, I am a farmer, miller, cook, mushroom picker, and environmental activist. I have been growing wheat for about ten years now. But of course, my relationship with the land goes back to childhood. My late grandfather and grandmother used to grow their vegetables in the summer, and I used to help them. We even had vineyards too and harvested our own grapes.
The pandemic meant we couldn’t get together physically as a community. Social life as we knew it was suspended. So as Slow Food Ida we decided to do online events to keep our community spirit strong.
We’ve done free panels on sustainable access to good, clean and fair food, the relationship between crop production in agriculture, and animal husbandry… we’ll hold another panel this month on the topic of local tastes in northern Aegean cuisine, inviting some popular local chefs.
In these difficult times, the panels have helped people come together and talk, to ask questions, and stay informed. But most importantly, they were hopeful. Solidarity is needed now more than ever. Our goals for the future? Preserving, documenting, and sharing what we have: seeds and ancient agricultural knowledge, local flavors, and traditional food productions… it’s all part of one big project that unites everything: protecting biodiversity.