In 125 countries on December 10th, more than 170,000 people came together for the 2nd annual Terra Madre Day, which celebrates local, sustainable food. In West Glover, Vermont, the Village Hall at Parker Pie was filled with community members who had come to eat a great meal, learn about Slow Food VT, and support Green Mountain Farm-to-School, a Newport-based organization that works to put good, clean, and fair food in school cafeterias.
We were welcomed into the Hall by Howie and Stephan Cantor, local maple syrup producers who were inspired to organize the event after attending the most recent Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. As we sat around long tables, they spoke about the importance of slowing down, and enjoying food with our neighbors as a counterbalance to the “fast life”. Another local Terra Madre delegate, Marisa Mauro, stood to talk about her dedication to using local products in her work as a cheese maker, and introduced the first course in our meal: a round of her soft-ripened Hartwell cheese, topped with an apple compote and drizzled with maple syrup. The creamy center oozed when we cut into the rind, and spread onto bread rounds, the cheese, apples, and syrup were a perfect balance of sweet and tangy. Before we moved on to our next plate, there was an interlude of maple syrups from Howie and Stephan’s sugarbush; the light, aromatic, and delicate Fancy, then a darker, flavorful Medium Amber, followed by golden nuggets of the Cantor’s ginger-maple candy, a sweet, piquant treat that was a highlight of the meal.
As soon as we’d finished our mid-meal candy, our plates were cleared for the next two appetizers, a mixed green salad with roasted beets and blue cheese, and smoked paprika polenta cakes topped with succulent oyster mushrooms. The delicious, local food kept coming: our main course was maple marinated pork roast surrounded by root vegetables and brussels sprouts, and dessert was a hefty slice of Ploughgate goat cheese cheesecake served on a richly bitter pool of coffee stout chocolate sauce.
While we scraped the last of the sauce from our dessert plates, Stephan introduced Bethany Dunbar, a local journalist and former dairy farmer, who spoke about the northeast kingdom’s long tradition of writing about and appreciating food, which she illustrated with passages written by local 19th century farmers. She shared the experience of losing a dairy farm, and the respect she has for those who have held on to their livelihoods despite tough times, as well as her desire to support them and to ensure their survival.
Next, Bethany handed the mike to Katharine Sims, who came on stage to describe the work that she does with Green Mountain farm-to-school, which she founded to address childhood nutrition, and and to educate school children about Vermont’s farming culture. She explained the obstacles they face, but also the pleasure of seeing change, and told the gathering how excited she is to see new tastes in the cafeteria- like the call she received from a worker requesting more of the popular student-grown rutabagas. The program has been well received, and is now serving 20 school communities in the northeast kingdom, but Bethany emphasized how much change has yet to happen, and how much help is needed from community members with everything from processing fresh products to leading after school programs.
The evening ended with a slide show of the Cantor’s time in Italy, with pictures of the Terra Madre event and anecdotes about the farmers and friends that they’d met while abroad. Stephan spoke movingly about the connection she felt with other small producers, from an Arkansas chicken farmer, to an Italian grappa maker, and their common belief in stewardship of the land, and producing good food to share with their communities.
As we left the Village Hall, we found that a light snow had fallen during the evening, a chilly reminder that winter had truly come to Vermont. Heading out into the cold, however, we carried with us the warmth of food and friends, and the strength of the amazing community of people who live, work, and enjoy life in the beautiful northeast kingdom. Happy Terra Madre day, and I hope to see you all at one of Slow Food Vermont’s upcoming events!