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The Spannocchia Symposia Series on the Sustainable Future of Rural Places

Inaugural Symposium: Food, Landscape and Community in Tuscany and New England

The Spannocchia Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Maine. Spannocchia’s mission is to encourage global dialogue about sustaining rural landscapes for future generations through the example of the Tenuta di Spannocchia, an 1,100-acre organic agricultural estate in central Tuscany. The Foundation will be holding a February 2009 symposium to support a cross-cultural exchange on the opportunities and challenges associated with preserving rural landscapes and cultural traditions in Tuscany and New England. The 2009 symposium will be the first of an annual symposia series held alternately in New England and Tuscany in conjunction with other founding members of the Farm-Based Education Association including: Shelburne Farms and Marsh- Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Vermont, Harvard Forest in Massachusetts and the Environmental Studies Departments of Middlebury College and Brandeis University.

The purpose of the inaugural symposium is to convene a range of participants whose expertise will address the guiding question of: “How do we eat locally and preserve the rural, distinctive cultures and landscapes that are threatened by development, commodity farming and loss of food traditions?” By bringing together scholars whose work is historically and ecologically informed; educators who are engaged in place-based farm and land preservation programs; practitioners such as farmers, producers and chefs who advance their communities’ reliance on local foodways; and policymakers and advocates who promote local food systems and sustainable communities, we can place the two regions’ current food systems into an historical context while identifying practical steps to support a growing trend to connect what we eat with how we live.

Why this symposium now?
New England and Tuscany are two iconic rural places that are neither timeless nor idyllic. In the past half-century, these regions, located at about the same latitude and each facing a challenging climate, hilly terrain, and rocky soils, have undergone wrenching change. Marginal farm and forestlands have been abandoned, while industrial farming and forestry have diminished diversity of more productive lands. The regions are also becoming transformed by residential and vacation home development.

While some of this change is beneficial (the price of maintaining an “unspoiled” landscape and way of life cannot be poverty and isolation), the two regions share common challenges in finding economically viable farm, forest, and development strategies that sustain their distinctive and beloved cultures and landscapes.

The symposium agenda begins with a historical overview of the natural, cultural and economic forces that have created the Tuscan and New England rural landscapes, followed by a discussion of the viable opportunities for revitalizing these landscapes today. The second day will be devoted to an overview of regional cuisine and its relationship to native crops, farming methods and landscape. Tuscan cuisine is notable for its authenticity and reliance on local produce and livestock, offering ample lessons for New England farmers and practitioners, whereas New England is a leader in finding new ways to market and distribute local foods and organize educational farms. The third day will dissect aspects of the local food movements in both regions, with an emphasis on marketing innovations and the challenges inherent in the distribution of local products. The final day is centered on education and policy, summarizing the principal findings and recommended actions that evolve out of the symposium and reviewing priority topics for future symposia.

The symposium will directly benefit the participating organizations by enhancing their practical operations and building a strong network between them, but will also provide information and inspiration to a much wider community. This broader audience of individuals concerned about local food sources and the preservation of rural places will be reached by print and web-based publications that disseminate symposia findings in accessible and narrative forms and through follow-up conferences with the rapidly growing Farm-Based Education Association member network. These farms are fast becoming the way most people in the U.S. have any kind of contact with agriculture and the working landscape and they provide a powerful tool for communicating an exciting new vision for sustaining rural communities.

The Spannocchia Symposium is made possible through the generous support of the Mary H. Rice Foundation as well as members and trustees of the Spannocchia Foundation, Maine Community Foundation donor advised funds and individual contributions from people who trust in the mission of the Spannocchia Foundation and our efforts to sustain rural landscapes and cultural traditions through cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation.

Feedback from Participants

“It was a wonderful event and I learned a lot. It was fascinating to think about New England and Tuscany under the same lens and I thought the presentations were excellent.”